NEW YORK -- Rafael Palmeiro jabbed his finger in the air for emphasis and raised voice with all the indignation of a man falsely accused.
"I have never used steroids. Period," he told a congressional panel in March.
On Monday, nearly five months later, the Baltimore Orioles slugger became baseball's highest-profile player to be suspended 10 days for using steroids.
While he didn't deny testing positive for the drugs, he insisted that ingesting them was an accident.
"When I testified in front of Congress, I know that I was testifying under oath and I told the truth," he said during a telephone conference call Monday. "Today I am telling the truth again that I did not do this intentionally or knowingly."
The 40-year-old Palmeiro became the seventh player to fail a test under the toughened major league policy that took effect in March, rules criticized by Congress as not being stringent enough.
On July 15, Palmeiro joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players with 3,000 hits and 500 homers. Baseball would not say when the positive test occurred.
Legal troubles? Appearing before a congressional committee March 17, Rafael Palmeiro made an opening statement in which he said, "I have never used steroids. Period." He gave that testimony under a grant of immunity that he never used steroids.
Monday, Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days for violating Major League Baseball's steroids policy, though Palmeiro maintained he never intentionally took steroids.
Will he be prosecuted for lying before Congress? A grant of immunity means that you cannot be prosecuted for what you say you have done in the past -- as long as you tell the truth. However, there is no immunity for lying.
If it can be shown that Palmeiro's use of steroids occurred before his testimony, he could be prosecuted for perjury. If it can only be shown that the steroid use occurred after his testimony, he could not be prosecuted on that basis.
-- Roger Cossack, ESPN legal analyst
Without giving specifics, the four-time All-Star left the impression that the banned substance was contained in a supplement that was not prescribed. He said it was an "embarrassing situation" and still did not know what caused the positive test.
"Why would I do this in a year when I went in front of Congress and I testified and I told the truth?" he said. "Why would I do this during a season where I was going to get to 3,000 hits? It just makes no sense. I'm not a crazy person."
Palmeiro, who is currently in 9th place on the all-time home runs list with 569, wouldn't predict whether his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame were damaged.
"Really, that's not for me to determine," he said. "I hope that people look at my whole career and appreciate that I've given everything that I've got. I respect the Hall of Fame, and if they think that I'm worthy enough, I would be very honored. And if they don't, I gave it all that I had to this game."
Appearing with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and other baseball stars before a congressional committee on March 17, Palmeiro made an opening statement in which he said, pointing his finger for emphasis: "Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never."
Palmeiro also expressed indignation over accusations made by former slugger Jose Canseco, who cited Palmeiro as a steroid user in his tell-all book. In an interview on the CBS television show "60 Minutes," Canseco -- who also testified before Congress -- said he had injected Palmeiro with steroids.
Canseco told CNBC on Monday that while he accused Palmeiro of prior use, "I do not believe right now or recently Rafael Palmeiro has taken steroids."
"There could be a metabolite from the past," Canseco said. "No one really knows how long steroids last in your actual system."
Besides condemning steroid use during his appearance before Congress, Palmeiro also took part via conference call in a round-table discussion last month about how to rid sports of steroids with members of Congress and representatives from the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.
Christopher Shays of Connecticut, the No. 2 Republican on the committee that investigated steroids in baseball, said in a telephone interview: "He ended up being the most outspoken against steroid use and even this guy is in a situation where he's been suspended. It just blows me away. Obviously, it calls into question every accomplishment he's had."
It wasn't clear whether Palmeiro's test was taken before or after he spoke before the congressional panel. Anyone who lies under oath could be potentially subject to criminal perjury charges; Congress has the option of referring the case to the Justice Department, which would decide whether it's worth pursuing.
Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., who led the steroids inquiry, was traveling out of the country Monday and couldn't be reached for comment, spokesman Rob White said.
"If true, this is disheartening news for those of us who believed Mr. Palmeiro was a key ally in our effort to rid sports of performance enhancing drugs," White said.
Under baseball's drug policy, every player is tested at least once between the start of spring training and the end of the regular season. Some players are randomly selected by a computer for additional tests. All tests are unannounced.
Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli said his players were ``a little disappointed'' but wanted to support their teammate, who began serving his suspension Monday as the Orioles lost 6-3 to the White Sox. Palmeiro would be eligible to return for an Aug. 11 home game against Tampa Bay.
"The timing obviously is not good," said Mazzilli, whose team has been steadily slipping out of the playoff picture, having lost 12 of the last 13 games. "We're going to have to make do right now. We're going to have to band together as a team and fight through it."
The players' association challenged the positive test in secret proceedings, and the penalty was held in abeyance until arbitrator Shyam Das decided Monday not to overturn it.
Palmeiro will lose $163,934 of his $3 million salary during the suspension. Because the penalty was delayed, it meant at least one member of baseball's management-union medical panel initially found there was a "reasonable basis" for the challenge.
The arbitration panel headed by Das, in a statement released by the union, said Palmeiro could not prove the positive test "was not due to his fault or negligence." It also concluded, however, that Palmeiro's testimony was "quite compelling," and it did not find reason to believe he was lying.
President Bush -- who owned the Texas Rangers while Palmeiro played for the team -- called Palmeiro a "friend" in a round-table interview with reporters from several Texas newspapers. "He's testified in public, and I believe him," Bush added.
"I am surprised, disappointed and saddened by this news," said Henry Waxman, the Government Reform Committee's ranking Democrat. "The positive test raises many questions for Mr. Palmeiro and baseball."
Palmeiro sounded contrite on the conference call, saying he hoped there was something to be gained from his suspension by educating players to be more careful about what they put in their bodies.
"I made a mistake and I'm facing it," he said. "I hope that people learn from my mistake and I hope that the fans forgive me."
Union head Donald Fehr said the suspension "should serve to dispel doubts about our determination to rid baseball of illegal steroids, or the strength or effectiveness of our testing program."
Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli said his players were "a little disappointed" but wanted to support their teammate.
"The timing obviously is not good," said Mazzilli, whose team has lost 12 of the last 13 games. "We're going to have to make do right now. We're going to have to band together as a team and fight through it."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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