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Sun exclusive

Palmeiro speaks

Ex-Oriole maintains innocence, says he's 'open' to return

By Dan Connolly

sun reporter

June 30, 2006

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The man whose finger-wagging image may forever be the lasting snapshot of baseball's so-called steroid era hasn't paid much attention to the sport's most recent drug scandal.

Rafael Palmeiro spends his mornings working out, his days playing baseball with his two sons at his suburban Dallas home and his nights watching on TV as his former teammates throughout the majors play the game he still loves.

He has seen the ESPN and newspaper reports that his former Orioles teammate, Jason Grimsley, allegedly said in a federal affidavit that Grimsley took human growth hormone and other illegal steroids. He said he doesn't know much more about it, though. And he's not sure whether the revelations make his explanation for failing a steroid test last season - he claims a liquid form of the vitamin B-12 that he obtained from teammate Miguel Tejada must have been accidentally tainted with the steroid stanozolol - more plausible to the public.

But 10 months after unceremoniously leaving the Orioles and almost a year after celebrating his 3,000th career hit, Palmeiro doesn't waver from his story.

"Yes sir, that's what happened. It's not a story; it's the reality of what happened," Palmeiro told The Sun yesterday in his first public comments since a federal investigation cleared him of potential perjury charges.

If anything, Palmeiro said, testimony that players may have been using undetectable performance-enhancing drugs should demonstrate how unlikely it would be for a veteran to willingly take something as traceable as stanozolol, a decades-old steroid, when the sport's new testing policy was under way.

"With all the great products that are apparently out there that are undetectable, for me to take something like that ... when people take things that now aren't even being tested for, does it make any sense?" Palmeiro said.

"I wouldn't take it, that's the answer," said Palmeiro, who in March 2005 sternly told a congressional committee investigating steroids in sports that he had never used any performance-enhancing drugs. "I said what I said before Congress because I meant every word of it."

When asked about his reaction specifically to the allegations on the Grimsley affidavit, Palmeiro said: "I'm not going to say what was being used in the clubhouse; whatever happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse. But it was not like it was in your face. [The media are] in there, too.

"I don't think anybody ever saw anybody taking anything. I don't know who took what. That is pretty private with an individual. I'm sure guys take stuff, something as simple as a cup of coffee in the middle of the summer, in 100-degree heat. It gives you a little energy boost. I'm sure guys try to find an edge. In my case, I used B-12."

Palmeiro said he first started using B-12 while he was with the Texas Rangers, even though there is no medical evidence that the vitamin increases energy or performance.

"It seemed to, whether it was mental or not," Palmeiro said. "It gave me a little edge, a little energy boost."

While under investigation by the federal government, Palmeiro said he had to produce whatever he had taken in the past, including creatine, power shakes and the B-12. He said he never intended to implicate Tejada, whom he still considers a good friend.

"That's almost like blaming my brother for something he didn't do," Palmeiro said.

Palmeiro said he hasn't spoken to Tejada since he left the team in September, but he still watches the Orioles on occasion. Last weekend, he talked to second baseman Brian Roberts in a chance encounter, when Roberts inadvertently text-messaged Palmeiro instead of another friend. Palmeiro called Roberts and they had a brief, pleasant talk during which the Orioles were never discussed.

"It was like a two-minute conversation," Roberts said. "But it was good to see how he was doing."

A year ago this week, Palmeiro was closing in on the magical 3,000th hit plateau, which he eventually reached with a double in Seattle on July 15. During that emotional time, Palmeiro and his family were secretly dealing with the news of the failed test.

"I never got a chance to really soak it in and enjoy it ... " Palmeiro said. "It seems surreal. Here we are almost a year later and it almost seems like 3,000 hits didn't happen."

Asked whether that was one of the tragedies of the past year, Palmeiro countered: "The tragedy of all of this is that it happened to me and it shouldn't have happened. It ruined my life and my career. That's the tragedy of this. Three thousand, it's just a number. It's just a game. The other deals with my life and my livelihood and my family and all that I stand for. All of that is gone."

Palmeiro, 41, said he is continually working out and keeping himself in shape in case the opportunity arises for him to return to the playing field. He hits in a batting cage in his home and has run more this year than ever before. He said he and his agent haven't aggressively pursued coming back and he has no idea whether teams would want him.

"I love baseball, and the door remains open," he said. "There may be somebody interested and that would be great. ... I don't see myself as someone that brings a lot of luggage. I've never been a problem. I'm a good team guy."

In retrospect, he said he obviously would not have taken the B-12 and could have handled the overall situation differently.

"You've got to remember I was under a lot of pressure, more stress than you can ever imagine being under," Palmeiro said. "I was being advised by heavy-duty lawyers on what I should do. My life was on the line here and my career and everything I worked for, it was hanging by a thread."

Ultimately, he said he hopes he is remembered as a good ballplayer who always gave his best - and whether he is eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame is for the voters to decide.

What he wishes, more than anything, is that 2005 never existed.

"It was a hard time. It was something I would love to erase from my memory," he said. "To snap my fingers and let it go away. Even if it takes the 3,000th hit with it, just let it all go away."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com
Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.