Wednesday, August 03, 2005

JARring Results

I certainly was surprised, not to mention extremely disappointed, when I found out that Rafael Palmeiro had tested positive for steroids. I had always thought of him as one of the better people in the game, and his testimony before Congress earlier this year seemed to support my suspicions that he was, indeed, a decent man who achieved his success through hard work and natural ability.

Palmeiro was, before this year anyway, an underrated player who shone somewhat less brightly than the upper echelon of stars. This was partly because of his reserved nature, and partly because despite his impressive career totals and consistency, he never dominated in any one season or facet of the game. I used to think that this lack of a superstar year or years was because he didn't take steroids. He didn't expand suddenly, or have the boom and bust cycles of others who suddenly muscled up in the offseason with a fresh 25 pounds of steak. Of course, half of the players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs this year have been pitchers, so there's clearly more involved than bulk (recovery, drugs other than steroids, etc.).

Now Palmeiro's star has fallen, and the Hall of Fame caliber numbers that he has produced with that sweet lefty swing are being consumed by the black hole of his mouth. Every time he speaks, and tries to qualify one of his prior statements about things he has never done, he shrinks further in stature. The more he protests, the less flukey this seems.

Of his testing positive Palmeiro said on Monday, "It makes no sense. I would not put my career on the line. I would not put my reputation on the line. I'm not a crazy person. I'm not stupid." That certainly makes it seem like this was all an accident, that he unintentionally digested something that tripped the test wires. But if it's an accident, why is he apologizing?

And here are some other questions about Raffy: When did this test occur? When did he appeal? When did the arbitrator hear his case? How was he able to focus during the media spotlight leading up to his 3000th hit? Was that bittersweet? When did he take the substance? Has it impacted this current season (though his numbers are pretty decent for the year, .280 batting average, 18 home runs, 59 runs batted in, through May 9th, he was batting .222, with 1 home run and 7 runs batted in)? How many Palmeiro jerseys were sold around the time of his historic hit, and did that have anything to do with holding up the result?

It may be unfair to speculate like that, but he has opened a can of worms, a neverending inquiry into all he's accomplished to date and all those who knew about his positive test before this Monday. He's like an A student getting caught cheating in his final semester. It makes you wonder about that freshman biology grade.

We may never get full answers to these questions, and Major League Baseball's process does not make it any clearer. Who has been tested already, and how many results have yet to be processed? What have they actually tested positive for? Steroids or another banned substance? Who controls this information, and its flow? This question is key, because as the results drip in slowly, you can see an interesting pattern developing. Look at the people who have been caught, chronologically: Alex Sanchez, Jorge Piedra, Agustin Montero, Jamal Strong, Juan Rincon, Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Palmeiro, Ryan Franklin.

Notice anything? All of the players' first names start with either A, J, or R. Now it's an admittedly small sample size, but could MLB actually be going alphabetically here, testing/releasing/announcing in a less than random pattern? The last three...Rafael, Rafael and Ryan...where's Random?

I have no idea how MLB administers these tests, or how many have been done, or how many remain to be announced, or whether anyone with a name starting with B, K or S has been tested yet. And that's just the point. MLB needs to open up this process, and give more information about where they are, what remains to be done, and how it is being done. Until then, there will be nothing but wasted speculation. Major League Baseball has a bitter pill to swallow. It should come clean about how it is cleaning up the game.


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