Rafael Palmeiro’s failed steroid test remains Topic A in the sports world for a second day. It’s a talker, as they say at editorial meetings, and a good one.
Even before he came up dirty, Rafael Palmeiro was a subject fraught with gray areas, and gray areas are fun to talk about.
How good has he been? Is he a Hall of Famer? Is sustained pretty-goodness over 20 years Hall-worthy, or does a player have to have a peak when he dominates the game or at least his position?
And how should we judge Palmeiro for never having played on a pennant winner, for reaching the playoffs only three times in 19 years, probably soon to be three times in 20? Was he just unlucky to end up on teams — Cubs, Rangers, Orioles, Rangers again, Orioles again — that consistently finished out of the money?
Or, considering that he chose his last three destinations, is he somehow responsible; is there something about having Rafael Palmeiro on a team that keeps it from winning? And what about the way he vetoed that trade from the woeful Texas Rangers to the contending Chicago Cubs in 2003?
Getting caught in the drug test dragnet makes for even more gray areas, because as much as some people like to pretend that drugs are a black-and-white issue, in sports and beyond, they’re not.
If you don’t believe me, listen to reader Phil Groce, who, referring to Palmeiro’s former job as a spokesman for Viagra, made a joking point that I think, seriously, would make a good topic for a book:
“It says a lot about the world we live in that a national spokesperson for one performance enhancer can be suspended for another one,” he wrote.
Here are more comments from you all, with a lot of replies from me.
Rich Greenwood: Might be an interesting column to focus on the idea of honor, which has really disappeared in sports, with the rare exception such as the New England Patriots generally and the Boston Red Sox last year.
These dudes make so much bank they don’t have to care, but it sure would be nice if they did.
I just did a film in an amateur competition and it really brought home the value of unpaid competition: The unpaid stuff is all passion; the paid sports is part show, part go. Mostly show.
King replies: I don’t know. I think you can take this too far.
Here’s one way to look at Palmeiro: He’s financially set for life, as you note, and since he’s near the end of his career, he’s not even playing for his next contract. So why would he, first of all, continue to play in his 20th year in the majors and, second, risk his health by taking steroids, or at least supplements that might have contained steroids?
Certainly there’s no honor in cheating, but you don’t cheat if you don’t care. You just collect your paycheck and cruise along.
People have been saying for more than a century that this generation of ballplayers, the current one, doesn’t care about the old values and is only in it for the fame and money. Really. They were saying that when ballplayers worked as laborers in the off-season. Ryne Sandberg followed in this long tradition in his Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday.
Phillip T. Stewart Jr.: Enjoying anything — sports, a trip to Walt Disney World, a Cinnabon — means ignoring a healthy chunk of reality. These millionaires will never know my name; these “cast members” are being paid to be nice to me; I am not going to work this confection off at the gym.
But knowing without a doubt the millionaire players are not all competing on a level playing field simply means someone’s cheating. They lost me years ago; Palmeiro’s behavior is simply one more brick in the wall. Shame on him.
K.J. Dee: To me Palmeiro is a nobody who, as we have seen lately, has a great P.R. machine around him — his drive to 3,000 hits, his son running around with the video camera, his wife in the stands, stories of how he did the breast stroke all the way from Cuba to escape.
Then I heard, much to my delight [Monday], that old Raffy is a Republican and, even better, was being groomed to enter GOP politics upon his retirement. This is really great. Mr. Clean gets V.D. Maybe his fellow Cuban Jose Canseco was right all along, and he is the Cuban the GOP should have gone after.
What’s really sad here is that Palmeiro has brought the evil lying ways of American politics into our great game. Now, as I heard many sportscasters say, none of us know who to believe anymore.
Guess President Bush conditioned us for this. Too bad Raffy got nailed before he became a GOP pol; his lying is for sure top rate.
King replies: I’m not sure when the lying ways of American politics were not in our great game.
Joshua Kidd: I think Palmeiro reminds me more of Karl Rove than Bill Clinton with the whole “I never intentionally took steroids” line. What the hell does that mean anyway?
My theory is that Jose Canseco jabbed him unawares with a hypodermic needle so as not to seem like a lying bastard. I’ll bet this scenario is more entertaining than the truth, which we’ll probably never know anyway.
King replies: The “never intentionally” gambit has become the standard denial on steroids. Supplements are so conveniently unregulated that it’s easy to claim you took something you bought at the GNC and it had steroids hiding in it.
False positives are almost unheard of, so flat denials pretty much won’t fly. This is the next best thing.
David Novak: I feel compelled to write because of some of the shameful comments I heard on TV [Monday] from people questioning who is hurt by ballplayers taking steroids. I am also glad that so many seem to share my outrage about this issue. There is probably no sports-related issue I have ever felt this strongly about.
The argument I heard was that if most major leaguers are or were taking steroids, then essentially no one is hurt by it. This argument fails to recognize that perhaps these “major leaguers” would never have made the major leagues or wouldn’t have remained there but for these drugs.
Obviously the people who are hurt are those who might have made it to the major leagues but for these scoundrels who were willing to get there at any price.
Also, the people who are hurt are people like my son who can’t simply dream of being a major leaguer anymore, like we naively and so innocently did, without thinking that to get there he might have to take drugs that might ultimately lead to his premature death. Nor can I can share that dream with him and think of what it would mean to me as his dad.
Michael Lyden: While I wouldn’t doubt that Jason Giambi is on the juice, I don’t think it would account for his huge uptick in batting average (.251 to .381).
I’m no expert on steroids, but I would imagine they only help hit the long ball, not improve your hand-eye coordination. And if you’re hitting more, I would have to imagine that, statistically, you’d hit more home runs. Not sure if that accounts for the over 1.000 slugging, but maybe it’s a start.
And maybe enough to keep me from being completely jaded at age 25.
King replies: Well, join the club in not being an expert on steroids. There is no definitive evidence about how or even if anabolic steroids and similar drugs such as human growth hormone enhance performance in baseball.
But it’s reasonable to assume, as you’ve done, that drugs that make a player bigger and stronger will increase his power at the plate but not his hand-eye coordination.
But increased power can help a batting average. The soft liner that used to die in the second baseman’s glove becomes a rocket to the gap in right-center for a double. The fly ball that used to be caught on the warning track becomes a home run. And so on.
There’s also the matter of confidence. If Giambi, who has admitted in sworn testimony to past steroid use, is back on the dope, he might feel like he’s a better hitter. Feeling that way might actually make him a little better.
Is Giambi back on steroids? Of course I have no idea. But a higher batting average certainly isn’t evidence to the contrary.
Floyd Maxwell: What about specifically testing players who suddenly improve their performance, then publicizing that they are clean (or not, of course), so that fans can embrace good clean play. The current “random but only once a year” approach doesn’t give anyone confidence. Unlike the needles repeatedly jabbed in Lance Armstrong, MLB just samples the urine, so the players can’t exactly complain.
King replies: Any drug-testing program has to be agreed upon in collective bargaining. The players are never going to agree to what you propose. And I doubt the owners would want to create such an obvious disincentive to players improving their performance suddenly.
Mark: The recent Home Run Derby featured a large number of outta-heres, as many or more than in the recent “juiced” years of Barry Bonds et al. This would seem to reflect well on baseball; home runs are still occurring even though the juice is gone.
However, donning my tinfoil Giants cap for a moment, is this just a bit too convenient? After all, one can juice the baseballs that are used in the derby instead of the ballplayers and get the same result.
King replies: I haven’t heard anyone allege that the balls were juiced in the Home Run Derby — though I might have missed that. I fail to see how juicing the baseballs would be any less of an assault on the integrity of the game than juicing the players.
I actually think it would be more of an assault. There are those gray areas when you talk about performance enhancement among athletes — where does laser eye surgery fit in, for example, and why are steroids a bigger deal than amphetamines? But a baseball is either the same ball used last year or it isn’t.
If Major League Baseball is genuinely concerned with preserving the integrity of the game — even if that concern is nothing more than a P.R. move — it would be stupid to risk that integrity with something as easily detected as juiced baseballs.
Previous column: Palmeiro, deadline trades
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