NEW YORK – Rafael Palmeiro says it was an accident. Now he’s got to prove it.

The four-time All-Star became baseball’s first high-profile player caught by the sport’s tougher drug-testing rules. But he wouldn’t say Monday what happened, how it happened or even when it happened, citing the confidentiality rules of baseball’s arbitration panel.

He stands by his impassioned statement to Congress on March 17 that he never took steroids.

So is he an innocent victim, as he suggested in his conference call?

Or did he use steroids in the past, as former teammate Jose Canseco alleged in his tell-all book?

“I think the country has been crying out for candor,” said Gary Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s medical research committee. “Justice Brandeis said sunlight is the best disinfectant, and what we need here is a good disinfectant.”

Wadler said that after reading Palmeiro’s statement, he thinks the player probably tested positive for nandrolone, contained in some nutritional supplements. Wadler said he based that on Palmeiro saying players shouldn’t use substances “without a prescription from a licensed physician” and that “it is important for all players to understand the risk of contamination.”

Under baseball’s drug-testing rules, the substances players test positive for aren’t disclosed. When Palmeiro was asked about specifics, the questions usually were answered by his agent, Arn Tellem, who said his client wasn’t allowed to discuss details due to the confidentiality rules. It was similar to Jason Giambi’s news conference in February. Tellem sat alongside him, too, and said the same thing.

Giambi’s news conference came after the San Francisco Chronicle published excerpts of his grand jury testimony in the BALCO steroids case. The paper said the New York Yankees star admitted in 2003 that he injected himself with human growth hormone and used steroids for at least three seasons.

Wadler said during a telephone interview that Palmeiro needs “to rehabilitate his reputation.”

“And to do that, I think he needs to be freed up to be as candid as possible,” he said. “And I would hope the arbitrator and major league baseball and the players’ association would allow Palmeiro to step forward and tell the world and his fans and baseball fans around the country what he thinks in fact happened to him.”

So far, Palmeiro is only saying he tested positive for a substance he didn’t intend to take.

“I went in front of Congress and I was honest with Congress,” he said. “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 to lose. This is probably going to be my last year. I knew that 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 made no sense.”

Ninth on the career list with 569 homers and 23rd in hits with 3,017, Palmeiro is thought to be a Hall of Famer by some, even though he never finished higher than fifth in any year’s MVP voting.

“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 game. I respect my opponents. I respect the players that came before me. I respect the Hall of Fame, and if they think that I’m worthy enough, I would be very honored.”

Atlanta’s Julio Franco thinks Palmeiro’s reputation will be damaged no matter what.

“You guys, the media, will make sure that the public will start labeling him as a steroid user, even if it turns out to be false,” Franco said. “This is going to go far beyond this. I would do my own tests with my own doctors.”

Ever since baseball began drug testing in 2003, players have said they could test positive for substances they don’t even realize are contained in things they’re ingesting.

“There’s so much stuff out there that guys can get busted on,” Chicago White Sox All-Star pitcher Mark Buehrle said. “Guys can take creatine, protein shakes, there’s stuff that’s illegal in it, and you don’t know about. It may not say it on the label, but you can get busted for it.”

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