Editorial: Baseball strikes out

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Major League Baseball heaped praise on a bum as part of its marketing plan. And that just stinks.

Doing so makes Bud Selig no better than Rafael Palmeiro. And it further tarnishes the reputation of a sport that was once America's pastime but now seems intent on driving away fans and sponsors.

Baltimore slugger Palmeiro was handed a 10-day suspension for failing a steroid test just months after he wagged a finger at Congress and declared, "I have never used steroids, period." To quote a New York Times headline from last week, "Palmeiro has thrown away his credibility. Period." Too bad his contract with Viagra had expired; it would have been entertaining to see how long it took Pfizer to Pfire its star endorser.

It's not just Palmeiro's reputation that suffers. Turns out MLB knew weeks earlier in the season that Palmeiro violated its steroid policy. Yet the league kept mum as he appealed-and closed in on a career milestone of 3,000 hits. When he collected that key hit, MLB paid to run an ad congratulating the future Hall of Famer. When the spotlight went out, he was suspended.

Selig toughened MLB's doping rules, and gets credit for that. But he has been quoted as saying the league "must deal quickly" with "anything that impugns our integrity." Um, so long as it doesn't interfere with our marketing plans, he might have added.

The irony for baseball is that some of the very sluggers who helped the game regain popularity in recent years with their exciting long-ball power have been caught up in steroid scandals, raising questions about whether their records should stand or if they should be allowed into Cooperstown.

Palmeiro is the biggest name so far to be suspended for violating the steroid policy. It was an opportunity for Selig to prove that baseball is serious about cleaning up its act regardless of the consequences. In this case, an appeals-process delay and a decision to celebrate a popular player whom baseball knew had violated the game's drug policy qualify as the most short-sighted, boneheaded plays of the season.

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