Palmeiro’s chances for Hall swelling shut day

Aug 9, 2005 1:24 AM

So here is how things are in this summer of torment and denial.

Karl Rove, who advises the president of the United States, and who may or may not have blown the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame by giving his friend, foul-tempered commentator Robert Novak, her name in a fit of pique at her husband, is off the front pages and presumably home free.

His place has been taken by a baseball player, Rafael Palmeiro, who makes $3 million a year and has become a national joke, and by another, Jason Giambi, who received huge coverage last week by undergoing "redemption" because he is hitting again for the New York Yankees.

Palmeiro lost all chance of Hall of Fame status with his doubletalk.

Giambi was not silly enough, or dumb enough, to say whether he did or did not use drugs, and with the end of the Balco case and his resumed success at the plate, he resumes hero status. As for money and the obscenity of baseball today, he has $80 million left on his contract, guaranteed, with or without steroids.

If you watch late night television you have heard innumerable jokes about Palmeiro, some far from funny, but script writers these days are not as glib as they once were for the pseudo comics who cater to insomniacs. The only thing funny about David Letterman and his silly antics is his looks. The rest of the bedtime gang, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien and crew, are Bores with a capital B, as are most of their guests.

But back to Palmeiro.

Despite his millions, he will regret to his dying day pointing that index finger at Congressmen last March 17 and telling them, "I never took steroids, period." No locker room shower will remove the stain.

Steve Breen, cartoonist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, did a cartoon showing Palmeiro making his Congressional statement in one frame, and in the next raising a hugely muscled, grossly exaggerated, bulging right arm and saying, "Scout’s honor." That image traveled coast to coast, since Breen is syndicated by Copley News.

Leno got in one telling punch, saying, "After he was suspended, he totaled his car. Did you see it on the news? Not in an accident. He just picked it up and threw it into the bleachers."

The best of breed of this gallows humor, however, came from Mike Keefe of the Denver Post, with a cartoon showing two sportscasters in their booth and a batter at the plate. The play-by-play announcer is reading from a sheet marked "Urine Test." He says to his color man, "Pretty impressive averages on the season, Jim. There’s 5.5 percent ephedra, 1.75 THG and 5.2 androlone." His colleague muses ruefully, "I miss the old color commentary."

You recall Palmerio’s words to Congress in March, but you may not have read all he said on August 1. That was the date WFAN, a popular New York City sports station, first reported that he tested positive again and was being suspended. Just for 10 days, of course, but heck, this is major league baseball. You can’t have stars out of action too long, drugged or not.

When he was asked about the positive in the flurry of ensuing press coverage, this was Palmeiro’s incredible response: "I am sure you will ask how I tested positive for a banned substance. As I look back, I don’t have a specific answer to give. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to explain to the arbitrator how the banned substance entered my body. The arbitrator did not find that I used a banned substance intentionally, in fact he said he found my testimony to be compelling, but he ruled that I could not meet the heavy burden imposed on players who test positive under the new drug policy. I have never intentionally used a banned substance, but I unfortunately wasn’t careful enough."

Guess so, Rafael. You have to watch that passive smoke. It can get to you.

O’Brien, a trifle skeptical of Palmeiro’s answer, explained the whole mess in his late night show by saying, "Apparently Palmeiro handed his trainer a syringe and said, ”˜Surprise me.’"

Bottom line, making $3 million a year does not make you smart.