Juice leaves lasting stain on Palmeiro

You just get one strike in this game of trust, not three, before your integrity is challenged.

From his comments to reporters yesterday, it's clear Palmeiro is going to insist it was all a mistake; he said he doesn't even know how the steroids got into his system.

"You have to be careful with what you're taking," he said. "You have to make sure that you, you know, see a doctor, you know, you make sure you get your, whatever it is you're taking, your supplement, that you're taking it from a reputable source."

He even said he hoped kids would learn from this and pay closer attention to what they put in their bodies.

"It happened to me and it could happen to anyone," he said.

Here are three problems with that version of events:

Most kids and clear-eyed fans are only going to remember that Palmeiro told Congress he wasn't a user and then flunked a test - period.

Baseball's list of banned substances (one of which got Palmeiro caught) is composed mostly of sophisticated performance-enhancing chemicals, not vague substances that get thrown into supplements you can buy at the mall.

And finally, in today's sports world, soaked equally in chemicals and money, the vast majority of athletes - especially veterans such as Palmeiro - tend to know everything about what they're putting in their bodies.

There is just too much at stake not to know - contracts, reputations, endorsements, health.

"We tell our players that anything they put into their bodies, we should know about," Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said yesterday.

Palmeiro wants you to believe he flouted that order and blew it, simple as that. Some people will believe him. Who doesn't want to? Palmeiro has been a terrific player and a class act, and his defense offered yesterday was plausible in many respects. Why would he have used steroids when he was near the end of his career, closing in on 3,000 hits and had pledged his innocence under oath before Congress?

"There was nothing for me to gain and everything to lose," he said. "I would not put my career on the line. I would not put my reputation on the line."

But facts are facts. He had steroids in his system. And the paradigm changes, unavoidably, when a test comes back positive.

Try as a player might, there's really no spinning it, no justifying it, no explaining it. The story is written in ink, permanent, irreversible:

You're caught juicing. And you can never go back.

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