Slugger Palmeiro Suspended for Steroid Use

Baltimore Orioles slugger Rafael Palmeiro is suspended for 10 days after testing positive for steroids use. The first baseman says he does not know how the drugs got into his body and that he did not intentionally take them. Palmeiro did not appeal the punishment.

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Major-league baseball star Rafael Palmeiro has been suspended for 10 days after testing positive for illegal steroids. Palmeiro is the Baltimore Orioles' first baseman. He's one of just four major-leaguers ever to have at least 3,000 career hits and 500 home runs. As NPR's Tom Goldman reports, he is, by far, the most famous player yet to be suspended under baseball's new steroid policy.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

The irony couldn't be greater. Last March at a congressional hearing on steroids in baseball, Rafael Palmeiro was one of five major-league players to testify, and he was by far the most forceful, the most passionate of the group as he pointed his finger at lawmakers and condemned the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

(Soundbite of March hearing)

Mr. RAFAEL PALMEIRO (First Baseman, Baltimore Orioles): Let me start by telling you this. I have never used steroids, period. I do not know how to say it any more clearly than that--never.

GOLDMAN: Today came the startling news that Rafael Palmeiro had failed the test under the league's new steroid policy. On a telephone conference call, he admitted it was embarrassing and unfortunate. But Palmeiro was just as forceful as he'd been in March, with the addition of one crucial word.

(Soundbite of conference call)

Mr. PALMEIRO: I have never intentionally used steroids--never, ever, period.

GOLDMAN: While Palmeiro hinted that his positive test was caused by contamination, by perhaps a `contaminated dietary supplement,' he said, confidentiality rules prevented him from divulging all the details: when he tested positive and, most important, what he tested positive for.

(Soundbite of conference call)

Mr. PALMEIRO: You know, I would love to tell what happened to me, so that everyone would understand, you know, especially the players around the league and especially the kids around the country, so that they don't say--they don't make the same mistake that I made.

Unidentified Man: So at no point you'll get specific?

Mr. PALMEIRO: I'm not sure. I can't answer that today.

GOLDMAN: There have been many cases of elite athletes testing positive for steroids because of contaminated supplements. But without Palmeiro revealing the facts of his case, anti-doping crusader Dr. Gary Wadler says the public wonders whether the positive test might have been linked to what former slugger and admitted steroid user Jose Canseco said in his controversial tell-all book: that Palmeiro was one of the players Canseco personally injected with illegal steroids.

Dr. GARY WADLER (Anti-Doping Crusader): He certainly will have an enormous impact on how we are perceiving this issue by the degree of candor as to what they found in his urine, for which he is being suspended. And it seems to me that would help move the agenda forward and provide a lot of clarity for a public which is probably increasingly confused today.

GOLDMAN: Rafael Palmeiro's future suddenly is confusing as well. There's the issue of whether he could have perjured himself before Congress with his statement of never using steroids. When asked about that in the conference call, Palmeiro said he knew he was testifying under oath and told the truth, as he said he did today when he said he never intentionally took steroids.

A few weeks ago Palmeiro got his 3,000th career hit and joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players with at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Those are easily Hall of Fame statistics, and the easygoing, smooth-swinging Palmeiro was a lock for induction. But today some of the sportswriters who vote players in are wondering about the sudden dark cloud that's moved over first base in Baltimore. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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