Five months after adamantly denying before Congress that he had used steroids, Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro has been suspended for violating Major League Baseball's policy on the banned substance.
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.
"It's important that they understand there are regulated and nonregulated substances," executive vice president Jim Beattie said.
An Orioles source confirmed that the team was first notified by Major League Baseball of a "serious matter" Friday and that it became aware Saturday that Palmeiro faced a steroids-related suspension. It is not known why Major League Baseball waited until yesterday to announce that the arbitrator had denied Palmeiro's appeal.
"We were deeply saddened by the news," said vice president Mike Flanagan, who spoke with Palmeiro for about 10 minutes.
In an earlier statement, Flanagan said, "I am obviously disappointed to hear the news of this suspension. Raffy has been a friend of mine for many years. He is one of the most dedicated and hard-working players in baseball. I know he would not violate the rules intentionally. I look forward to his return. We will surely miss him and his contribution to the club."
Two weeks ago, Palmeiro joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, a former Oriole, as the only players with 3,000 hits and 500 homers.
"I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period," Palmeiro said in his statement. "When I found out that I failed a test under the new drug policy, I filed a grievance and challenged the suspension on the basis that I have never intentionally taken a banned substance.
"Ultimately, although I never intentionally put a banned substance into my body, the independent arbitrator ruled that I had to be suspended under the terms of the program."
Major League Baseball's confidentiality agreement prohibited Palmeiro and his agent Arn Tellem from revealing the date that Palmeiro was tested or the number of times, or when he filed a grievance. First-time offenders get 10-day suspensions.
"I would love to tell what happened so everyone would understand," he said, "especially the players around the league and the kids around the country so they don't make the same mistake."
Palmeiro, who will lose $163,934 of his $3 million salary, said he hopes his reputation won't be tarnished by the suspension, which was imposed as the Orioles lost for the 14th time in 16 games, a slide that has dropped them into fourth place in the American League East.
"I've worked very hard over a long 20-year career," he said. "I've put in a lot of time and a lot of effort into my career. I made a mistake and I'm facing it. I hope people learn from my mistake, and I hope the fans forgive me.
"This was an unfortunate situation for me. I've played my heart out for the fans in Baltimore. I just hope they forgive me. I want to apologize to them. I truly am sorry that this has happened to me and our organization, but this by no means was an intentional act."
Fan Lonny Samuels of White Marsh said, "If it's true, it just goes to show athletes will cheat to get away with it with all the money involved. All the people who didn't want him to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer [will hold this against him], but he'll still get in. What everybody will think is that his numbers were inflated."
Accused in Jose Canseco's book of injecting the drug, Palmeiro testified before a congressional committee on March 17. In an emotional opening statement, he said, "Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never."
Reminded of those words yesterday, Palmeiro said, "When I testified before Congress, I knew I was testifying under oath. I told the truth. And today, I'm telling the truth again, that I did not do this intentionally or knowingly."
Palmeiro said he is unsure whether he will face perjury charges, but he has called Virginia Republican Tom Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, and will attempt to contact California's Henry A. Waxman, the committee's ranking Democrat.
"I went in front of Congress, and I was honest with Congress," Palmeiro said. "I've been through a lot of stress since that day. There's no absolute reason for me to do anything at this stage of my career; there's nothing for me to gain and everything to lose.
"This is probably going to be my last year. I was not about to put everything on the line, my reputation and everything I've worked for so hard in my life, to do anything like this. It just makes no sense. I'm not a crazy person, I'm not stupid. It was an accident and I'm paying the price."
Lawmakers could ask the Justice Department to pursue perjury charges, but such charges are rare. "The imprecision of congressional testimony makes it nearly impossible for the Justice Department to make out a proper perjury investigation," said Joseph diGenova, U.S. attorney in Washington during the Reagan administration.
"There aren't that many congressional perjury cases around. Most of them were from the 1950s. It does happen, although not lately."
The Orioles are planning an Aug. 14 ceremony at Camden Yards to honor Palmeiro for joining the 3,000-hit, 500-home run club. A banner congratulating him hangs on the B&O warehouse.
"I feel terrible that this has happened, but I think there is something to be gained from it," Palmeiro said. "If my situation results in the education of current and future players about the dangers of taking anything without a prescription from a licensed physician, that is a positive. At the end of the day, it is important for all players to understand the risk of contamination and to be very careful about what they put in their body."
Players union head Donald Fehr said the suspension "should serve to dispel doubts about our determination to rid baseball of illegal steroids, or the strength or effectiveness of our testing program."
Players were told of the suspension after yesterday's 6-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox. They were read Palmeiro's statement.
"I think the guys were taken aback by it," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "They were saddened and disappointed by what happened. The guys came together and wanted to give their support to Raffy."
"We need to try to be as supportive as we can because ... this is going to be a pretty tough ride for Raffy," outfielder B.J. Surhoff said.
The Orioles are permitted to replace Palmeiro, so they won't be a man short for their road trip that begins tonight in Anaheim, Calif., and continues with a weekend series in Arlington, Texas.
Sun staff writers Ken Murray, Peter Schmuck and Jeff Zrebiec, and the Associated Press contributed to his article.
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