Tuesday, October 29, 2013

August 4- Baltimore Orioles

There’s a particular topic that I was bound to write about for one of my New Era Cap posts and it definitely appears that today is the day. The topic: performance enhancing drugs. For those of you who don’t know, I actually tackled this subject in a rather thorough manner back in July for one of the Web sites I write for, eDraft Sports. In it I detailed the history of steroids, the political links, where PEDs are today and pretty much why Major League Baseball turning a blind eye got us to where we are today. My overall opinion on the matter is that I frankly don’t care if anyone is taking anything to help their game, but I’ll go into more detail on that throughout this piece. Sadly though, most people do care, the most important of which are the baseball writers who have affiliation with the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).

Since I was a kid, first honing my writing chops, I had always dreamed of being a member of this exclusive club of writers. Why? Because these are the folks that determine who is to be awarded the cache of season-based accomplishments (Cy Young, MVP, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year), but more important, this is the group who determines who gets into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As an avid fan of the game some of the best conversations (arguments) I’ve had with other writers and fans is who should have gotten into the Hall of Fame, who is the best Hall of Famer, who should get in of the folks still eligible, etc. Of course in all of this mess the question of “should anyone for the 1990s on (steroid era) even be considered?” is always a favorite of mine when mixed with a fresh pizza and about a bakers dozen of beers… per person in the discussion. The best part of these moments always comes up about six to eight beers in when the discussion has somehow become a pissing contest and a bevy name-calling has entered the mix along with the occasional sack tap. In the end, no one really wins. All levels of emotion and opinion have been thrown onto the table and all parties involved have either strengthened their original viewpoint or, in some cases, had light shed on a perspective they may nit have though about before. While I don’t doubt that members of the BBWAA have found themselves in similar situations, in my personal dealings I have yet to walk away with the feeling of being above anyone and their stance. Based on what I have witnessed for quite a while on Twitter, I don’t feel that any member of the BBWAA (who use Twitter) can say the same thing.

I will be the first to admit that I’m not the greatest writer in the world, nor will I probably ever be. I am more than skilled in the art of being able to string words together to form sentences which inevitably form sentences displaying my views, opinions and sides of the story, but I’m certainly not the greatest at it. Do it I do it with a little more heart than others, perhaps. At the end of the day I can walk away after putting down the pen or closing my laptop and feel good about what I crafted because I am a man of convictions and I stand by my principles. Can my opinion be swayed or altered, of course, I am human. Free thought is one of many traits that separate us from other members of the animal kingdom, just as accountability and reason are as well. By now you’re all probably wondering what any of this has to do with this Baltimore Orioles cap on my head. Well, it has everything to do with it.

Back in December of 2011 my cap collection was respectable, but still significantly small. I think I was sitting on roughly 18 hats, which is a slight fraction of the roughly 330 I have in my possession today. Yah, two years goes by pretty fast. Anyway, I was visiting my best friend/high school girlfriend Laurin Mitchell in San Luis Obispo, California along with my good friend/college roommate Jared Clark in the days leading up to the 2012 Rose Bowl which featured the Wisconsin Badgers and the Oregon Ducks. We hadn’t seen Laurin since the middle of June when the three of us all took in an Oakland Athletics game at the Coliseum when they played the Kansas City Royals. During one of our days of drinking and touring around SLO we happened to walk past a sports store called The Sports Forum which inevitably peaked my interest as they quite possibly could have had a few caps that I wanted to add to my collection. What I didn’t know at the time was that every baseball item in their store was 40% off for the end of the season closeout special. The only reason I ended up finding out about the sale was because Jared and I went to Pismo Beach on our final day at the coast where one of the store’s other locations are. I of course broke the bank buying hats then, but the location in SLO had a lot more that I really wanted to get my hands on. The one hat that they did have, which happened to be 50% off was this Orioles cap as they were discontinuing it for the 2012 season. Just so you know, this particular cap was used from 2009-2011 for both home and road games, and no, I’m not mistaken when I say this. The Orioles had quite a few caps that featured an oriole that looks similar to this, but I assure you, they’re not the same. For this cap the oriole’s head is lower and the appearance of any kind of a neck is nearly non-existent. The placement of the feet is also another indicator as this logo features the curdled up toes. From 1989-2008 the Orioles went through three previous changes to the logo, all of which I will write about in the future just as soon as I can track any of them down. I have a few leads, but they are incredibly hard (expensive) to find. Getting back to the story, The Sports Forum in SLO happened to have one left in my size so of course I had no objection to paying $17.50 plus an 8.25% sales tax to purchase it. Boom! This cap, for some crazy reason, became one of my favorite caps to wear. I’ve always enjoyed the paring of black and orange, but my loyalty to the Athletics always steered me away from wearing a San Francisco Giants cap. Even though it’s one of the newer caps used by the Orioles, there’s something about the design of the logo that gives it an old-timey kind of feel that I wish was incorporated into more caps.

When I marked this cap, pretty much a few days after I purchased it, I already had firm intentions of what was to be showing, which ultimately leads me back to my rant at the beginning of this piece. 

3020/569: If these numbers are unfamiliar to you, don’t worry; it’s only the fourth time in Major League Baseball history they’ve been paired together. These are the hits (3020) and home runs (569) that Rafael Palmeiro tallied throughout his 20-years career. I’m sure by now everything is starting to make a little bit more sense. Rather than just dive in it’s probably best to start back at the beginning. Back before everything went straight to Hell.

Palmeiro was born in Havana, Cuba, but is not considered a defector due to the age in which he came over the United States, and the label is only used for those who leave willingly due to political-based reasons. His family moved to Miami, Florida where he was raised and graduated from Miami Jackson High School and was drafted by the New York Mets in the eighth round of the 1982 draft, but he didn’t sign. Instead, Palmieiro enrolled at Mississippi State University, where he played college baseball for the MSU Bulldogs in the Southeastern Conference. He is the only SEC player to have ever won the triple crown. On June 11, 1985, Palmeiro signed with the Chicago Cubs as the 22nd pick in the 1st round of the 1985 draft, the year after Seattle Mariners star Jamie Moyer.

Palmeiro debuted on September 8, 1986 in a game between the Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field as a left fielder. During his tenure with the Cubs, he normally played left field, though occasionally he would play other outfield positions or first base. Palmeiro was the runner up to National League batting champion Tony Gwynn in 1988 with a .307 batting average, only six points below Gwynn's. He also made his first of four All-Star Game appearances in his career. After the 1988 season, Paleiro was traded by the Cubs to the Texas Rangers along with Moyer and Drew Hall in exchange for Mitch Williams, Paul Kilgus, Steve Wilson, Curtis Wilkerson, Luis Benitez, and Pablo Delgado.

Upon moving to the American League, Palmieiro was primarily used as a first baseman or designated hitter. Palmeiro blossomed as a hitter while with the Rangers, leading the league in hits in 1990 and doubles in 1991, the same year in which he made his second All-Star Game appearance. Palmeiro would stay with the Rangers until the end of the 1993 season, his first of two stints with the team. During his time he finished in the top-20 three times for the AL MVP (1990, 1991 and 1993). He also had time to star in this priceless Coca-Cola advertisement. After he was granted free agency in 1993 he signed with the Orioles for his first of two stints in Baltimore. From 1994-1998 he proved to be one of the team’s most consistent power hitters. Prior to the 1995 season, he had hit more than 30 home runs only once (37 in 1993). Starting in 1995, Palmeiro began a streak of 38+ home run years that continued through the 2003 season. He hit 373 home runs during this nine-season span, while also driving in over 100 runs in each of these seasons. However, Palmeiro never led the league in home runs, and is history's most prolific home run hitter to have never won the home run crown. Palmeiro finished in the top-18 for the AL MVP every year he was with the Orioles, locking up his third All-Star Game appearance as well as two consecutive Gold Gloves at first base in 1997 and 1998. Despite the numbers he was banging out, he was once again allowed free agency and was signed by the Rangers.

In 1999 Palmeiro posted the best season of his career: he hit a career-high .324, career-high 47 home runs, career-high 148 RBI, career-high 1.050 on-base plus slugging percentage, won his third-straight Gold Glove, his second consecutive Silver Slugger Awards, fourth and final All-Star Game appearance and finished in fifth place for the AL MVP as his teammate Ivan Rodriguez took home the prize. Palmeiro’s averaged dipped a bit through the end of his time with the Rangers, but his home runs and RBI production hardly slowed down. On May 11, 2003, his final year with the Rangers, Palmeiro hit his 500th home run off David Elder in a game against the Cleveland Indians, becoming only the 19th player in MLB history to do so at the time. The feat came roughly a month after Sammy Sosa knocked his 500th home run of his career with the Cubs.

Granted free agency once again, Palmeiro signed again with the Orioles and posted decent numbers in 2004, .258/23/88. The most important thing to take from that season is that he was only 78 hits away from 3,000 for his career at the age of 40. Palmeiro had a rough 2005 season, but still got the job done. On July 15th my best friend Samuel Spencer sent me a text around 6:30 PM saying that he was at that night’s Mariners game in which they were facing off against the Orioles. The significance of this night is that Palmeiro was sitting on 2,999 hits and Joel Pińeiro was on the mound for the Mariners. For those who remember Pińeiro’s time with the Mariners in 2005, history was pretty much guaranteed to happen. After walking in his first at-bat and grounding out in his second, Palmeiro walked up to the plate for his third at-bat in the fifth inning. With third baseman Melvin Mora on second base, Palmeiro clubbed a screamer down the left field line, scoring Mora and logging the 3,000th hit of his career. I was watching the game from home on Fox Sports Northwest and Samuel made sure to take plenty of photos as the Safeco Field crowd gave him a standing ovation. With a quick swing of the bat Palmeiro joined Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Eddie Murray as the only players in MLB history to record 3,000 hits and 500 home runs for their career. No matter what the rest of Palmeiro’s career had in store for him, there was no doubt that he was a lock for the Hall of Fame. Well…

Back on March 17, 2005, Palmeiro appeared at a Congressional hearing about steroids in baseball and, while under oath, denied ever using steroids and stated, "Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never." Here’s the full video in case you forgot. The main reason why Palmeiro was put in front of Congress in the first place was because former Rangers teammate José Canseco identified Palmiero as a fellow steroid user in his 2005 book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big, and claimed he personally injected Palmeiro with steroids. Needless to say, Palmeiro was a bit vehement about the situation and willingly denied any wrongdoing. 

After Palmeiro recorded his 3,000th hit things went back to normal... for two weeks later. On August 1, 2005, Palmeiro was suspended for ten days after testing positive for a steroid. The Washington Post reported that the steroid detected in Palmeiro's system was a "serious" one. According to The New York Times, Palmeiro tested positive for the potent anabolic steroid stanozolol. In a public statement, Palmeiro disclosed that an appeal of the suspension had already been denied. He released a statement saying, "I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period. Ultimately, although I never intentionally put a banned substance into my body, the independent arbitrator ruled that I had to be suspended under the terms of the program." According to Palmeiro, all of his previous tests over the two years including the 2003 sealed test were negative, and a test he took just three weeks after his positive test was also negative. While a representative from MLB couldn’t confirm or deny Palmeiro’s words, it’s a bit surprising that they didn’t, especially since they were “doing their damnedest” to clean the game up. The House Government Reform Committee would not seek perjury charges against Palmeiro, although they were not clearing him.

Palmeiro returned to Camden Yards following his 10-day suspension; that’s right, 10-day suspension on August 11, 2005, although he did not play in the lineup until August 14. Coincidentally, this was the date that had been planned as "Rafael Palmeiro Appreciation Day" in celebration of his 500-home run, 3,000-hit milestone. It was canceled after Palmeiro’s suspension. The Baltimore Sun reported that Palmeiro never offered an explanation for his positive test to the MLB arbitration panel, which ran contrary to his public statements. ESPN later reported that Palmeiro implicated Miguel Tejada to baseball's arbitration panel, suggesting a supplement provided to him by Tejada was responsible for his positive test. This supplement was supposedly vitamin B12, though it could have been tainted. Tejada and two unnamed teammates provided B12 samples to the panel, which did not contain stanozolol. However, the committee did say they found "substantial inconsistencies between Mr. Tejada's accounts and the accounts of players A and B." Tejada, who said he received shipments of B12 from the Dominican Republic, was later implicated for steroid use in the Mitchell Report.

Palmeiro continues to strongly deny ever having used steroids intentionally, telling The Baltimore Sun in June 2006, "Yes sir, that's what happened. It's not a story; it's the reality of what happened", and "I said what I said before Congress because I meant every word of it." Palmeiro passed a polygraph test in which he was not asked if he ever used steroids, but in which he did state that he unknowingly ingested them via a B12 injection. A 2005 New York Times article expressed one writer's belief that Palmeiro’s story could perhaps be the truth.

In December 2007, Palmeiro was included in the Mitchell Report in which it was alleged that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career. The report did not provide any new evidence and only recapped allegations made by José Canseco, Palmeiro’s appearance before Congress, and his subsequent failed drug test. The report also details a conversation Larry Bigbie alleges he had with Palmeiro where he claims "Palmeiro asked him about his source of steroids and human growth hormone (the source was Kirk Radomski) and how the substances made him feel." Bigbie also stated that "Palmeiro denied in those conversations that he had ever used performance enhancing substances himself."

Palmeiro finished out the 2005 season, filed for free agency for the final time and was never signed again. The cloud of suspicion, the failed drug test and the fact that he was about to turn 41-years-old proved to be too much for teams to roll the dice to sign him. With his career now over he went back to his family in Texas and loved out the rest of his days, waiting the five-year window until he would become eligible for the Hall of Fame. Palmeiro played in 2,831 major league games, the most by any player who never played in the World Series. When 2011 came around, the first year of his Hall of Fame eligibility, his numbers signified a slam dunk for a first ballot entrance; however, the BBWAA felt the exact opposite. Needing at least 75% of the vote to get in, Palmeiro received a shocking 11.0% of the vote. In case you forgot, Palmeiro is one of four guys to get at least 3,000 hits and crush at least 500 home runs. The other three guys were already in the Hall of Fame. And yet, Palmeiro received a massive slap in the face. In 2012 his vote went up to 12.6% and then took a drop to 8.8% this last January. If the number dips below 5%, he will no longer be eligible.

Palmeiro played 19 seasons without any bit of speculation of being on PEDs. Hell, the man even starred in a series of commercials for Viagra; however, after achieving baseball immortality, Palmeiro’s star took an immediate tumble to Earth. The last two months of Palmeiro’s career was the only time in which he had been called a cheater. The last two months. Really think about that. A kid could have been born, graduated from high school and been in the middle of their second year of college before a problem arose. I fully understand that going before Congress, wagging his finger and ardently denying being on the juice really didn’t help his cause when he failed his drug test, but how can a group of people become some cynical after such a long period of time without any issue. Palmeiro had already locked his Hall of Fame career up and had never failed a drug test, nor did he ever fail another one after the incident occurred after he served one of the shortest suspensions in MLB history, just to show you how much of a non-issue the incident was to an unprepared MLB.

I realize that “rules are rules,” but one cannot be so dismissive as to completely wipe away the career of one of the greatest players in the history of the game after a small mistake near the end of it. Yes, the anabolic steroid (stanozolol) was banned under the MLB’s drug policy, bust it was also one that easy to snuff out. Palmeiro never struck me as a careless guy, not to mention, how is it that he can go 19 ½ years of taking an easily-detected substance without getting pinched especially after having taken multiple drug test in the past, all of which came up clean? Logic has been lost in crucifixion that has become Palmeiro’s career, a truly sad one at that.

I can only hope that some time down the road the BBWAA will come to their senses and have a 12 Angry Men-style discussion over this case. There are way too many holes to simply ignore. Palmeiro is a Hall of Famer in my eyes, the numbers and the talent surely proves that he is worthy. As for the players on PEDs as a whole, I really don’t care. The evolution of what a person can take has changed so dramatically over the years that until everything is banned, there is no sure-fire way of saying who is breaking the rules and who isn’t. As for my role in this and my dream of joining the BBWAA, if it happens, it happens. If it does, I can only hope that I can bring a fresh perspective to the discussion, and not just wave the privilege around like some cool kids club membership. I'm looking at you Jon Heyman!!!

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