A House committee report released yesterday undermines former Orioles star Rafael Palmeiro's contention that his positive steroids test was accidental and provides an alarming glimpse at life inside the team's clubhouse, which one lawmaker called "a mess."

The House Government Reform Committee's 44-page report partially spares Palmeiro, saying the panel lacks the evidence to determine whether he lied under oath when he testified in March that he had never used steroids.

But the report also punches holes in Palmeiro's defense at an arbitration hearing this summer - a defense that Major League Baseball attorney Francis Q. Coonelly called "far-fetched and odd."

And the report depicts an Orioles clubhouse where players seemed to routinely pass around vials of a vitamin supplement from the Dominican Republic and where baseball drug-testing procedures seemed to be violated.

Palmeiro had told the committee a tainted vitamin B-12 shot from teammate Miguel Tejada may have caused him to test positive for a steroid. However, baseball tested samples of Tejada's B-12 and found they contained no steroids.

Still Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland expressed concern at the portrayal of a syringe-infested clubhouse culture, calling it "a mess." Besides citing the apparently rampant use of injectable B-12, the report also quotes former Texas Rangers trainer Dan Wheat as saying that amphetamines, or "greenies," are prevalent in the sport.

Wheat "once asked a player, 'Of the nine players on the field, how many took greenies today?' The answer from the player was 'eight,'" the report said.

It said one unidentified player reported that on at least one occasion players spiked the clubhouse coffee with amphetamines.

Amphetamines are not prohibited by the game, but Congress is pushing for a ban. Injectable B-12 is available in the United States with a prescription.

Lax enforcement
The panel also concluded that lax enforcement of urine collection rules meant that at least two players were unsupervised for several hours after being informed of their coming test. It said the time between notification and the test itself , which is supposed to be an hour at most, "provides opportunities for players to cheat on their drug tests - either by taking masking agents to avoid the detection of steroids in their urine or by more invasive methods."

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the committee's top-ranking Democrat, said the report "has reaffirmed my belief that we need legislation to deal with performance-enhancing drugs."

Congress is considering a number of bills, including one by Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher, requiring a half-season ban for a first steroid offense. In August, Palmeiro served a 10-day suspension under the current rules.

Palmeiro, 41, whose career clearly was on a Hall of Fame track until he was suspended, won a partial victory yesterday. The committee concluded there was insufficient evidence to recommend a Justice Department perjury investigation of the first baseman, who had denied using steroids in March and agreed to join an anti-steroids advisory group.

Palmeiro tested positive for stanozolol, a powerful steroid, on May 4. But the committee said it could not determine whether he had been using illegal performance-enhancing drugs when he testified seven weeks earlier.

"I am pleased that after a thorough investigation - one in which I cooperated fully - the Committee has decided to drop this matter," Palmeiro, who was at his Texas home, said yesterday in a prepared statement. "I have never intentionally taken steroids, and I strongly oppose the illegal use of steroids by athletes or anyone else."

Palmeiro was not giving interviews yesterday, according to spokesman Beau Phillips.

The committee didn't endorse Palmeiro's version of how steroids entered his body.

"During his interview with the committee, Mr. Palmeiro stated that his best guess as to what caused his positive steroid test was his use of liquid B-12 given to him by teammate Miguel Tejada," committee Chairman Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, said in releasing the report. "However, the committee obtained no evidence indicating that B-12 has ever been inadvertently contaminated with steroids."