WASHINGTON - Since being placed on a witness list by a congressional committee, Rafael Palmeiro has felt victimized. The Oriole and former Texas Ranger has said he doesn't understand why he should have to testify about possible steroid use simply because he was accused in a "tell-all" book of using the drugs.
But, according to committee staff members, there is a misunderstanding about why Palmeiro has been summoned to Thursday's hearing of the Committee on Government Reform.
It's not just because - as Palmeiro seems to believe - he was named in a recent book by retired slugger Jose Canseco. Canseco alleges in the book that Palmeiro and two Texas teammates "would bring their steroids to the ballpark and I would inject them there, the same way I used to inject [Mark] McGwire back at the Oakland Coliseum."
Rather, the staff members said in interviews yesterday, Palmeiro was tapped at least partly because of a Feb. 26 newspaper article that indicated he would be amenable to testifying.
At the time, the committee was still shaping its witness list before announcing the hearing, in which seven current and former players have been subpoenaed. Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the committee's ranking Democrat, was frustrated baseball had refused to investigate the allegations in Canseco's book. Waxman had just written a letter to Virginia Republican Tom Davis, the committee chairman, suggesting a hearing that would provide "an opportunity to find out what really happened."
The committee was looking for ballplayers who might be willing to cooperate in helping it determine whether Canseco's claims were true.
Then the committee read an article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that said: "Two of the four Baltimore Orioles mentioned in Jose Canseco's book would have no objections testifying before a congressional committee interested in his allegations and assertions of steroid use in baseball."
The article said Palmeiro and pitcher Tony Saunders were amenable to testifying, although it also quoted Palmeiro as saying he hoped to concentrate "on baseball."
Partly because he seemed willing, Palmeiro was invited to join a witness list that now includes fellow Oriole Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees, retired former home run king McGwire, Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox, Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox and Canseco.
Palmeiro's agent, Fernando Cuza, did not return several telephone calls from The Sun seeking comment on the player's views.
Palmeiro, who has denied using steroids, said in an interview last week that he is being unfairly targeted. He has not said he will testify, nor has he said he will ignore that subpoena.
"There are 100 names in the book. What are they going to do, bring in 100 people? I feel like a victim now. I get put in a book I don't belong in, and now I may have to go testify before Congress," Palmeiro said last week.
Palmeiro has also said Thursday would be a bad day to testify because it is his wife's birthday.
Yesterday, Palmeiro's attorneys wrote a letter to the committee outlining his objections.
"Mr. Palmeiro should not have to appear at a hearing prompted by scurrilous and wholly false allegations by a former player," the letter said.
The panel said it is considering his objections but still expects all of the summoned players to appear.
In other hearing-related news yesterday:
Commissioner Bud Selig told the committee he will appear at the hearing after all to answer questions about efforts - criticized by lawmakers as too slow - to eradicate players' steroid use. Selig had previously said baseball has been making progress combating steroids, and he questioned why the panel would hold a hearing now. But yesterday Selig said he planned to attend.
"I am proud of the progress baseball has made on the subject of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs and look forward to sharing this information with the committee," he said in a statement.
Baseball turned over to the committee about 400 pages of documents on drug testing - including steroid test results with the names redacted - to comply with a committee subpoena. The panel said it was still determining whether all the requested records had been provided.
The committee continued to consult with the Justice Department about the possibility of granting limited immunity to some players who appear. The department is also specifically deciding whether it is appropriate for Giambi to testify even though he is also linked to a federal investigation of BALCO, a California laboratory at the center of a scandal involving baseball and football players and track and field stars.
Thomas' lawyer said traveling to Washington "could have adverse circulatory effects that could substantially impede Mr. Thomas' recovery" from ankle surgery.