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Wednesday, March 30, 2005
First baseman discusses Canseco's book's impact

Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- For years, Rafael Palmeiro was linked to the words power and consistency. Now, for some, there's another: steroids.

The image of Palmeiro taking a sweet swing from the left side of the plate has been replaced in some minds by the sight of him testifying before a House committee investigating steroids in baseball.

Rafael Palmeiro
First Base
Baltimore Orioles
154 23 88 68 2 .258

The hearing included testimony from Jose Canseco, who in his book cited Palmeiro and several other players as steroid users. Palmeiro emphatically denies using the performance-enhancing drug, but the Baltimore Orioles' first baseman can't deny how perceptions have changed.

"In my opinion, everyone that plays baseball in this era has been tainted," Palmeiro said. "Not just the people that he has named in the book, I think this whole era over the last 10, 15 or 20 years has been tainted. Regardless of whether you did or you didn't do anything, this whole era will have that label."

Palmeiro needs only 78 hits to join Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray in the 3,000-hit, 500-homer club. His career numbers should earn him a ticket to the Hall of Fame -- unless voters believe those numbers stem from steroid use.

"What can you do about it? All I can do is keep playing the game with passion, the way it's supposed to be played, and respect it," Palmeiro said.

Those close to Palmeiro know his success can be attributed to hard work and a seemingly effortless swing that has produced 551 homers and 2,922 hits.

"When I was with the Minnesota Twins and he was elsewhere, I would always use his swing as an example for some of our younger hitters," Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley said. "Then we got a chance to hook up last year, and I got to see up close what I knew was a beautiful swing."

In my opinion, everyone that plays baseball in this era has been tainted.
Rafael Palmeiro

Sammy Sosa, who also testified before the House committee, played with Palmeiro on the Texas Rangers in 1989. At that time, the two spoke excitedly of doing great things in the major leagues. Sosa was traded to the Chicago White Sox three months later, but remained close to Palmeiro and is delighted to again be his teammate.

"He's got talent, and the numbers that he has is because he was working hard," Sosa said. "He's a smart hitter, he's got a good swing. He's always been an awesome hitter."

While Sosa chases the 600-homer mark this season -- he's only 26 away -- the 40-year-old Palmeiro will be zeroing in on his 3,000th hit. But both players are more intent upon helping the Orioles make a run at Boston and New York in the AL East.

"The season's more important, that's for sure," Palmeiro said. "I think the 3,000 hits, sort of like the 600 homers for Sammy, is a nice bonus for all of us and our fans to enjoy."

Palmeiro recalled his talks with Sosa in 1989.

"They were just dreams, really," Palmeiro said. "As a young player, you don't realize the potential you have until you start playing and developing. But we had big dreams, and we've accomplished a lot them. All but the one that we want most, and that's to get to the World Series."

Born in Cuba, Palmeiro played for Mississippi State before the Chicago Cubs drafted him as the 22nd overall pick in 1985. He made it to the majors in his second pro season and hit only 33 homers in his first 414 games. At that point, he was more concerned with keeping his job than amassing Hall of Fame numbers.

"How do you think about something like that when you're just trying to stick in the big leagues? As a young player, all you want is to get a chance to play," he said. "You think I thought I'd play 19 years? I just wanted to make a career, make some money in this game and enjoy myself."

And how would he like to be remembered?

"I would hope for the most part," Palmeiro said, "people would look at me and say, 'There's a guy who worked his tail off and went about his business and played the game the right way. He left a mark, and then he moved on.' "