Rafael Palmeiro’s positive drug test may forever doom his Hall of Fame case, but to the extent that those who would vote against him do so by virtue of his finger-wagging performance in front of Congress, this may be of interest:
The former head of the Congressional subcommittee that Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco testified in front of told FanHouse that Palmeiro indeed may not have knowingly used steroids despite a positive test days after he recorded his 3,000th hit—a benchmark that typically ensures entry to the Hall of Fame. Palmeiro will find out Wednesday if he’ll be a first-ballot selection as the Baseball Writers’ Association of America reveals if anybody reached the 75% threshold for induction.
“I feel bad for him,” said Tom Davis, a retired Virginia Congressman who now is director of Federal Government Affairs for Deloitte & Touche. “I believe that he didn’t know he was taking steroids. I think he told the truth. We conducted an investigation and that was the conclusion our investigators came to.”
My guess — and it’s only a guess — is that Palmeiro was more negligent than he was duplicitous. I think he was part of a culture in which guys were simply not all that critical about supplements, shots and whatever else they were using, to the extent that many of them didn’t know and didn’t really care all that much about the specifics. “Here, Raffy: take this. It’s B-12.” Sure, he thought, because he never thought all that much about it at all. He wasn’t locked in a bathroom stall twirling his mustache and chortling about how he had pulled one over on Congress.
Not that this exonerates him in the slightest. In the post-testing era every player has an obligation to know what it is they’re taking, and one can’t be let off the hook simply because they were willfully ignorant or deluded about what went into their bodies. I’ve never seen a single suggestion that Palmeiro’s test was a false-positive. Absent anything like that, it’s implausible to say that he wasn’t using a banned substance.
But it may impact our characterization of the guy. He’s made out to be evil by so many. In large part because of that image of him wagging his finger. True evil is rare, however, and I’m pretty doubtful Palmeiro fits that description. He was just uncurious and careless. In my mind, that’s a venial sin, not a mortal one.