Monday's news that Rafael Palmeiro — he of the more than 3,000 hits and more than 500 home runs — had flunked a steroid test and been suspended for ten days provoked a number of curious comparisons and potential consequences.
Because Palmeiro looked straight at a panel of legislators under the television lights last March, pointed boldly, and declared "I have never used steroids. Period," he was compared by some to former Presidents Bill Clinton, ("I did not have sex with that woman,") and Richard Nixon, ("I am not a crook.")
Who should feel insulted by these comparisons? It depends on your politics.
Predictably, the news of Rafael Palmeiro's transgression provoked hyperbole from various politicians still in office. Christopher Shea, the number two Republican on the congressional committee that listened to Palmeiro say he'd just said no, opined as follows: "Obviously, it calls into question every accomplishment he's had."
Well, no. Congressman Shea, it doesn't, because Palmeiro accomplished most of his hits and home runs before Major League Baseball had any rules against steroids. Nobody was testing. The leap from "he tested positive this summer" to "he's been doping for years" is an especially spooky one, even in these days of taking dwindling civil rights for granted.
A marvelously weird result of Palmeiro's positive test is that it has cast his former teammate, Jose Canseco, previously understood as a self-aggrandizing, half-bright buffoon, as not only a prophet, but a medical expert. In his widely derided book, Canseco contended that he had injected Palmeiro with steroids himself. Reason enough, CNBC figured, to solicit Mr. Canseco's opinion on Mr. Palmeiro's positive test. "There could be a metabolite from the past," Canseco said. "No one really knows how long steroids last in your actual system."
It could have been better, but only if Canseco had next turned directly to the camera and said, "I'm not a doctor, but CNBC lets me play one on TV."
Rafael Palmeiro himself has not been especially forthcoming about the circumstances that led to his positive test, but he did ask "Why would I do this in a year when I went in front of Congress and told the truth?" Shortly thereafter, he said, "I am not a crazy person."
Given the comparisons his misadventures have invoked, Mr. Palmeiro's attorneys should perhaps advise him to stick with the rhetorical questions and avoid the declarations.
This program aired on August 3, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.