In the days leading to his historic 3,000th hit on July 15, a strangely joyless and anxious Rafael Palmeiro was hiding a dark secret from his Baltimore Orioles teammates, his manager and his employers. On Monday, most of them found out at roughly the same time as the rest of the world did that Palmeiro had tested positive for steroids sometime in the previous weeks, leading to his 10-game suspension.
"It was shocking," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said prior to Tuesday night's game against the Los Angeles Angels. "It caught me completely off guard. A guy of his stature . . . you would just never believe it."
Some important details of Palmeiro's suspension -- including the name of the steroid for which he tested positive, and the date of the positive test -- were not disclosed.
But a well-placed source told The Washington Post on Monday that the drug in question was a "serious steroid." The New York Times and Newsday reported that it was stanozolol, which does not come in dietary supplements. Two baseball officials confirmed Tuesday that Palmeiro knew about the positive test -- and had already begun fighting the charge -- before collecting his 3,000th hit with an opposite-field double in Seattle.
The Orioles players who spoke to the media Tuesday expressed a range of emotions -- from sadness at the spectacle of a respected teammate stained forever, to frustration over losing the team's best hitter of late at a time when wins are few, to fear that a jar of protein powder in their own lockers might contain a banned substance without their knowledge.
"If it happens to your teammate," said right fielder Sammy Sosa, "it can happen to you . . . [But] I don't have that problem. Chicken, rice and beans -- that's my protein."
"Anybody can make a mistake in this game," said shortstop Miguel Tejada. "He made a mistake. He not kill nobody."
With the benefit of hindsight, the Orioles could also look back and make sense of what, at the time, seemed strange. In mid-July, as he neared his 3,000th hit -- the number that would virtually lock up his Hall of Fame berth -- Palmeiro seemed withdrawn and sullen. When he spoke, it was only to express the wish that the big moment would come, so he could be done with it.
"He probably had a lot of other things on his mind," said Jay Gibbons. "He's always been a quiet guy. But he was being quieter than usual."
Orioles officials were not informed of the matter until Monday morning -- owner Peter Angelos was the first to find out, then Vice President of Baseball Operations Mike Flanagan. Manager Lee Mazzilli was not informed of the suspension until around 11 a.m. Monday, roughly two hours before the Orioles' game in Baltimore against the Chicago White Sox.
By that time, Palmeiro's appeal had been denied. A baseball official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the announcement could have been made on Friday, but speculated that Commissioner Bud Selig may have wanted to postpone it until after this weekend's Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Palmeiro, citing a confidentiality agreement, has declined to disclose the details of his positive test, and everyone else -- including league and union officials, Palmeiro's agents and team employees -- is barred from disclosing the information by Section 7(A) of the 2005 Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program says the commissioner's office.
In general, a player's urine sample is divided into two parts, which are known as A and B samples. The A sample is tested first; if that turns up positive, the player is entitled to have representation when the B sample is tested. (Last year, Major League Baseball signed an agreement to have its samples tested at the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab in Montreal.) When Palmeiro's B sample also came back positive, he had two business days to file a written petition to baseball's four-person health policy advisory committee, comprised of MLB lawyer Rob Manfred, union lawyer Gene Orza, MLB medical adviser Larry Westreich and union medical adviser Joel Solomon.
At least one member of that committee agreed that Palmeiro had a reasonable basis for his appeal, so the issue was moved to an independent arbitrator for an expedited arbitration.
Shyam Das, who has handled arbitration issues for baseball for about six years, arbitrated the case, and also issued a gag order on the proceedings that was never lifted.
Reaction to Palmeiro's claim of an accidental positive test has been mixed. As recently as mid-June, during a trip to Toronto, Orioles players had a closed-door meeting with union chief Donald Fehr, in which they were reminded again not to use any supplements they were not certain were steroids-free.
"We're grown men," Gibbons said. "We don't have to be taught. We know what we're putting in our bodies."
"Oh, pull-lease, as my kids would say," World Anti-Doping Agency Chairman Dick Pound said. "We're way beyond that time, the day before people were alerted to the fact that some nutritional supplements weren't properly labeled. Now, the issue is so prevalent, if you don't know, you are either reckless or idiotic to take it. You know what you are ingesting."
During an appearance March 17 before a House committee investigating steroid use in sports, Palmeiro emphatically denied having used steroids. Some members of that committee have threatened to pursue perjury charges against Palmeiro if it is discovered he was lying. Among the options being considered is issuing a subpoena for Palmeiro's test results from previous seasons.
According to Palmeiro's agent, Arn Tellem, Palmeiro contacted Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, and "assured [Davis] he will cooperate fully and provide his committee with any information it requests."
Staff writers Amy Shipley, in Miami, and Jorge Arangure Jr., in Baltimore, contributed to this report.