[McLemore] Say It Ain't So, Raffe | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[McLemore] Say It Ain't So, Raffe

"I have never used steroids. Period."

On March 17, Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger at the U.S. Congress and emphatically stated his position. Of all of the baseball greats there that day, Palmeiro came off as the cleanest. The outcry against Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco never took aim at the Baltimore Orioles' star. Palmeiro's testimony even led to his participation in a coalition of pro leagues against steroid use.

"This was an unfortunate thing. It was an accident. I'm paying the price."

On Aug. 1, Rafael Palmeiro pleaded his case in the court of public opinion after being suspended 10 days for violating Major League Baseball's anti-drug policy. This time, there was little love, support or belief. The player who just weeks before had joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs had been found guilty of cheating in the most sacred American sport.

Even with the suspension, there are still fans who believe Palmeiro is innocent. In Mississippi, that number is probably higher than anywhere else—even Baltimore or Dallas. Here, we remember 1983-1985, when Palmeiro was part of the greatest Mississippi State baseball team ever assembled. He played alongside Will Clark, Bobby Thigpen, and Jeff Brantley in the maroon and white, and continued to give us a sense of pride when he showcased that sweet swing across the country as a consummate big leaguer. We like to second Palmeiro's defense that he wouldn't risk using steroids in the twilight of his once-certain Hall of Fame career. On Monday, when the news broke, we knew something would follow that would clear Raffe's name.

Instead of good news, Wednesday brought perhaps the final nail. It was leaked that the steroid found in Palmeiro was stanozolol, one of the older performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Most importantly, stanozolol is not found in over-the-counter products and is most commonly injected, all but shattering Palmeiro's "accident" defense. Dr. Gary Wadler of New York University said that stanozolol does not cause the extreme muscle buildup that fans commonly associate with steroid use, striking down another potential defense.

Dr. Wadler went on to say that the drug reduces the chance of serious injury. Palmeiro has never been on the disabled list in his 18-year career. Also, consider this: During his early professional years, Palmeiro was a contact hitter. In 1990, he led the league in singles, something no other 500 home-run club member has done. In fact, the Cubs traded him to the Rangers in 1988 because he did not have enough power. Indeed his long ball ability may have developed later from hard work in the weight room, but certainly Palmeiro's old age would lead to a decrease in power numbers. Not so—suspiciously enough, disregarding a slumping April, Palmeiro's 2005 pace of a home run every 14 at-bats is the best of his career.

Palmeiro's test results have put steroid use in the limelight once again, overshadowing a terrific season. Questions are countless, but the central debate is over players in the "steroid era" being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The living members of the Hall are speaking out, and Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer and ESPN commentator Joe Morgan is leading the charge. Morgan said that today's players "have hurt the game."

In his Hall of Fame induction speech a few weeks ago, Ryne Sandberg uncharacteristically went after bulked-up players, claiming they disrespected the sport's legends and "the game of baseball we all played growing up." A recent poll of Hall of Fame voters revealed that only 20 percent would vote for Palmeiro. Once a leading example of consistency, pure hitting and playing the game the right way, Palmeiro now has the weight of the steroid era on his shoulders.

Rafael Palmeiro was among my favorite players in baseball. I was stunned to hear the news of his failed drug test Monday. For the past few weeks, I have debated Raffe's Hall of Fame credentials with dozens of sports fans. I have vigorously opposed any accusation of steroid use. Now, like thousands of other Raffe fans across the nation, I feel let down. The man who was once one of my heroes and a sure Hall of Famer was not only lying to Congress March 17, he was lying to me. I still cling to the chance that a new development will surface in the next few days, and Palmeiro will be vindicated. As it stands now, he has no credibility and no right to enter the hallowed halls of the baseball gods in Cooperstown.

Say it ain't so, Raffe; say it ain't so.

Dylan Mclemore is a sophomore communication major at Mississippi College. For more of his works, visit http://www.dnetsports.tk.

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