Palmeiro Back on the Field after Steroid Suspension

After testing positive for steroid use, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days — and now that suspension is over. Alex Chadwick talks about Palmeiro's return to baseball Thursday night with Howard Bryant, author of the book Juicing the Game: Drugs Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

With both teams playing at the bottom of the American League East, there's not that much baseball excitement about the Baltimore Orioles against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Baltimore tonight except that Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro is playing. He's just off a 10-day suspension for steroid use. From New York, we're joined by Howard Bryant. He's a columnist for the Boston Herald newspaper and author of a new book on drug use in baseball. It's called "Juicing the Game."

Howard, welcome to DAY TO DAY. You know, Mr. Palmeiro had said that his use of steroids was unintentional when this suspension came out 10 days ago. How has that been playing over the last 10 days? Is that something anyone in baseball believes?

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (Boston Herald; Author, "Juicing the Game"): No. It's been playing very poorly because Stanozolol, which is the drug that was found in his system and produced the positive result, is not your run-of-the-mill drug that you're going to find in supplements. In fact, it was fairly hilarious that every person this season so far who has tested positive for steroid use has said it was an accident. So that's become the excuse du jour, and I don't think that anybody has really paid a whole lot of attention to it. What's really been at issue here is the fact that on March 17th, Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger at Congress and said he'd never used these drugs, when, in fact, he did.

CHADWICK: Here he is.

(Soundbite of congressional hearing, March 17, 2005)

Mr. RAFAEL PALMEIRO (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.

CHADWICK: Yeah, he said that vociferously. Now maybe that's why people are upset about this 10-day suspension. Yesterday on "Morning Edition," Frank Deford said that's far too week a penalty. Others have said the same. Is baseball considering changing the penalty--Do you think?--because of this, well, sports outrage over Rafael Palmeiro?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I don't know if it's over Rafael Palmeiro. I think that one of the things that I try to do in this book was ask the question as to why baseball was so resistant toward adopting a drug policy. And when you think about this issue, baseball has essentially changed its story so many times that no one knows what to believe. They're not really dealing with a great deal of outrage in terms of the public, if you base on that on attendance, because people are still going to the games. So you have this weird conflict of whether or not the public really cares about this issue, because baseball uses attendance figures and they use revenue and they use ratings and they use all of these financial figures as proof that the game is healthy, and at some level you can't disagree with them. You can't argue with that. On the other hand, you have these retired players--you had Cal Ripken who came out against Rafael Palmeiro the other day. You have Will Clark; you have Hank Aaron; you have Reggie Jackson and Jim Bunning and all of these people saying that the game has been irreparably damaged. So whose vision wins out? Is it the `Financially the game is never healthier' vision, or is it `The game has lost its integrity' vision? So...

CHADWICK: Its purity is at issue, isn't it?

Mr. BRYANT: It's a question of purity, sure. And I'm starting to wonder how much value that has when you have a sport that doesn't seem to value its own purity, or maybe that purity is a myth in the first place.

CHADWICK: Well, maybe that's it.

Mr. BRYANT: I think...

CHADWICK: We just--you know, to even talk about purity in professional athletics in this day and age of contracts of tens of millions of dollars--you know, maybe we just...

Mr. BRYANT: Exactly. You have this desire for baseball to maintain its place as the, quote, unquote, "national pastime" in an era when people are less outraged by scandal; they expect people with the money that is at stake to do whatever it takes to be successful; and in a society where the accomplishment is much more important than the means of the achievement. And when I talk to a lot of baseball players about this--when you think that the major-league minimum salary is $300,000 a year, just to put on the uniform, and the minor-league maximum is 12 to $1,300 a month, then there's a huge financial incentive to do whatever is necessary to make it. And what we're dealing with here is a culture where baseball players believe that they had to use these substances in order to make it, and you had a leadership that was so fearful of losing the public again after the 1994 strike, that it was paralyzed and could not police itself or chose not to police itself.

CHADWICK: And what you're telling me today is that that leadership will now point at the baseball attendance figures and say, `You know, everything's OK,' and just whistle and walk away and hope...

Mr. BRYANT: Well, it's not just...

CHADWICK: ...nobody really notices.

Mr. BRYANT: Exactly. Well, it's not just the baseball leadership. It's also the press that is using this as a barometer, using attendance figures. My argument has always been if you're going to leave your game at the mercy of the open market, then anything's possible. And if you're going to base your success or your failure on revenue figures only, then it really is only a matter of time before you compromise whatever values you believed that you possessed because you have these two conflicting visions.

And certainly when you think about the leadership, this was a complete institutional failure: on the part of the owners, who made more money than they ever did before; on the part of the union that simply did not protect its players; and the players themselves that really did not--they complain now about, `Oh, are legacies are at stake, and people think that we're not clean,' but they never really took the steps either to safeguard against something like this happening. And then it goes all the way down to the media, as well--the press--and the fans, who bought more tickets during this era than in any 10-year period in the history of the game.

CHADWICK: Have you interviewed Rafael Palmeiro enough to have some sense of how he would deal with going to bat tonight with all that's going on around him?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I think Rafael Palmeiro is a very arrogant individual, and this is really--the fact that he pointed his finger at Congress and swore he did not use these substances under oath, only to be caught with steroids, is really not that uncharacteristic for him, because it should be noted that when the subpoenas first came out--well, before the subpoenas came out and the invitations for the ballplayers to appear in front of Congress were released, he was very flippant and sarcastic about the whole thing. He said, `Well, March 17th is my wife's birthday, so you know where I'll be.' He was essentially thumbing his nose at the federal government. And that response was one of the reasons why the federal government decided to use subpoena power to get baseball players to testify.

CHADWICK: Howard Bryant, the author of "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball."

Howard, thank you.

Mr. BRYANT: Thank you.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. DAY TO DAY continues.

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