John Feinstein: Palmeiro No Lock for Hall of Fame Major League Baseball suspends one of its most prominent hitters after testing positive for steroids. Rafael Palmeiro of the Baltimore Orioles has insisted repeatedly that he has never used steroids. Sports commentator John Feinstein discusses the implications for Palmeiro's possible selection to the Hall of Fame and for Baseball Commission Bud Selig's campaign to toughen penalties for steroid use.
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John Feinstein: Palmeiro No Lock for Hall of Fame

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John Feinstein: Palmeiro No Lock for Hall of Fame

John Feinstein: Palmeiro No Lock for Hall of Fame

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Baltimore Oriole star Rafael Palmeiro has been suspended from major-league baseball for 10 days. He tested positive for steroids. That news comes shortly after Palmeiro reached a career milestone. He's only the fourth player in major-league history to record 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in a career. Now he is also the most prominent player to be suspended since baseball's new drug-testing policy took effect this season. Commentator John Feinstein is following this story and joins us now.

Morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN (NPR Commentator): Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Didn't Palmeiro deny using steroids during the congressional hearings on this?

FEINSTEIN: He could not have been more categorical among all the witnesses. He was the one who literally pointed a finger at the panel and said, `I have never used steroids.' And, I mean, that's going to go down as kind of the punch line of his career now because of him becoming, as you said, the first truly prominent player, a guy who before yesterday was a lock Hall of Famer to test positive for steroids, and now what is becoming the excuse of the 21st century is, `I unintentionally used steroids.' That's what all these athletes are saying, trying to claim that somehow this got into their bodies without them knowing about it.

INSKEEP: How is Palmeiro claiming that he unintentionally used steroids?

FEINSTEIN: Well, he's given no details 'cause he did not answer questions. He took the coward's way out and just read a statement yesterday, but what they tell you is, you know, these supplements that you take that are legal, that are over the counter, that on occasions they will contain a steroid that you don't know about and that's how the steroid ends up in your body. Now these days, with every baseball player knowing there's drug testing going on this year for the first time ever, for a player to be even the tiniest bit careless in this area, especially a player who's been accused, like Palmeiro in Jose Canseco's now infamous book, to me it's mind-boggling that he could think we would believe that story.

INSKEEP: John, you mentioned that he was a lock on the Hall of Fame. Is he still?

FEINSTEIN: I don't think so. I mean, I have a vote myself, Steve, and before yesterday, I wouldn't even have looked at his statistics. I would have just checked him off as a Hall of Famer. Now I think all of us have to seriously reconsider. There's going to be a whole generation of players who are going to fall into that category who have been under suspicion--Mark McGwire--who also testified before Congress, and took the Fifth Amendment, in effect--Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and absolutely now Rafael Palmeiro.

INSKEEP: Now the suspension here is 10 days. Is that enough?

FEINSTEIN: I don't think so. I think the good news in this new policy is that when a player tests positive, he's outed the way Rafael Palmeiro is now been outed and embarrassed, and that's very good for anybody who tests positive. Commissioner Bud Selig has been pushing since early in the season to up the first offense suspension to 50 days; second, a hundred; and, then, third, being banned. The union has fought that by simply not responding. I think this is going to ratchet up the pressure on Donald Fehr and the union, just as the pressure's been going up on them since the BALCO trial last year revealed a lot of this steroid use by baseball players, to accept harsher penalties, 'cause the public's sick and tired of this. And I think, Steve, one thing we all know now, this is just scratching the surface in terms of steroid use in baseball, and, probably, in all of sports.

INSKEEP: John, thanks very much.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: The comments of John Feinstein, a regular guest on this program. His recent book is "Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery."

This is NPR News.

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