Reports of the advent of the post-steroids era may have been premature.
On Monday, Major League baseball announced that its testing program had caught its first star player, Rafael Palmeiro, who in March emphatically denied under oath before Congress that he had ever used steroids.
The Baltimore Orioles slugger has been suspended for 10 days for violating baseball's steroids policy, the commissioner's office said Monday.
Palmeiro, who before this announcement was almost certainly a future Hall of Famer, said in a statement released by the team that he has "never intentionally used steroids," but a grievance he filed was denied and he's agreed to serve the suspension starting Monday.
With home runs down from last year and all six of those previously suspended for steroids being journeymen or marginal players, none of them sluggers, an assumption has taken hold that the age of steroids is over, testing is working and baseball has moved on to a clean era except for a few desperate souls at the margins.
That's a harder assumption to make now that a big-time hitter has come up dirty. Palmeiro had been named in Jose Canseco's controversial book, "Juiced," as a steroid user, but his denials had been plausible enough to those not inclined to believe that everyone who hits a home run now and again is on the dope.
They just got a lot less plausible, and his suspension leads to uncomfortable questions about other players.
Jason Giambi, for example, who admitted in subsequently leaked grand jury testimony that he'd taken steroids, looked awfully slim this spring and produced nothing at the plate for the first half of the season. On the Fourth of July, Giambi woke up hitting .251 with a .407 on-base percentage and a .364 slugging percentage. Since then he's hit .382/.505/1.074 -- that's right, a slugging percentage over 1.000.
Is it not fair to ask whether Giambi -- "intentionally" or not -- started back in on the juice? If not, he should talk to Palmeiro.
In March, Palmeiro was one of several players and former players -- Canseco was another -- who testified about steroids before the House Government Reform Committee. In a moment that was at the time reminiscent of Bill Clinton's statement that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky" and now seems more so, Palmeiro pointed at the committee as he said, "I have never used steroids. Period."
In a statement released by the Orioles Monday, Palmeiro said, "I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period."
So he's gone from "never. Period" to "never. Ever. Period." In case you're keeping score.
Even if Palmeiro's denial is legitimate and he got caught unknowingly using a banned substance in some over-the-counter supplement, you have to either admire the nerve or wonder at the chuckleheadedness of a guy who would wag his finger at Congress, knowing he'd be tested at some point, and then not double-, triple- and quadruple-check the ingredients in anything he put in his body.
Because even if Palmeiro's just a dumb victim of circumstances here, it probably won't matter. After 20 seasons, 2,824 games (16th all time), 569 home runs (ninth) and 1,834 RBIs (14th), there's a very good chance that what's going to be remembered about Rafael Palmeiro is that he was the first big name to get suspended for steroids.
Despite those huge career numbers -- he recently joined Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Eddie Murray as the only players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs -- Palmeiro has been the subject of spirited debate over his worthiness for enshrinement in Cooperstown because he didn't have a period where he was a dominant player and he just never really seemed like a Hall of Famer.
But his career totals made such debate all but moot. He was almost certainly in. Not anymore. A lot can happen between now and five years after Palmeiro retires, when he becomes eligible for the Hall, but unless attitudes change significantly or he can make his denials stick between now and then, he'll join Pete Rose on the sidewalk.
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Manny's happy! And other trade-deadline news [PERMALINK]
The San Diego Padres are just playing games now.
"For our first trick," they seem to be saying, "we'll get to the end of July with a losing record and still be tied for the lead in the National League West. But you ain't seen nothin' yet, folks. Now watch us try to win the division with this guy."
And then they went and traded for Chan Ho Park, the biggest bust to leave Texas since Anna Nicole Smith went west.
The Padres sent faded and disgruntled slugger Phil Nevin to the Rangers for Park, in the fourth year of a five-year, $65 million contract that may have been a bigger boondoggle than that other contract the Rangers handed out before the 2000 season, the $252 million one.
How bad has Park been? According to Baseball-Reference.com, in all of baseball history, the 31-year-old pitcher who had the most similar year to Park's age-31 season in 2004 was Steve Avery, who was 31 in 2001. Avery didn't pitch in the majors between 1999 and 2003.
Nevin for Park passed for a big trade on the weekend leading up to Sunday's non-waiver deadline, a weekend that turned out to be as thrilling as Al Capone's vault. None of the big trades that had been rumored came to pass.
Not only is Manny Ramirez still with the Boston Red Sox, he is the -- checking my wristwatch -- happiest man on the team! Loves Boston! Loves the Sox! Doesn't want to get traded, and never mind that this was at least the third trading deadline he has asked to be traded, and the third time the Red Sox have said something like, "Anyone want our best player? By the way, we owe him $64 million over the next three and a half years."
A close one for Manny. He's -- checking my wristwatch -- happy to find out he's staying put. Stay tuned.
A.J. Burnett is still a Florida Marlin, Adam Dunn is still a Cincinnati Red, Alfonso Soriano is still a Texas Ranger, and Danys Baez and Aubrey Huff are still, light a candle for them, please, Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The other big deals that did happen over the weekend, and keep in mind we're speaking relatively here, involved Matt Lawton going to the Chicago Cubs and Shawn Chacon going to the New York Yankees. Not exactly Tom Seaver to the Reds. Or even Sidney Ponson to the Giants.
Last year there was that amusing Paul Lo Duca for Brad Penny and Hee Seop Choi trade between the Dodgers and Marlins that allowed us to conduct an experiment about team chemistry, the results of which proved the case for its existence. Also the case against it.
But every trading deadline can't provide a blockbuster or even a semibuster. We deal with the deals we're dealt. Here's a quick look at the pebble-busters of 2005 -- and remember: Big deals are still possible. All that's changed now that the calendar has turned over is that they've gotten more difficult to pull off because players have to clear waivers before they can be traded.
First baseman Phil Nevin from San Diego to Texas for right-hander Chan Ho Park
Here, you take our lousy hitter for your hitter's park and we'll take your lousy pitcher for our pitcher's park, and they'll both look a little better.
That's a big part of what Nevin has been upset about, that Petco Park favors pitchers to an extreme degree. Two problems with this argument: First, Nevin has been a better hitter at home than on the road this year, though that's a little like saying mud tastes better than sand. Last year, when he was still hitting, he hit better on the road.
Also, Petco is just as much a pitcher's park for everybody else as it is for Nevin, so while his numbers might be lower, his effect on games, which are lower scoring there, is roughly the same. Of course, if you only care about your own numbers ...
Park, on the other hand, has been a better pitcher this year in the Launching Pad at Arlington than he has been on the road, where he has been so bad that words are incapable of doing his awfulness justice, so I will now stop typing and do an interpretive dance.
OK, I'm back. The winner of this trade was both teams, but only for that brief period when each player had left his old club and hadn't yet joined his new one. Nevin went 0-for-4 in his Rangers debut Sunday. Park will haul his gas can to the mound in San Diego beige for the first time Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
Outfielder Matt Lawton from Pittsburgh to the Cubs for outfielder Jody Gerut
If the Cubs were in the West, they'd be leading the division by two games. Alas, they're in the Central, where they trail the St. Louis Cardinals by a googolplex and a half.
Their only hope for the playoffs is to win the wild card, and in that race they're tied for fifth, four games out. That's a dangerous place to be, especially for a large-market, big-money team, because it kinda looks like you're a contender when you're probably not, but the fans and local media won't let you act like you're not.
An extreme version of this kind of thinking led the New York Mets last year to trade their best pitching prospect for a back-of-the-rotation guy, among other moves, when they were in fourth place in the East, six games back, and even farther out in the wild-card race.
The Cubs didn't make that kind of mistake. This is a swap of marginal starter/fourth outfielder types. Lawton's more productive than Gerut, who had a nice rookie year for Cleveland in 2003, then tore up his knee. The Cubs only got him two weeks ago for 26-year-old prospect Jason Dubois, who wasn't going to get a chance on Dusty Baker's vets-only team. But Lawton won't get the Cubs to the playoffs or anything.
Right-hander Shawn Chacon from Colorado to the Yankees for minor-league right-handers Ramon Ramirez and Eduardo Sierra
A nice, low-risk pickup for the Yanks, who you may have heard need pitching. Suffice it to say that if Ramirez and Sierra were worth anything, they'd have been in the Bronx, not the bushes.
Chacon's not much of a pitcher, but you never know what might happen when you get a guy away from Coors Field. Usually not much, but when you're a playoff contender that would seriously consider sending a trained monkey to the mound if you could get him signed -- they always demand way too many bananas, even for George Steinbrenner -- why not take a shot? Chacon threw six solid innings Saturday in his pinstripe debut.
Outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. from Arizona to Boston for two minor-leaguers, infielder Kenny Perez and right-hander Kyle Bono
See above. The Red Sox need warm bodies in their outfield at the moment, and failing that, they went out and got Cruz, who had been designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks.
Even when he was hitting a lot of home runs for the Blue Jays at the turn of the century, this was not your father's Jose Cruz. But, again, the cost was so low -- Bono's a slightly better prospect than Perez, which is saying almost nothing -- so why not? You never know. And a bonus: This means the Yankees, who also need ambulatory humans in the outfield, won't pick him up and have you-never-know-what happen.
The most important thing about this trade is that Cruz was designated for assignment by Arizona in the first place to make room for Conor Jackson, who is my homeboy, a sturdy Golden Bear.
Right-hander Kyle Farnsworth from Detroit to Atlanta for right-hander Roman Colon and minor-league righty Zach Miner
Nice pickup for the Braves, who needed bullpen help. Farnsworth, who's something of a head case, is a fireballer who has pitched well for the Tigers. Neither Colon, a swingman who has spent parts of two seasons in Atlanta, nor Miner, a 23-year-old former high school phenom who has been in Triple-A, figures to be a star, but they could both conceivably help the Tigers at some point.
Outfielder Randy Winn from Seattle to San Francisco for right-hander Jesse Foppert and catcher Yorvit Torrealba
The key to this deal is Foppert, whom the rebuilding Mariners hope will regain his pre-Tommy John surgery form someday. Seattle also needed someone to keep pitches from hitting the umpire since Dan Wilson got hurt, and Torrealba can do that. A bonus: He's now the most famous person in Washington state named Yorvit.
Why the Giants wanted Winn, who isn't going to help them win the division this year no matter how bad the division gets, is a mystery to this observer. He'll be a free agent at the end of the year, meaning San Francisco pretty much just gave Foppert and Torrealba away. Probably not a tragedy, but still weird.
And this just in: The 1971 Padres have applied for reinstatement to the league. Ed Spiezio and Co. think that with a few breaks, they can win the West.
Outfielder Eric Byrnes from Colorado to Baltimore for outfielder Larry Bigbie
Here, you take our outfielder who's not hitting, and we'll take yours.
Infielder Geoff Blum from San Diego to the White Sox for minor-league left-hander Ryan Meaux
A utility infielder for a 26-year-old Double-A pitcher with a mid-80s fastball. This was the signature deal of the 2005 trading deadline.
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