Palmeiro's shameful end

First came the shock. A slackened jaw, then a blink, just to make sure the eyes weren't deceiving: Palmeiro suspended, the e-mail read.

At the end was the feeling of violation. Rafael Palmeiro, the man who wagged his finger at a Congressional subcommittee to emphasize that he never used steroids, was exposed by a Major League Baseball drug test to have, in fact, used them.

Baseball's worst nightmare happened a year ago today: A superstar caught, a 3,000-hit, 500-home run masher a cheat. Palmeiro's career died immediately, though Kübler-Ross theory on grieving did not apply. There was no denying the situation, no bargaining, no depression – nothing in between. Only anger and acceptance, because steroids, at their core, are that black and white an issue: He used or he didn't.

After all the allegations against Barry Bonds and the hemming and hawing by Jason Giambi and the dodging of the past from Mark McGwire, finally there was irrefutable proof that steroids were not some kind of medicinal Yeti, an ungraspable monster. Yes, Alex Sanchez and Jorge Piedra and Augustin Montero and Jamal Strong and Juan Rincon and Rafael Betancourt had tested positive. Palmeiro's arm hair had more cachet than that entire group combined.

And so a day that was supposed to be like any other, Aug. 1, 2005, ballooned into one of revelation and introspection and suspicion in a sport that needed none of the three. Already the steroid scandal had dented baseball; Palmeiro's positive blew down its door.

In his blood, we'd soon learn, they'd found stanozolol, one of the most potent anabolic steroids available. Nothing Palmeiro could have gotten from a B-12 vitamin shot, as he claimed, or from any kind of supplement.

Oh, the players can deny, deny, deny all they want, and they will. Palmeiro still hasn't admitted taking steroids today, as he sits at home, excised from the game like an unwanted mole.

Following Palmeiro's 10-day suspension, he returned to the Baltimore Orioles and went 0 for 4 against the Toronto Blue Jays. He'd get two hits in the next game, then finish his career 0 for his final 20. The Orioles, who were atop the American League East most of the first half, faded into fourth place by the end of the season, their clubhouse fractured by Palmeiro's positive and his allegations linking shortstop Miguel Tejada to the entire mess.

It's interesting to see where baseball has gone since Palmeiro's positive. Pressured by lawmakers, it increased the suspension for a first-time offender from 10 games to 50. Since the beginning of the season, only New York Mets reliever Yusaku Iriki has tested positive in a major-league test – and he was at Triple-A when his suspension was levied.

With seven more positives among minor leaguers revealed Tuesday, the number of players who tested positive this season jumped to 28.

At this point last season, there had been 76 positives in the minors.

Which means one of two things: Either the tests have scared off potential steroid users or the users simply moved on to using undetectable substances.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. While the threat of losing one-third of the season is enough to scare some, the culture of performance-enhancing drugs is so entwined with baseball it won't leave anytime soon.

It will simply lapse, as it's doing right now, and show up in other sports. Tour de France champion Floyd Landis allegedly boosted his testosterone. Same with the fastest man in the world, Justin Gatlin. Eventually, the cycle will return to baseball.

What, you think baseball suddenly injected itself with some kind of antibiotic to ward off steroids? Performance-enhancing drugs are a virus to baseball, resisting all treatments. Whether it's with the revelation of the players Jason Grimsley implicated when he was busted with human growth hormone or another star testing positive, baseball will face another drug scandal. It's the sport's sad truth.

Sad like Palmeiro's fall. He was a success story – born in Cuba, raised in the United States on baseball, a star, a millionaire because of his swing, one of the all-time greats, one so beautiful that were Da Vinci alive he might use it as his sequel to the Vitruvian Man.

Palmeiro was spotted talking with former teammate Alex Rodriguez at Ameriquest Field in Arlington, Texas, last week. According to reports, Palmeiro looked like he had lost weight and had grown a full beard, as if he wanted some kind of a disguise.

Like he could actually hide from what he wrought a year ago.