If the report linked in the title of this post is accurate, Rafael Palmeiro deserves all the opprobrium others heaped upon him (and which I withheld). According to a baseball source who spoke to the NY Times, Palmeiro tested positive for the same steroid that Olympic cheater Ben Johnson used -- not some small trace steroid included in a supplement; not some similar compound that tests often confuse with nandrolone. In other words, if the source is correct, Palmeiro stands disgraced as a cheater.
As for previous cheating . . . again, this is one test Raffy honked but who knows what he did when baseball didn't test. It is not unreasonable to infer that if he used steroids in the face of baseball's most stringent anti-steroid program to date, he certainly did so when no prohibitions existed. Nonetheless, Jayson Stark's commentary (see my previous post on this issue) will compel many HoF voters: he excelled in his era and the game did not prevent his steroid use.
But I must admit that my thought process has changed in the past 24 hours. I think Tom Verducci is ultimately right. When presented with questions along the line of "why let Gaylord Perry in and keep Palmeiro out of the Hall?" Verducci answered thus:
Here we go again. The oversimplified cheating is cheating argument. On one hand you're talking about gamesmanship that has been around for more than a century. You're talking about skirting the rules of baseball to gain a slight edge in competition. (Scientists have determined corked bats give little or no advantage, by the way.) Now, let's take one difference between steroids and gamesmanship that should end the argument by itself: by taking steroids you are not just skirting the rules, you are BREAKING THE LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES. There is no BALCO out there for Vaseline, people. And steroids affect EVERYTHING a player does. As Joe Torre said, it's like giving some guys metal bats while everybody else uses wood. No one's saying that corked bats or spitballs are acceptable. And they do not require more planning and implementation. The manufacturing, distribution and use of steroids are, by definition of being illegal, highly covert activities.
Ultimately, I now think Verducci has the principle right; the question will be how to apply it to Palmeiro's situation. That's an answer I don't have yet, and one may become clearer in the five years after Palmeiro retires (the length of the waiting period before he will be on the Hall of Fame ballot) when we learn more about the scope steroid use by baseball players in the '90s and early '00s.