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Published: Wednesday, 8/3/2005

Cooperstown can wait

MAJOR League Baseball's testing policy for steroids and other banned substances has claimed its biggest name so far, Rafael Palmeiro - a potential Hall of Famer.

Not only does Palmeiro join seven other players - all lesser lights in baseball's galaxy of stars - who've been caught by baseball's new testing system, his 10-day suspension from the game shows, if nothing else, that Commissioner Bud Selig meant it when he said that nobody is bigger than the game.

The irony in the Palmeiro case is inescapable. Just four months ago he put on his pinstripe suit, sat before a congressional committee on Capitol Hill, and denied he had enhanced his performance on the field with drugs.

"I have never used steroids," he said emphatically. "Period."

Now that he's been caught, he falls back on what has become a familiar line in professional sports, saying that if he did it, he didn't know he did it.

That's hard to accept. Professional athletes at Palmeiro's level have personal trainers. They have nutritionists. And they have a responsibility to themselves and the game to know exactly what they're ingesting and what effects it might have.

It's also ironic that Palmeiro is a player who was singled out in Jose Canseco's recent book as a user. Canseco in fact said he had injected Palmeiro himself. Is Canseco's own battered credibility less suspect now?

Some in Congress think baseball's policy doesn't go far enough. After all, Pete Rose was banned from the game and probably will never make the Hall of Fame for his ethical breaches; Palmeiro will be back on the field after 10 games.

But the damage to Palmeiro's image is substantial.

It was just a couple of weeks ago that Palmeiro collected his 3,000th base hit. He was on top of the baseball world, a 40-year-old star contemplating retirement with stats that make him one of the all-time greats.

He became one of only four players in baseball history to have 3,000 hits and 500 home runs and had pretty much locked up his election to the Hall of Fame five years after he leaves the game.

Now, however, there's at least a question mark.



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