Citing a confidentiality agreement with Major League Baseball repeatedly during a 25-minute teleconference yesterday, Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro avoided specific questions about when and what he might have taken that triggered a failed steroids test and a subsequent 10-day suspension.

Another question he couldn't answer, however, is the one that surely will cloud the twilight of Palmeiro's career and his first few years in retirement.

Will yesterday's announcement and suspension taint his legacy and cost him a spot in the Hall of Fame? "That's not for me to determine," Palmeiro said. "I hope that people look at my whole career and appreciate that I have given everything I've got. I respect the game, I respect my opponents, I respect the players who have come before me.

"I respect the Hall of Fame. And if they think I am worthy enough, I would be very honored. And if they don't, I gave all that I had to this game."

Palmeiro, whose 18-year career always has been overshadowed by teammates and bigger stars at his position, seemingly received his just due July 15 when he doubled against Seattle to record his 3,000th hit. He joined Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only men with 3,000 hits and more than 500 home runs.

It seemed a near certainty he would take his place alongside them in Cooperstown, perhaps in his first year of eligibility - five years after his retirement.

Roughly two weeks after his biggest baseball high, though, the 40-year-old Palmeiro's chances at Cooperstown are tenuous.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Rafael Palmeiro has impeccable Hall of Fame credentials as a player," said T.R. Sullivan, president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, the organization that votes for Hall of Fame induction. "But all players from the current era are going to have to deal with the shadows of this. There is absolutely no way around it.

"And it is not going to go away."

Buster Olney, senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a former baseball writer for The Sun, said on ESPN yesterday that he would vote for Palmeiro "and grit my teeth while doing it."

Sullivan, a baseball writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram who covered Palmeiro while he was with the Texas Rangers, said voters have looked past disturbing developments in players' careers previously.

As examples, he mentioned Hall of Fame pitchers Juan Marichal (assaulting an opponent with a bat), Gaylord Perry (spitballs) and Ferguson Jenkins (drug arrest).

He believes it is the responsibility of his members to weigh the steroids issue when voting for induction. Ryne Sandberg, the former Chicago Cubs second baseman, said as much during his speech Sunday at the Hall of Fame induction, which Sullivan attended.

"You listen to Ryne Sandberg's awesome speech and these players are definitely going to be held accountable," Sullivan said. "Sandberg's speech was the keynote address for former players on this subject."

Orioles Hall of Fame pitcher and current broadcaster Jim Palmer said he wants more information before he makes any judgment regarding Palmeiro.

"I don't know what the substance is, what the circumstances are. You just don't know," Palmer said. "I don't think a lot of people know and the testing doesn't allow you to know."

He blamed the players union for resisting testing and skirting the steroids issue until recently. Because of that, there is no way to know whose career numbers are inflated and whose aren't.

"Obviously, there's been a suspension," Palmer said. "Does that indict him for the last 18 years? I don't know. You have to have an open mind."

Orioles TV broadcaster Buck Martinez, a former major league player and manager, said the Palmeiro incident calls into question this entire generation of players. And it further confuses the next generation of baseball fans.