Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Baseball [Print without images]

Friday, September 23, 2005
Palmeiro doesn't have any wiggle room left

By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com

There is a road less traveled here, and Raffy Palmeiro needs to go down it tomorrow, seeing as how yesterday is no longer available. Time to quit while the man is behind.

Time to pull a McGwire, in other words -- head off around the bend, disappear from sight, drop out of the news for a while. It isn't the most attractive ending to a career that conjured serious debates over its Hall of Fame merits only a few months ago, but look, sometimes the bleak departure is infinitely preferable to the bleaker other prospects available.

Rafael Palmeiro
Rafael Palmeiro went so far as to need earplugs to block out the boos upon returning from his suspension.

This is it for Palmeiro. Once you've besmirched your own name in the game and been publicly identified as a player who might potentially roll on a teammate in a tight situation, there just isn't much maneuvering room left. The clubhouse is no longer your place.

Miguel Tejada may have done nothing more than given Palmeiro a syringe full of vitamin B-12 once upon a time, but as of today, Tejada is testing positive for toxic levels of Raffy association. You can imagine Tejada's horror: Just being seen in the same sentence with Palmeiro right now is enough to induce a cringe.

If the reports about Palmeiro are true -- that he vaguely mentioned Tejada and the B-12 shot while discussing his positive steroid test -- then he essentially hasn't done an honorable thing in connection with baseball's steroid case in months. But he can do the right thing now, and that means never returning to the Baltimore Orioles or any other Major League Baseball team.

It might even work to Palmeiro's advantage in the long run, though there can't be anybody on any side of the debate who is currently concerned about the man burnishing his image. But again, a page out of the McGwire Handbook is illustrative here.

Not long after shaking the baseball world to its foundations with his historic home run pursuits in the late 1990s, Mark McGwire essentially broke down physically. Carrying a massive bulk of muscles (a musculature now largely suspected to have been steroid-aided) on top of a mortal frame, McGwire simply couldn't handle his own load. He was so done, so limited physically, that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa actually found himself in the previously unthinkable situation of needing to pinch hit for the ineffective McGwire during the NL playoffs.

And that was it. McGwire called it quits and vanished. He politely declined interview requests. He didn't write a book. He didn't go on the selling/speaking circuit. He continued to quietly do some charity work, learned the game of golf and otherwise attempted as best he could to go from Paul Bunyan to Joe Nobody as quickly as possible.

But for a congressional subpoena this summer, McGwire might still be that very rich nobody. As it happened, he had no choice but to appear before the subcommittee investigating drug abuses in baseball alongside a raft of other current and former players. Alas, Big Mac came up small in that moment, his repeated refusals to answer questions related to steroids and other substances seeming to convict him more deeply from one instant to the next. It was a squirmer. (Footnote: McGwire then promptly dropped out of sight again, his only likely public sighting to come next week when St. Louis closes the door on Busch Stadium forever.)

For Rafael Palmeiro, his congressional moment already has come and gone. He played it like a pro, wagging a finger and essentially attempting to shame the elected officials for having the nerve to drag him into the proceeding, only to get popped later for the positive steroid test and wind up vilified from one end of planet baseball to the other. Now comes the news, first reported by the Baltimore Sun, that Palmeiro raised the B-12 shot as a possible explanation for his test result.

That's not the same as saying Palmeiro ratted out Tejada, and the people accusing him of that clearly haven't read the reports closely. But at this point, the perception is running a strong first against the reality, and the fact that Palmeiro raised the subject of the B-12 at all suddenly looms as damning (when, quite possibly, he was simply casting through any number of possible explanations that might get him off the hook).

So the Orioles' clubhouse is no place for Palmeiro -- but he doesn't have to go back there. Officially rehabbing injuries to his right knee and left ankle, Palmeiro has a perfect out there. No reason to poison the water.

And his congressional experience, humiliating as it now has become, is also virtually behind him. A source close to the House Government Reform Committee has told the Washington Post that the committee probably doesn't have enough evidence to charge Palmeiro with perjury for his March testimony. He's likely done on that front.

Nope, what will happen now, most likely, is that the committee will simply release the results of its investigation and let the public make up its own mind as to whether Palmeiro was telling the truth. It's not doing Palmeiro any favors there, but then Palmeiro doesn't necessarily have to be around to absorb the body blows.

He can, instead, take it underground -- and he should. It isn't to say Palmeiro won't decide otherwise; if the events of this season demonstrate anything, it's that whatever you thought about Palmeiro as a figure in baseball, his stubbornness and self-destructive tendencies are a revelation. At this point, that stands as part of the bad news.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at mkreidler@sacbee.com.