August 03, 2005

The Palmeiro Debacle

For those of you following the steroids in baseball story, check out this story in the Washington Post and this story in the New York Times. An interesting piece from the New York Times story:

Palmeiro said Monday that he had never intentionally taken steroids, but stanozolol does not come in dietary supplements and is among the most popular steroids on the market. It can be ingested or injected and usually remains in a person's system for at least a month. "It's a mildly strong to strong steroid," said Dr. Gary Wadler, a professor at New York University who is an expert in sports doping. "Potent is the word I would use."

Also, see this story in the New York Post. It turns out that MLB ran a full page ad congratulating Palmeiro for his 3,000th hit after finding out that Palmeiro had failed his steroid test. The timing of the announcement was also pretty curious - well after the Hall of Fame induction. Isn't it funny how most of the steroid suspensions are announced immediately, yet with Palmeiro, MLB waited until the suspension went through arbitration? In all honesty, I don't envy MLB being put into that position, but this really looks bad for them.

Mike Lupica has a great column in the New York Daily News:

Of course Palmeiro says it was all a big mistake. That is what he was telling Major League Baseball officials the past couple of weeks, as he tried to beg and plead his way into arbitration on this and out of trouble. He didn't know what he was taking. A teammate gave him something and he took it. Now he tells us he didn't "intentionally" use steroids. No one believes him. He is a cheat and a phony and a liar, unless you believe this trip to the chemist, after 20 years in the big leagues, was his first.

Also, Michael Wilbon's column in the Washington Post is a must read:

The discussion that dogs baseball the most, the one about steroids, is back and the tone is angrier this time. Folks trust the game even less now than they did in March when Congress summoned the game's big stars and caretakers looking for some answers. Baseball is facing a full-scale crisis. Denials, even eloquent ones, aren't good enough, not after the Rafael Palmeiro revelation. Blaming Jose Canseco doesn't work because even a dope like him now has more credibility than some of the people he has been outing as steroid users.

Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post also weighs in:
Add Palmeiro to the list of those who did not "knowingly" cheat. Just 17 days ago, he was being celebrated for his 3,000th hit. Now, in one day, he's the tag line to every cynical wisecrack. The quip circulating among writers who vote on the Hall of Fame is that, someday, Palmeiro may be left out of Cooperstown, but not "knowingly," just by collective accident. Palmeiro is now America's stock joke, its villain of the week, its symbol of hypocrisy or stupidity. In this culture, everybody gets a second chance, provided they come clean about their sins and take their punishment. And everybody also gets the benefit of the doubt. But heaven help you if, after playing that once-per-lifetime, I-swear-on-a-stack-of-Bibles card, you get nailed.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post makes fun of Palmeiro's assertion that he did not "knowingly" take steroids:

Palmeiro wanted us to believe he unwittingly ingested something contaminated with a performance-enhancer. This is the excuse du jour of the cheaters. No one admits the offense. They all make themselves the victim; that somehow, someday,this horrible thing got into their body. But as steroids expert Dr. Charles Yesalis of Penn State said yesterday by phone, "Very wealthy athletes do not do cowboy chemistry." In other words, a player who has banked nearly $100 million in his career does not risk it all by shopping for legal pick-me-ups online or by injecting something a guy named Pete down the block told them was perfectly legal and helpful. No, athletes with Palmeiro's finances have a network of experts to advise them on diet, exercise and drug intake, and that does not include all the professionals made freely available by a big-league baseball team. And, again, few earthlings had more of a reason in 2005 to use the expertise to stay clean than Palmeiro. So he cannot hide behind being an idiot. My suspicion is that he only willingly allows himself to be viewed as an idiot because it beats being recognized as a liar and knowing cheater.

I am not a baseball fan by any stretch of the imagination, so really, I don't really a stake in the argument as to whether Palmeiro gets into the Hall of Fame or not. However, as a matter of principle, I don't believe that he should be put into the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame should be reserved for those players that are truly the best to have ever played the game. Clearly, Palmeiro cheated. How can one look at his records (e.g., home runs, number of hits) and know whether they are "legitimate". Certainly, steroids will not give you an eye for hitting the ball. However, they will give you strength to get the ball over the left field wall (i.e., more home runs) or provide you with more longetivity (steroids allow a player to recover quicker and stay in shape longer into their career). Why risk deligitimizing the legitmate accomplishments of those already in the Hall of Fame?

Bill Madden indicates that Palmeiro has lost his vote for the Hall of Fame:
They are all cheats who have no respect for the game, just the almighty dollar, and they have stained baseball just as surely as Rose did with his betting. Actually worse, since all of Rose's records are at least legit. I cannot speak for the rest of my voting brethren in the Baseball Writers Association, but, for myself, when Bonds, Sosa, McGwire and now Palmeiro come up on the Hall of Fame ballot, I intend to invoke Rule 5 - "voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character . . ." - and say no. To otherwise validate their records would be, in my opinion, a disservice to those 48 Hall of Famers on the dais Sunday who enthusiastically applauded Sandberg's remarks, as well as all the other deceased Hall of Famers who played the game straight. There's nothing anyone can do about the records and it is indeed a sad commentary about what's happened to this game if, 10 years from now, so many of the players atop the leaderboards in the Hall of Fame records room are nowhere to be found in the great plaque room just off the main entrance on the first floor.
Jayson Stark of ESPN argues that he will still vote for Palmeiro for the Hall of Fame:

There are questions in life I never thought I'd have to answer. And this is one of them: Would I vote for a guy with 3,000 hits and almost 600 homers for the Hall of Fame? Yeah, I would. On the first ballot. And every ballot. . . . Why? Because I'm not a cop. I'm just a guy who covers baseball for a living. So it's not my job to police this sport. It's the sport's job to police itself. And for 15 years -- maybe 20 -- baseball's police station was a place where the cops just sat around, played cards, smoked cigars and let the inmates hit 900-foot home runs. Baseball's idea of policing itself in the '90s was to allow a whole generation of players to play -- without testing them, without punishing them, without preventing them from bulking up however they wanted. So if they "cheated," it wasn't because I let them cheat. It was because baseball let them cheat. Now it's too late -- for me, for any of us -- to retroactively pronounce these guys guilty of something baseball now considers illegal. It wasn't illegal then.

It may not be Jayson Stark's job to "police the sport", but it is his job as a Hall of Fame voter to police admission to the Hall of Fame. Jayson Stark's position makes absolutely no sense to me. Admittedly, baseball was late to enact a steroid policy and most likely ignored some pretty blatant (or is obvious a better word?) steroid use in the 1990's. However, the steroids policy is a rule that is now in effect because the League recognizes that steroids are hazardous to a player's health and provide an unfair advantage over other players that are not taking performance enhancing drugs. Unlike Barry Bonds, Palmeiro was proven to have broken this rule and, as a result, we now know that there is a legitimate reason to suspect his home runs, his hits and his overall performance throughout his career.

Well, Stark is not alone. Buster Olney of ESPN also indicates that he will still vote for Palmeiro for the Hall of Fame (although Olney really doesn't make any effort to justify that vote).
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