Oriole given 10-day penalty for violating steroid policy; He says he never 'intentionally used' banned substance; grievance denied; 'This is a hard lesson learned for me'
Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan (from left), executive vice president Jim Beattie and manager Lee Mazzilli answer questions about Rafael Palmeiro. (Sun photo by John Makely / August 1, 2005)
The suspension, announced yesterday, will last 10 days and undoubtedly will raise suspicions about a career that is expected to culminate in Palmeiro's induction into baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Palmeiro, 40, issued a statement through the club and spoke to reporters from New York via a conference call shortly after 1:30 p.m.
"It was an accident. It was not an intentional act on my part," Palmeiro said.
Palmeiro said he must have ingested something - a supplement, vitamin or food product - that caused his test to come back positive.
Major League Baseball, the Orioles and Palmeiro would not be specific about when the test was conducted. But sources familiar with the program - though not Palmeiro's case - estimated that at least two to three weeks typically elapse between a test and a ruling on an appeal.
That means Palmeiro could have been dealing with the issue as he closed in his 3,000th hit, which he got July 15 in Seattle.
"It's an embarrassing situation. It's very unfortunate that it happened to me, especially this year," Palmeiro said. "Hopefully, we can all learn from it. This is a hard lesson learned for me. I will face it like a man and take my punishment, and I will come back strong, and I will come back and help my team."
Palmeiro is the seventh player to test positive for steroids under baseball's policy adopted this year, beginning with former Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Alex Sanchez, now with the San Francisco Giants. None of them has a higher profile than Palmeiro, who recently became the fourth player to collect 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.
President Bush led the support for Palmeiro yesterday, calling him a "friend" during an interview with reporters from several Texas newspapers.
"He's testified in public, and I believe him," said Bush, a part-owner of the Texas Rangers while Palmeiro played for them.
In a statement issued through the club, Orioles majority owner Peter G. Angelos said, "I am truly saddened by today's events. I have known Rafael Palmeiro for many years. He is a fine person, a great player and a true asset to his community. I know from personal experience that his accomplishments are due to hard work and his dedication to the game.
"I know that Rafael will accept the penalty under baseball's important drug policy and that he will return to be a productive member of the Orioles."
Angelos, reached by telephone late last night, reaffirmed his support for Palmeiro but declined to discuss the specifics of the case.
Major League Baseball's arbitration panel denied a grievance filed by Palmeiro through the players association.
In a news release yesterday, the panel said: "The result reached by the Panel is based on the uncontested positive test result and our determination that the evidence in this record is not sufficient for the player to meet his burden of establishing that his positive test result was not due to his fault or negligence.
"The panel considers it important to point out that our decision does not equate to a finding or belief that Rafael Palmeiro - whose testimony in many respects was quite compelling - was untruthful in his testimony before this panel or any other body."
Palmeiro said his message to youths would be: "You just have to be careful what you take. You have to make sure you see a doctor and get whatever it is you're taking, a supplement, from a reputable source, and just be very careful. It happened to me. It can happen to anyone."
Players are encouraged to provide the Orioles' training staff with a list of substances they are taking, in case of medical emergencies and to make certain they are not violating Major League Baseball rules.