Sosa, Palmiero: They’re outta here

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – A year ago, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro spoke excitedly about chasing personal milestones and teaming to make the Baltimore Orioles contenders in the AL East.

Sosa was pursuing his 600th career home run. Palmeiro was seeking his 3,000 hit. Two potential Hall of Fame sluggers, reunited on a team seeking to end a run of eight consecutive losing seasons.

It was supposed to be a feel-good story. Instead, each player endured the most embarrassing season of his career, and they took the Orioles down with them.

Now Sosa and Palmeiro can’t get a job.

Kevin Brown, Bret Boone and Marquis Grissom won’t be playing baseball in 2006, either.

Roger Clemens might end up on that list, although there are signs The Rocket isn’t quite ready to declare himself officially burnt out.

Brown, 41, and Boone, a three-time All-Star, simply lost their effectiveness. Likewise for Grissom, who this week announced his retirement by saying, “When it’s time, it’s time.”

For Sosa and Palmeiro, little went right after they testified in March 2005 before a House Committee investigating the use of steroids in baseball. Both denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs. Palmeiro protested far more vehemently, wagging his finger for emphasis.

Palmeiro got his 3,000th hit on July 15, but less than three weeks later he received a 10-day suspension for using steroids – a charge he still contends was unfounded.

Upon his return, the first baseman was pursued relentlessly by the media and jeered by fans in Baltimore and on the road.

He struggled at the plate, but the worst was yet to come. When word leaked that Palmeiro suggested the positive test could have resulted from a shot of vitamin B-12 he received from teammate Miguel Tejada, the backlash in the clubhouse caused the Orioles to send Palmeiro home rather than have him finish the season.

Baltimore released him in October. The 41-year-old Palmeiro still wanted to play.

No one asked.

“It’s sad that nobody wants him. It’s sad what happened to him last year,” Orioles catcher Javy Lopez said.

“Besides what he did, he’s a great guy.”

Lopez and many of the Orioles weren’t angry with Palmeiro for using steroids. But they became furious when he ushered Tejada into the mess.

“The only mistake he made,” Lopez said, “was bringing in other players.”

Palmeiro hasn’t spoken publicly for months and did not return several phone calls for this story. He evidently hasn’t had much conversation with his former teammates, either.

“I haven’t talked to Raffy and I don’t want to talk to Raffy,” third baseman Melvin Mora said. “When you don’t know what happened in your life, you cannot blame it on somebody else. You need to know how to take your own responsibility.”

Sosa suffered through a different kind of misery in 2005. After being dumped by the Chicago Cubs in a trade with the Orioles, the right fielder hoped to rekindle his home-run swing in cozy Camden Yards. He began the season needing 26 homers to become only the fifth player to hit 600.

He ended up batting .221 with 14 home runs, numbers that enabled him to receive a single job offer this winter: A non-guaranteed contract from the Washington Nationals that would have included performance bonus opportunities.

Sosa declined, in part because he wasn’t confident he could return to form.

“I think he has a lot of energy, and a lot of talent,” Tejada said. “He struggled last year but I think he could come back and play two or three more years.”

Sosa, 37, couldn’t take another season like the last one. Besides struggling at the plate, he went on the disabled list in August. He went home for treatment and never returned.

“Seeing Sammy out of baseball for now is really sad. I think he has enough power to do something for baseball, for someone,” Mora said. “I’m surprised no one gave him a chance. This is a guy who brings a lot of fans to the field. This is a guy who can turn any game around any time. But this is baseball. People don’t believe he can do it anymore.”

Perhaps Palmeiro and Sosa aren’t sure they can do it anymore, either.

“Both of them know their All-Star years and their big statistical years are behind them, and maybe they wanted to let things come to an end,” Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley said.

Palmeiro and Sosa played together on the 1989 Texas Rangers. Fifteen years later, they ended their careers in strikingly similar fashion.

After getting a single on Aug. 16, Palmeiro went 0-for-19. His final at-bat, in Toronto on Aug. 30, was a strikeout.

Sosa’s last trip to the plate occurred five days earlier. Facing John Lackey of the Los Angeles Angels, he completed a 5-for-50 skid by striking out.

And now, Sosa and Palmeiro are out of baseball.

AP-ES-03-29-06 1609EST

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