Thursday, March 31, 2005


Many people have doubted the validity of Rafael Palmeiro’s recent congressional testimony when he emphatically denied ever using steroids. Many have said that if Raffy believes that Canseco was lying when he said that he helped Palmeiro obtain steroids while they were together in Texas, he should sue Canseco for libel. I have two main problems with this attitude.

First off, I do not see how steroid use makes sense with Palmeiro. Unlike the situation with McGwire and Giambi, there is no corroborating evidence to Canseco’s claims. While Palmeiro’s power numbers went up significantly after his first few years in the majors, the increase could just as easily be attributed to him finding his stroke as he gained experience. His current swing is so good now that it is considered one of the best in the game. A good swing can make a much bigger difference in driving the ball than the juiced muscles behind it. This is why, for example, Ken Griffey Jr. was so successful hitting out home runs with such a wiry frame; his swing was just THAT good.

Secondly, why should Palmeiro have to sue for slander in order to clear his name? Winning a libel case is extremely difficult in this country. It would be up to Palmeiro to prove that Cancesco is lying which is extremely difficult to do. In the end, a libel suit risks further damaging Palmeiro’s reputation whether or not he’s telling the truth as well as costing significant time and money. Besides, he testified under oath when he went before congress. If the Baltimore slugger is lying, then he can be prosecuted for perjury. Taking that risk should be enough to bolster his claims of innocence unless or until Cancesco provides any corroborating evidence.

The situation with Palmeiro is a sad example of what is going on with baseball today. Players are assumed to have taken steroids and cheated if they cannot prove otherwise. This is in addition to the problem of players taking steroids when they normally won’t because they worry about falling behind those who take them without regret. I understand that players worry about giving up too much to the owners as well as worry about giving up their privacy. In the end, though, the damage that the steroids controversy does to the player’s long-term health and to baseball in general should make these sacrifices of full-fledged testing worth it.

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