"We heard from some of the fans today," Martinez said. "About how they brought their kids to the game and they were looking at that 3,000-hit banner [honoring Palmeiro] and saying, 'What's that mean, Dad?'"

It also sent ripples of confusion through the baseball world.

Mississippi State baseball coach Ron Polk was walking toward the Palmeiro Center on the Starkville (Miss.) campus yesterday afternoon to give a tour of the partially completed, multimillion-dollar, indoor facility when he heard that the man who provided the seed money for the complex had failed the drug test.

"I said, 'No way,' " Polk recalled.

He finished the tour and went directly to his office, where he found a press release confirming the news.

"I don't know what it all means," said Polk, Palmeiro's college manager for three seasons. "I don't know if it was in prescription drugs or over-the-counter. He's saying he can't identify it. And I have to go along with my guy."

But not everyone will be so charitable.

Regardless of the intention, Palmeiro failed a drug test.

It came five months after his former Texas Rangers teammate, Jose Canseco, alleged in a tell-all book that he injected Palmeiro with steroids and more than four months after Palmeiro pointed his finger at a congressional hearing and vehemently denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs.

Yesterday's revelation is a "black eye" to Palmeiro's image, according to Steve Lauletta, president of Radiate Sports Group, a sports marketing firm in Charlotte, N.C.

Lasting damage can be avoided only if Major League Baseball admits it made a mistake, Lauletta said. Short of that, this will - and should - follow Palmeiro, he added.

"They are paid millions of dollars to know what's going in their bodies, what's legal and not legal," Lauletta said. "I think they have to accept responsibility. That's why I don't think intentional vs. unintentional really matters."

Never a marketing darling - Palmeiro's most recognizable endorsement was for Viagra, an erectile-dysfunction medication - his 3,000th hit might have helped him land further deals, Lauletta said. But not now.

Perhaps no one has a better idea of what is in store for Palmeiro than Minnesota Twins reliever Juan Rincon, who failed a drug test in May.

As a key member of a bullpen that helped the Twins reach the postseason in 2004, Rincon had been the most recognizable name to be suspended for steroid use this year.

"It's pretty hard. Everybody is going to point fingers at you," said Rincon, who served his suspension, but also has maintained he took steroids inadvertently.

He said he hasn't been the target of razzing from fans at other stadiums. However, the road might be a lot rougher for Palmeiro, he said.

"There's no comparison between his career and my career," Rincon said. "You go to a town and people don't know your name. But Palmeiro, I'm pretty sure they know his name."

"I don't want to be in his shoes," Rincon added. "I feel sad. I feel bad because he is a great person."

Sun staff writers Jeff Zrebiec and Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.