Harsh spotlight: Players' reputations sullied despite denial

Dec 12 2011 - 7:00pm

MILWAUKEE -- Before Saturday night, when ESPN released a report claiming Ryan Braun tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in October, no Milwaukee Brewers player had been accused publicly of such a transgression.

Though it might be a new experience for Brewers fans with regard to one of their own, Braun isn't the first star to face scrutiny for running afoul of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, which was rolled out after the 2003 season.

The two highest-profile players suspended for PEDs under the program have been Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez, who tested positive not once but twice, in 2009 and again this year.

And while both denied knowingly taking a banned substance -- as Braun and his camp already have vehemently done -- Palmeiro and Ramirez nevertheless were suspended, their reputations as two of the game's best hitters forever sullied.

Palmeiro's case was especially interesting.

On Aug. 1, 2005, roughly two weeks after becoming just the fourth player in history to amass 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in his career as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, Palmeiro was suspended 10 days for testing positive for steroids.

The suspension came less than five months after Palmeiro appeared in front of a congressional panel and strongly denied using steroids, pointing his finger for emphasis.

"I have never used steroids. Period," he told the panel. "I don't know how to say it more clearly than that. Never."

Palmeiro would say later that he believed the positive test result came from a tainted B12 vitamin shot provided by teammate Miguel Tejada .

"I told the truth, and today I am telling the truth again that I did not do this intentionally or knowingly," Palmeiro said on the heels of his suspension. "I hope the fans understand that I worked very hard over a long 20-year career. I put in a lot of time and a lot of effort in my career. I made a mistake, and I am facing it. I hope people learn from my mistake, and I hope the fans forgive me.

"I went in front of Congress, and I was honest with Congress. There's no absolute reason for me to do anything at this stage of my career. There's nothing for me to gain and everything for me to lose. I knew I was approaching 3,000 hits. I was not about to put everything on the line, my reputation and everything that I've worked for so hard in my life to do anything like this. It just makes no sense."

After learning of his positive test, Palmeiro appealed to MLB but was denied. He never played again after 2005, and the one-time surefire Hall of Famer received only 11 percent of the vote necessary for induction in his first time on the ballot.

Braun also is appealing his positive test to an arbitrator. A source told the Journal Sentinel on Sunday that Braun tested positive for a "prohibited substance" and not a performance-enhancing drug or steroid.

What Palmeiro had to say with regard to his appeal underscores how difficult overturning a positive test can be for a player, even if he unwittingly ingested a banned substance.

"I am sure you will ask how I tested positive for a banned substance," Palmeiro said at the time. "As I look back, I don't have a specific answer to give. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to explain to the arbitrator how the banned substance entered my body.

"The arbitrator did not find that I used a banned substance intentionally -- in fact, he said he found my testimony to be compelling -- but he ruled that I could not meet the heavy burden imposed on players who test positive under the new drug policy."

The Journal Sentinel also learned Sunday that, beginning with Palmeiro in 2005, 12 players have taken their appeals to arbitration and none has won.

Ramirez's first suspension for PEDs came May 7, 2009, after he was reported to have tested positive for HCG, a drug used to replenish testosterone levels. ESPN reported that Braun has tested positive for high levels of testosterone, which later proved to be synthetic and not produced by the body.

Ramirez said the positive test came as the result of a medication prescribed by a doctor for a "personal health issue."

"He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was OK to give me," Ramirez, then playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, said at the time in a statement. "Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy, that mistake is now my responsibility."

Ramirez ultimately chose not to appeal and sat out 50 games, the length of the suspension ESPN is reporting Braun faces. Ramirez split the 2010 season between the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox before signing in January with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Ramirez then was hit with a 100-game suspension in April after his appeal for a reported second positive test in spring training was denied by Major League Baseball.

He then chose to retire rather than serve the suspension, although Ramirez has since applied for reinstatement and would instead face another 50-game suspension should he sign with a team due to an agreement between MLB and the players' association.

Former Milwaukee outfielder Mike Cameron served a 25-game suspension to begin his Brewers career in 2008 after testing positive for a banned stimulant while with the San Diego Padres in 2007. Stimulant usage results in shorter suspensions than PEDs.

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