IN A MAJOR LEAGUE clubhouse the couches are leather, the televisions are plasma, and the walls, proverbially speaking, are made of glass. Players take great pains not to publicly cast stones at one another, and they adhere to an omert√† that was in place long before Las Vegas marketers discovered it: What happens here stays here. Even failed drug tests are opportunities to rally around troubled teammates. "We have to support him," Baltimore third baseman Melvin Mora said after Rafael Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days for steroid use in August. "That's what a team is all about."
Drug violations may be forgivable, but as Palmeiro now knows, breaking the clubhouse code of silence is not. Last Friday the Orioles told the disgraced slugger to stay home for the rest of the season after word got out that he had implicated a teammate, shortstop Miguel Tejada, in the investigation into his failed steroid test. The attempted snitching--Tejada was quickly absolved--did not go over well with Palmeiro's once supportive teammates. "It's kind of a cardinal sin," said outfielder Jay Gibbons. "You don't do something like that."
Palmeiro told Major League Baseball's Health Policy Advisory Committee that a B12 vitamin Tejada gave him earlier this season may have triggered his failed test. (Never mind that Palmeiro tested positive for stanozolol, a powerful steroid not likely to be ingested through a dietary supplement.) Palmeiro reportedly told the same story to congressional investigators looking into the possibility that Palmeiro perjured himself last March when he emphatically told the House Government Reform Committee that he never used steroids.
The HPAC said there is no evidence that Tejada has used or trafficked in illegal substances, and Tejada, who acknowledged giving Palmeiro the B12, said he has passed three drug tests this season. In the end the 41-year-old Palmeiro further tarnished his once-sterling reputation and lengthened the odds of a team's taking a chance on him for next season. A player who two months ago seemingly punched a ticket to the Hall of Fame with his 3,000th hit will now be remembered as a clubhouse stoolie--a label far more difficult to live down in baseball circles than that of drug cheat. Said Gibbons, "Everybody makes mistakes, but when you rat out a teammate ... it makes you seem like a coward." --S.C.
MARK GOLDMAN/ICON SMI (PALMEIRO)
DUANE BURLESON/AP (PALMEIRO AND TEJADA)
Palmeiro was banished after tainting Tejada (10).