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Dark clouds hovering over Palmeiro

Dark clouds hovering over Palmeiro

This is the kind of news that unfortunately tends to put even 569 home runs and 3,018 hits in an entirely different light.

Rafael Palmeiro was apparently on his way to the Hall of Fame, having passed the two lofty standards for induction. But Monday, the Commissioner's office announced that Palmeiro had been suspended for 10 days for violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

In baseball, 2005, that means steroids. In a conference call with reporters, Palmeiro said: "I am here to make it very clear that I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period."

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These words were very close to the ones that Palmeiro used earlier this year when testifying before a Congressional committee that was investigating steroid use in baseball. This time, however, there was the addition of the word "intentionally."

Palmeiro's presence at the Congressional hearing arose at least in part from his presence in Jose Canseco's book. Palmeiro was one of a number of players accused by Canseco of using steroids. In his testimony before the Congressional committee, Palmeiro categorically denied the allegation.

Now, however, we have something much more damaging and tangible than accusations by a former player in a tell-all book. We have a positive test for use of a banned substance. And that brings us back to "intentionally."

"When I found out that I failed a test under the new drug policy," Palmeiro said Monday, "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."

Palmeiro had no explanation for how a banned substance might have unintentionally entered his body. This, of course, is the fundamental weakness in this particular defense.

Palmeiro went on to apologize to Major League Baseball, the Baltimore Orioles organization, his teammates on the Orioles, and his fans. And he went on to profess his great love for the game.

Rafael Palmeiro's Suspension

These were statements that had to be made in a situation such as this. It is now up to the court of public opinion to judge his sincerity, and his intentions, for that matter.

Palmeiro will now serve a 10-day suspension, under the terms of the drug program, the terms that have been widely criticized as being far too lenient. It is sadly ironic that this occurred in the same summer in which Rafael Palmeiro reached the 3,000-hit mark, the same summer in which his career was reviewed and renewed and found to be, by the weight of the numbers he produced, exceptional.

The spotlight was on Rafael Palmeiro then, but it was shining a warm, friendly light. His work had to be measured against that of the truly great. It was like a lifetime achievement award was belatedly coming for this player. This was much bigger than even the Viagra ads.

Now, the spotlight that will be shining on Rafael Palmeiro will be simply harsh and unforgiving. Palmeiro is the biggest "name" thus far to have been caught and publicized under baseball's new testing program. This is a distinction you really don't want to have.

The question with Rafael Palmeiro now is not about his production, his consistency, his durability. The question now is not even whether he used banned performance-enhancing substances. The tests say that he did. The question is whether you choose to believe his explanation; that his use of these substances was unintentional.

How you answer that question determines your view of his legacy. At the moment, the very best thing you can objectively say is that his previously wonderful body of work has been placed under a cloud. And unintentionally or not, he put the cloud there himself.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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