August 1, 2005
This morning, it was announced that Rafael Palmeiro had tested positive for a banned substance, believed to be performance-enhancing, and would be suspended for 10 games for the infraction.
The situation is notable not just for the fact that Palmeiro is the most accomplished player to test positive since the 2002 Collective Bargaining Agreement implemented steroid testing. Palmeiro has made history this season by roping his 3,000th hit, and has found his Hall of Fame qualifications, seemingly inarguable, questioned by people who value peak far more than career value, and who fail to recognize greatness over time. This stain on his record will give his naysayers, and even his supporters, reason to question his candidacy.
Moreso, though, the situation is notable because in March, Palmeiro went before a Congressional committee and stated, under oath, that he had not used performance-enhancing substances. Setting aside the issue of whether he was lying that day and any legal issues arising from that, Palmeiro is now faced with the incongruity of being suspended, just five months later, for the same infraction he so vehemently denied committing.
I have been consistent in my position on steroids and baseball. There are so many things we don't know--their impact on offensive totals, which players have and have not used them, whether their use in a controlled environment obviates some of the concerns about abuse--that I've been strongly against the finger-pointing and innuendo that has driven the coverage of the story. Physiques, statistics and lack of media savvy do not add up to "steroid user," and the plural of "opinion" is not "fact."
In this case, we don't know if Palmeiro declined to use prior to 2005, making his testimony truthful, then decided to begin using this year, as his skills deteriorated.
That scenario, however, seems far-fetched. The one thing I think we can say about the steroid-testing plan is that would be a deterrent to those players who had never before used, making it unlikely that players who hadn't used prior to this year would take up the practice. In Palmeiro's case, and his case alone, I think a positive test that is upheld as accurate calls into question all of his accomplishments prior to 2005. It just doesn't seem plausible that he would have just started using this year.
Palmeiro, like a number of the other players suspended this year, maintains his innocence and his position that he never intentionally used steroids. I hope, because I am a baseball fan, that this is true. I hope that this is some kind of testing quirk, the likes of which I'm sure Will Carroll can and will get into in "Under the Knife." Certainly, I hope that one way or another, we get a definitive answer as to Palmeiro's guilt or innocence.
But mostly I hope that this doesn't merely become another torch in the witch hunt. I hope that we find out the truth, rather than simply letting the desire for another head on another pitchfork drive a surface discussion of the matter and more page views. Regardless of whether you think steroids are the worst thing to happen to baseball since game-fixing, or an overrated problem in a media environment that devours flawed heroes, you have to believe that the game is best served by nothing less than the truth.