One word sums up fans' reaction: sadness


On a stifling August dog-day afternoon, the city's shoulders seemed a little more hunched, its gait a little more shuffling, and not just from the oppressive heat and humidity.

"If what we've heard about Palmeiro is the way it really is, then it's just sad," said Mike Durham, owner of The Sport Shop, a store that sells jerseys, hats and accessories at Harborplace on Baltimore's waterfront. Durham was referring, of course, to the 10-day suspension of star Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro after testing positive for steroid use.

"The fans who come in here are fans, and I couldn't tell you whether we've sold more or fewer Palmeiro shirts over the last two days," said Durham, 59. "But I do know that the local fans who are coming in here are all saying how sad it is."

From downtown bars to City Hall, the word that seemed to be uttered most frequently when the name of Palmeiro came up was -- sad.

After his suspension was announced Monday and Palmeiro insisted he never knowingly took steroids, yesterday's revelation that the substance found was stanozolol -- which experts said indicates its use was likely deliberate -- spread more gloom. The development stood in stark contrast to Palmeiro's unequivocal declaration in March in front of a congressional committee that he never used steroids.

At the Wharf Rat at Camden Yards, a sports bar within a long fly ball of Oriole Park, the mood was crestfallen, even bitter.

"I remember when Raffy was here the first time with Cal [Ripken] and we were going to the playoffs and everyone was so excited," said Stacie McGarrigle, 34, general manager at the Pratt Street bar. "That's why I was so happy about him coming back here. And now this. It's so sad."

On Tuesday, at a public appearance, talking about homeland security before the National Press Club in Washington, Mayor Martin O'Malley said of Palmeiro: "My reaction was one of sadness. That's probably the best I can say. I hope he and his family come through this."

Having lunch at the Wharf Rat, baseball fans Todd Buck and Mark Feiring discussed Palmeiro and criticized not just the player but Major League Baseball, saying its stance on steroids was both too soft and too secretive.

"I didn't believe him [Monday]," said Buck, a 35-year-old attorney from Ashburn, Va. "I did believe him in March when he testified ... but when the story broke, I couldn't believe that a professional athlete at any level would put anything in his body and not know what it was."

Feiring, 40, a direct marketing company owner who lives in Canton, said he has attended 15 to 20 Orioles games this year.

"I was shocked," Feiring said. "People here loved his ethics, or what they perceived to be his ethics. ... I've heard a lot of people say that they feel cheated and betrayed. And what do you say to the kids. Baseball has always been about family."

Both Buck and Feiring said they were unhappy with what they believed are baseball's light penalties for steroid use and the piecemeal fashion in which Palmeiro's story has unfolded, including the nature of the substance that was reportedly found.

"We are the consumers of the game," Buck said, "and we deserve to know the facts."

"It might be a private company, but it's a public game," Feiring added.

Next door at the Downtown Sports Exchange, another sports bar and restaurant, bartender Austin Edell said he had become accustomed to the notion of steroid use in baseball, but he wasn't braced for Palmeiro's involvement.

"With [Sammy] Sosa and some of those guys, you thought, 'Yeah, they might have done it,' but with Palmeiro, you never expected it," said Edell, 23, of Mount Vernon.

Sosa, an ex-Chicago Cub in his first year with the Orioles, was mentioned in a recent book by former slugger Jose Canseco as a suspected steroids user. In the same book, Canseco said he injected Palmeiro with steroids, a contention Palmeiro denied.

Palmeiro and Sosa appeared in front of the congressional committee in March to discuss the issue. There has been no proof that Sosa has used steroids.

Meanwhile, back in front of The Sport Shop at the Inner Harbor, tourist Merlin Jackson, a 61-year-old retired teacher from New Orleans, was looking at an orange Palmeiro jersey hanging in the store window and shaking his head.

"They won't be able to give those things away," Jackson said. "I think it's a doggone shame. Here he said this and that in front of Congress and then they bust him. It's a shame, especially for the kids."

The timing of Palmeiro's fall is particularly awkward because, just a few weeks ago, he reached the 3,000-hit mark, a milestone that usually assures a player a place in baseball's Hall of Fame. In a few weeks, the Orioles plan to hold an on-field ceremony marking Palmeiro's accomplishment.

Shop owner Durham, who watches fans come and go daily, said he believes there's a chance Orioles followers will put Palmeiro's problems aside.

"I think they'll accept him after this," Durham said. "It's like you know there's no Santa Claus but you want to have Christmas anyway -- for the kids, anyhow."

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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