Rafael's 'Roids


It's a fair bet that no one was expecting future Hall of Famer and Viagra shill Rafael Palmeiro to be the first big-name baseballer to test positive for steroid use under Major League Baseball's new policy. Earlier this year, when the sports equivalent of HCUA was grilling athletes about drug use, Palmeiro, that rare player who has over 3,000 hits and nigh on 600 homers, was emphatic that he had never used steroids in his career–an eloquent and dry-eyed counterpoint to blubbering baby Mark McGwire.

Yesterday Palmeiro, 40, again vigorously denied that he ever "intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period."

In a statement issued through the Orioles yesterday and later read by Palmeiro during a conference call, he said he was prevented from discussing the specifics of the case by "order of the independent arbitrator" who denied Palmeiro's appeal of the suspension. He admitted he "wasn't able to explain to the arbitrator how the banned substance entered my body" and he apologized to the league, the Orioles, his teammates "and, most of all, my fans."

His [10-game] suspension, which will cost him $163,934.42 of his $3- million salary, took effect with yesterday afternoon's game against the White Sox.

Whole account here.

Am I the only baseball fan who doesn't think less of Palmeiro for using steroids? He's in a pickle because he used them after they were banned from Major League Baseball (which only happened in 2002. But his long and productive career is self-evidently a testament to more than drug use: He has a great work ethic and always kept himself in shape. Steroids doubtless helped that longevity (just as they may have shortened Jose Canseco's career). And so did, I'm sure, a countless number of other supplements, not to mention work-out routines, diet restrictions, and more. Steroids or not, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame every bit as much as Ryne Sandberg and chicken-and-groupie enthusiast Wade Boggs, this year's inductees into Cooperstown.

Performance-enhancing drugs are simply one tool among many that top-level athletes use to maintain their edge. Yes, yes, if a given organization or sporting authority bans them, players should respect those rules. But I'm convinced that one of the main reasons drugs are banned is simply because they are "drugs" and we have a bizarre, fucked-up relation to drugs: We all practice better living through chemistry but we are quick to cordon off good drugs from bad.

Much of the anti-drug rhetoric in sports is that certain substances screw up the "natural" essence of the players and that they disrupt "the level playing field." If any of that is true, then why not ban weight training? Or off-season conditioning? Or players who fall outside of certain heights and weights that might give them "advantages"? Or any semi-secret strategy plans or routines devised by cagey coaches and managers? Or a countless number of other things that can give some players an edge? Why are drugs seen as contaminating sports in a way that other interventions–all of which are precisely designed to give indivduals and teams an advantage in competition–are not? Especially since, in the end, it's far from clear that drugs, any more than hugs, "raw talent," or a winning attitude, make the player? Success in sports is an unpredictable mixture of a thousand different variables. So why single out drugs–or more precisely a small subset of drugs–as pernicious?