He looked across the room, caught my eye and, with a quick nod of his head, summoned me to his locker. I had been waiting for a half-hour or so that day, just biding my time in the visitors' clubhouse at Atlanta's Turner Field, until Rafael Palmeiro had some time to give.
After a few other reporters had made their approaches and, mostly, been turned away, after he had dressed for batting practice and laced up his shoes, Palmeiro motioned me over. He leaned softly on one side of his locker, one of his two sons sitting by his side, and talked. Quietly, he talked. And earnestly. Believably.
We chatted about 3,000 hits and his possible retirement. We discussed, briefly, the Orioles' chances in the American League East. I mentioned the great names he was about to be forever tied to: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Eddie Murray, the only players to have 500 home runs and 3,000 hits in a career.
In the 10 minutes we talked, I never brought up steroids. Everybody knew, since his pointed appearance in front of Congress last March, where Palmeiro stood on the subject of steroids.
"Let me start by telling you this," Palmeiro said on March 17, pointing at Rep.Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee chairman. "I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never."
Well, we thought we knew then.
Now, we know.
Palmeiro, as anyone who has followed his career realizes, never has been much of a talker, never a spotlight seeker or reporter's favorite. He is withdrawn to a fault, as strangely quiet as the astonishing career he has built in his 19 years in the majors.
So when he lifted his index finger to the Congressional panel and sternly gave its members the what-for, most of us believed. We believed Palmeiro had never used performance-enhancing drugs. We believed he was telling the truth. We believed he finally was putting the nasty rumors behind him and would be headed, eventually, to the Hall of Fame.
Certainly, compared to Mark McGwire's back-tracking non-answers, compared to the fidgety whistleblower Jose Canseco, even placed alongside Sammy Sosa and his flat denials, Palmeiro's words under oath rang true.
And when I talked to him in June, I thought March was old news. I thought I was talking to a future Hall of Famer.
But then came Monday, when Major League Baseball suspended Palmeiro for 10 days for violating the sport's drug policy. He had failed a steroids test. He had exhausted his appeals.
Monday, the quiet man spoke again.
"I have never intentionally used steroids," Palmeiro said in a statement, adding one key word to the same sentence he used before Congress almost five months ago. "Never. Ever. Period."