NEW YORK – Rafael Palmeiro (search) poked his finger in the air for emphasis and raised his voice with all the indignation of a man falsely accused.
"I have never used steroids. Period," he told a congressional panel in March.
On Monday, nearly five months later, the Baltimore Orioles (search) slugger became baseball's highest-profile player to be suspended 10 days for using steroids.
While he didn't deny testing positive for the drugs, he insisted that ingesting them was an accident.
"When I testified in front of Congress, I know that I was testifying under oath and I told the truth," he said during a telephone conference call Monday. "Today I am telling the truth again that I did not do this intentionally or knowingly."
The 40-year-old Palmeiro became the seventh player to fail a test under the toughened major league policy that took effect in March, rules criticized by Congress as not being stringent enough.
On July 15, Palmeiro joined Hank Aaron (search), Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players with 3,000 hits and 500 homers. Baseball would not say when the positive test occurred.
Without giving specifics, the four-time All-Star left the impression that the banned substance was contained in a supplement that was not prescribed. He said it was an "embarrassing situation" and still did not know what caused the positive test.
"Why would I do this in a year when I went in front of Congress and I testified and I told the truth?" he said. "Why would I do this during a season where I was going to get to 3,000 hits? It just makes no sense. ... I'm not a crazy person."
Palmeiro, who is currently in ninth place on the all-time home runs list with 569, wouldn't predict whether his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame were damaged.
"Really, that's not for me to determine," he said. "I hope that people look at my whole career and appreciate that I've given everything that I've got. ... I respect the Hall of Fame, and if they think that I'm worthy enough, I would be very honored. And if they don't, I gave it all that I had to this game."
Appearing with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and other baseball stars before a congressional committee on March 17, Palmeiro made an opening statement in which he said, pointing his finger for emphasis: "Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never."
Palmeiro also expressed indignation over accusations made by former slugger Jose Canseco, who cited Palmeiro as a steroid user in his tell-all book. In an interview on the CBS television show "60 Minutes," Canseco — who also testified before Congress — said he had injected Palmeiro with steroids.
Besides condemning steroid use during his appearance before Congress, Palmeiro also took part via conference call in a round-table discussion last month about how to rid sports of steroids with members of Congress and representatives from the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.
Christopher Shays of Connecticut, the No. 2 Republican on the committee that investigated steroids in baseball, said in a telephone interview: "He ended up being the most outspoken against steroid use and even this guy is in a situation where he's been suspended. It just blows me away. Obviously, it calls into question every accomplishment he's had."
It wasn't clear whether Palmeiro's test was taken before or after he spoke before the congressional panel. Anyone who lies under oath could be potentially subject to criminal perjury charges; Congress has the option of referring the case to the Justice Department, which would decide whether it's worth pursuing.
Under baseball's drug policy, every player is tested at least once between the start of spring training and the end of the regular season. Some players are randomly selected by a computer for additional tests. All tests are unannounced.
The players' association challenged the positive test in secret proceedings, and the penalty was held in abeyance until arbitrator Shyam Das decided Monday not to overturn it.
Palmeiro will lose $163,934 of his $3 million salary during the suspension. Because the penalty was delayed, it meant at least one member of baseball's management-union medical panel initially found there was a "reasonable basis" for the challenge.
The panel, in a statement released by the union, said Palmeiro could not prove the positive test "was not due to his fault or negligence." It also concluded, however, that Palmeiro's testimony was "quite compelling," and it did not find reason to believe he was lying.
President Bush — who owned the Texas Rangers while Palmeiro played for the team — called Palmeiro a "friend" in a round-table interview with reporters from several Texas newspapers. "He's testified in public, and I believe him," Bush added.
Palmeiro sounded contrite on the conference call, saying he hoped there was something to be gained from his suspension by educating players to be more careful about what they put in their bodies.
"I made a mistake and I'm facing it," he said. "I hope that people learn from my mistake and I hope that the fans forgive me."
Union head Donald Fehr said the suspension "should serve to dispel doubts about our determination to rid baseball of illegal steroids, or the strength or effectiveness of our testing program."
Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli said his players were "a little disappointed" but wanted to support their teammate.
"The timing obviously is not good," said Mazzilli, whose team has lost 12 of the last 13 games. "We're going to have to make do right now. We're going to have to band together as a team and fight through it."