THREE DAYS after Rafael Palmeiro's somewhat contrite voice hit the national airwaves, Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig issued a statement.

He wanted the public to know that all eight of this year's steroid suspensions, including Palmeiro's, show that the league's policy is working.

But he also took the opportunity to again plug his proposal that intensifies the levels of discipline for failed drug tests. He wants a player suspended 50 games for a first offense, 100 for a second and a lifetime ban for a third.

The current policy dictates a 10-day suspension for a first offense, 30 days for the second, 60 days for the third and a full year for the fourth.

"There exists some doubt in the public sector about our sincerity in eliminating steroids from the game. That is wrong," Selig said. "We must create an understanding everywhere that when we say we need to rid the game of steroids we mean it.

"The best way is to put in place the program that I proposed."

No question there should be a lifetime ban instituted by MLB and the players union. Selig is correct about that.

So why not adopt the World Anti-Doping Agency's recommendations and establish a two-year ban on the first offense and a lifetime boot on the second? That would be a deterrent with a capital D.

As for Selig's proposal, it's posturing with a capital P.

If nothing else, Palmeiro's situation proves that the length of suspension - unless it is a real killer - is incidental.

Remember in March, when there was a debate between the significance of 10 days versus 10 games? Think that matters to Palmeiro and his handlers now? Think he cares that it wasn't a fine and/or a suspension? If Palmeiro had a choice, he'd probably like a longer break, so that the hysteria can subside some before he heads back to Camden Yards this week.

The truth is, Palmeiro's reputation is trashed. Even if he ever tells "his story," it won't make a lasting impact in the court of public opinion.

The verdict has already been reached. And don't think that every player in baseball isn't paying attention. No one wants to go through what he has.

It's something one of Palmeiro's teammates predicted in the offseason.

Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons has said repeatedly that the real deterrent would come when a player of note failed a test and the national media swooped in.

Once that happens, Gibbons predicted in January and again in March, even the riskiest players would think twice about forever tainting their images.

As the team's player rep, Gibbons has to be up on the steroid policy. But he also has a personal interest, as the Orioles' most ripped player. When there is speculation about steroid-using ballplayers, he knows he'll be mentioned because of his muscular physique.

But his body hasn't changed much since he came to the Orioles as a Rule 5 draftee in 2001. A workout fiend, Gibbons welcomed a more stringent steroid policy, because he wants to show the public that athletes can be fit and clean simultaneously. He believes the embarrassment involved with the public disclosure of a failed drug test should help make that point more quickly. He's right.

It seemed crazy that anyone - especially someone who denied steroid use under oath in March - would take the risk at any time in 2005.

But now, thanks to Palmeiro, it's unfathomable that a big leaguer would touch anything that could be on the banned list. It just isn't worth the PR nightmare.

Sure, the backlash varies. The bigger the star, the harder the fall. There wasn't a similar outrage when Alex Sanchez or Juan Rincon or Jorge Piedra tested positive.

Rincon, a Minnesota Twins reliever who was probably the best player to fail a test before Palmeiro, said he hasn't been ridiculed at opposing stadiums since his suspension. But he knows his name will always be connected with steroids. There's no way to shake it now. And that stigma has worsened since Monday.

This is what Selig wanted. Because this type of revelation, and its ugly aftermath, is the true deterrent.

The only thing worse is the potential of losing years or a career to a failed drug test.

But 10 games versus 50 versus 100? It's an on-paper way to show that Selig and MLB mean business.

As the Palmeiro fiasco proves, the length of suspension makes little difference.

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