WASHINGTON -- Rafael Palmeiro uttered the words a few corridors from here that defined his career more than his 3,020 hits, 569 home runs and three Gold Gloves.
"I have never used steroids, period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that," the slugger said before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in March 2005.
The former head of the Congressional subcommittee Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco testified in front of told FanHouse that Palmeiro indeed may not have knowingly used steroids despite a positive test days after he recorded his 3,000th hit -- a benchmark that typically ensures entry to the Hall of Fame. Palmeiro will find out Wednesday if he'll be a first-ballot selection as the Baseball Writers' Association of America reveals if anybody reached the 75% threshold for induction.
"I feel bad for him," said Tom Davis, a retired Virginia Congressman who now is director of Federal Government Affairs for Deloitte & Touche. "I believe that he didn't know he was taking steroids. I think he told the truth. We conducted an investigation and that was the conclusion our investigators came to."
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Ever since the positive test that led to a 10-game ban late in the 2005 season, Palmeiro has claimed that teammate Miguel Tejada gave him what he thought was a B-12 shot and not a vial of steroids. (Canseco also alleged Palmeiro was a steroid user in his first book.) The Reform Committee asked the Department of Justice to investigate Tejada, who later pleaded guilty to lying to Congressional investigators, but Davis said there was no proof that Palmeiro lied -- either at the hearing or via his constant denials since.
"I was telling the truth then, and I am telling the truth now,'' Palmeiro told SI.com last week. "I don't know what else I can say. I have never taken steroids. For people who think I took steroids intentionally, I'm never going to convince them. But I hope the voters judge my career fairly and don't look at one mistake.''
Hall of Fame voters have already passed over McGwire, who last year admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.
A day before the 112th Congress officially convenes, members of the Reform Committee told FanHouse on Capitol Hill how they would handle those players whose stats were built during the recent steroid-tainted years.
"If they were using illegal substances, they shouldn't be let in right away," Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y, said. "There should be some time they have to wait until (voters) make that decision. They shouldn't be banned for life, although I'd rather not see them enter on a regular basis."
Elijah Cummings, a Democrat who founded his own steroid education program in his Maryland district called Powered by Me, said voters should think how the inclusion of a player linked to PEDs would be perceived.
"I do think there should be given some consideration given to what message would be sent if they include someone who did not earn their records fairly," Cummings said.
Cummings, however, would be against any hard ban for steroid users. New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to using steroids for a short time as member of the Texas Rangers, and Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts -- one of 89 current or former players outed in the Mitchell Report -- have spoken to young athletes in sessions organized by Powered by Me.
"When a person, for example A-Rod, comes forward, that says a lot," Cummings said. "I think those are the type of guys who deserve a chance to get into the Hall of Fame. Those are first-rate guys. When they came before the Powered by Me program, it was clear that the young people were impressed. . . . If they're truly remorseful and make it clear that what they did was wrong, I think they should be considered."
The decision for voters -- including for the Veterans Committee that has a say after the baseball writers pass on a player – will be some more difficult in the coming years. All-time home run champ Barry Bonds and seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens -- the headliners of the Mitchell Report and two players under separate indictments for telling federal officials they never knowingly used PEDs --- are Hall eligible in 2013.
"This is not all about the players," Davis said. "Management and ownership all winked and nodded. These players were moving the turnstiles. At one point, you have to make the decision that more players were probably using than even were in the Mitchell Report. We know a lot of (players) were using, but could never prove it. Guys like McGwire shouldn't be barred."