Rafael Palmeiro lost his reputation first. That went quicker than he could jab a finger and say with a straight face that he never used steroids.
Now he's lost his job, and perhaps his career.
Fellow players are wary of him, afraid like Baltimore Orioles teammate Miguel Tejada that they'll be drawn into the morass of his own making. Congress wants to know if he lied under oath.
And the only way he's going to get into the Hall of Fame now is to buy a ticket.
Palmeiro's reasons for keeping quiet are shrinking as rapidly as Sammy Sosa.
Still, he hasn't fessed up yet.
Nearly two months after he said he would at some point tell his side of the story, that point apparently still hasn't come. Palmeiro hasn't strayed from his initial contention that everything must have been a mistake and that he never would have taken steroids knowingly.
Maybe he's getting legal advice from the same buffoons who told Mark McGwire not to talk about the past. Maybe he's afraid Congress might be serious about punishing him for perjury.
Maybe, but now it's time to start talking again. It's time to tell the truth.
Palmeiro's career likely is history, because no team wants the baggage that comes along with a 41-year-old with declining numbers. But he's still got something to gain by coming clean now. He's still got a chance to salvage a legacy that at one time seemed to ensure him a spot in the Hall of Fame.
The longer he goes without doing so, though, the more guilty he's presumed to be.
Palmeiro apparently is the last to realize it, but things have changed since the bizarre conference call where he vowed to one day tell his side of the story. That's why the Orioles finally came to their senses Friday and told him not to bother coming back this season — and, most likely, any other.
The team should have done it in August and saved both Palmeiro and the franchise from further embarrassment. It didn't because guys with 500 home runs aren't easy to come by, even if they're fading stars such as Palmeiro and Sosa.
Palmeiro served his 10-day suspension and the Orioles trotted him back out even as reports surfaced that his steroid use wasn't as unintentional as he claimed. Stanozolol, it turns out, isn't found in the chicken wings in the clubhouse buffet.
It wasn't until it was revealed this week that Palmeiro suggested there might have been something funny in a B-12 injection Tejada gave him, however, that the Orioles had a meeting of the minds and decided it wasn't in the club's best interest for him to return.
The image of players shooting each other up in the locker room was bad enough, even if it was only vitamins. But one player ratting out another violates the unwritten code of every baseball clubhouse.
"I know I'm clean. I'm not guilty," Tejada said with appropriate indignation. "I use the same thing, and I've been checked for steroids three times."
Unlike Tejada, Palmeiro can't say that. So how about doing baseball and its fans a real favor by shedding some light on steroid use and telling us what really goes on behind closed doors in major league ballparks?
Jose Canseco tried to do just that, only to be shunned by anyone who had anything to do with the game. But Canseso was an opportunist trying to make money on the deal, while Palmeiro can reinvent himself as someone trying to do something for the future good of the game.
Former commissioner Fay Vincent suggested recently that today's sluggers might have an easier time making it into the Hall of Fame if they come clean and explain what they took and why they took it.
"My own sense is that sunlight is the best disinfectant," Vincent said. "The people up for the Hall of Fame should be pushed to tell us a hell of a lot more than they've told us. If they are willing to tell us, voters would take that into account. Some may get in, some may be delayed. But some will get in because voters will say they're still terrific players."
Vincent, though, conceded that in today's world of lawyers, agents and contracts, that's not likely to happen. Jason Giambi apologizes for something, but never mentions steroids, Barry Bonds refuses to discuss his testimony before a grand jury when he reportedly said he unknowingly used steroids, and McGwire refuses to talk about anything that happened before stadiums got lights.
Palmeiro basically got fired for what he did, so maybe it's time he did some firing himself.
Get rid of the lawyers who tell you to keep quiet. Tell your agent you need someone who has a clue about public relations.
Throw yourself on the mercy of Congress, and a public just waiting for someone to forgive.
It's the right thing to do. And, right now, it's the only chance you've got.