'I Made a Mistake'

A sign on the warehouse at Camden Yards pays tribute to Rafael Palmeiro's milestone.
A sign on the warehouse at Camden Yards pays tribute to Rafael Palmeiro's milestone. "I hope people learn from my mistakes." (By Gail Burton -- Associated Press)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 2, 2005

BALTIMORE, Aug. 1 -- The sign hanging from the warehouse adjacent to Oriole Park at Camden Yards proved an ironic backdrop to the day. In celebration of Rafael Palmeiro's 3,000th hit, the Baltimore Orioles hung a massive banner that in bright, bold orange letters, read, "Congratulations Raffy!"

There was certainly nothing to celebrate on this somber day. Palmeiro, who only 17 days ago was honored for joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players to have at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, was suspended for 10 days Monday for violating baseball's anti-drug policy.

Palmeiro said he accidentally ingested a steroid and said he isn't sure when or how it happened. He appealed the suspension, but on Monday morning an independent arbitrator rejected the claim.

"I hope the fans understand I've worked very hard over a long 20-year career," Palmeiro said in a conference call with reporters. "I put in a lot of time and a lot of effort into my career. I made a mistake and I'm facing it. I hope people learn from my mistakes. I hope the fans forgive me."

The Orioles' clubhouse, after a 6-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Monday, emptied out quickly. Players were reluctant to comment on Palmeiro, who did not speak to the team after his suspension was announced.

One teammate, the only one who spoke about Palmeiro, was brief and to the point.

"We need to try to be as supportive as we can," Orioles outfielder B.J. Surhoff said. "This is going to be a pretty tough ride for him."

Palmeiro had emerged as perhaps baseball's best spokesman against steroid use. Cast as a steroid user by former slugger Jose Canseco in his book, Palmeiro criticized his former teammate and questioned Canseco's spotty reputation.

Palmeiro emphatically denied using steroids in his testimony on March 17 during the House Government Reform Committee's hearing on steroids on Capitol Hill. He pointed his right finger at legislators and said, "I have never used steroids. Period."

Palmeiro's testimony was in stark contrast to former slugger Mark McGwire, who looked uncomfortable as he repeatedly declined to answer questions and afterward was vilified by baseball fans and the media.

"When [Palmeiro] was so adamant in March and made such a stern statement, I was proud of him being able to say that with so much conviction," said broadcaster Buck Martinez, a former major league player and manager. "Myself, like everyone else, kind of thought this is a guy who is really trying to clear his name. And then to have this, I think more than anything I am disappointed for the game."

A confidentiality agreement between baseball and the players' union requires that the testing procedure and the appeal process remain private. Palmeiro said he could not reveal when he was informed of testing positive or what substance he took.

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