Baseball Hall of Fame debates 2013: Rafael Palmeiro

Rafael Palmeiro watches his solo home run leave

Rafael Palmeiro watches his solo home run leave the park in the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium. (July 31, 2001) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

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Part 10 of a 10-part series that looks at prominent potential Hall of Famers for the Class of 2013 and the reasons to vote them in -- or keep them out.

Rafael Palmeiro is in his third year on the ballot. He received 12.6 percent of the vote in 2012, his highest percentage to date. The former Cubs, Rangers and Orioles first baseman reached two baseball milestones during his career -- 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. But a positive test for a banned substance during his final season may be enough to undo his accomplishments.


There have only been four players in Major League history to hit both 500 home runs and reach 3,000 hits. Eddie Murray, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron are already in the Hall of Fame.

Now, Palmeiro is knocking at the door.

- Palmeiro had top-19 finishes in MVP voting

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- He was a four-time All-Star

- He won three Gold Gloves

- He won two Silver Sluggers

- He led the league in hits (191) in 1990, doubles (49) in 1991 and runs (124) in 1993.

But Palmeiro's numbers are even more extraordinary when compared throughout baseball history:

- Palmeiro is 11th in baseball history with 5,388 total bases.

- He's 12th on the all-time home run list, with 569.

- He's 25th in hits, with 3,020.

Everybody in front of Palmeiro on those lists is either in the Hall of Fame, still playing, is a first-time eligible player this year or has been banned from baseball.

There's only one player who doesn't fit the above criteria: Mark McGwire. McGwire has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for six seasons and has yet to attain more than 23.5 percent of the vote. Palmeiro's support has been even lower.

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Both players were in their primes during the "steroid era." And performance-enhancing drug accusations surrounded both. But there are legitimate differences, differences that support Palmeiro's election to the Hall.

For one, McGwire was a one-dimensional slugger during his career, who, even if he never took PEDs, may not have attained election to the Hall.

But the big difference is McGwire eventually admitted to using PEDs. Palmeiro has repeatedly denied knowingly using them.

Palmeiro tested positive for a banned substance in August 2005 -- his final season in the majors -- and was given a 10-day suspension, league policy at the time. He said during a 2009 interview with ESPN that "Whatever I took was tainted, had to have been. There's no other reason, unless I got set up."

He's long maintained that what he took was vitamin B-12 provided to him by a teammate. Given that the "check every medication" mentality hadn't yet been drilled into players' minds in 2005, that kind of transaction between friends shouldn't completely be viewed with skepticism. And given that in the 2011 offseason, Ryan Braun had a positive PED test overturned after discovering flaws in the testing system, there's a case to be made to view the testing system with some skepticism.

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And that's a testing system that had seven years to improve since it "caught" Palmeiro. Palmeiro who never had a noticeable jump in his career performance beyond the typical arc of a ballplayer's life. Palmeiro never hit more than 47 home runs in a season and only hit 40 or more four times. Heck, Hank Aaron hit more than 40 home runs in a season eight times. No one has accused him of being a steroid cheat.


The exact moment when Palmeiro lessened his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame is pretty easy to determine.

On March 17, 2005, he pointed his finger at a congressional panel and emphatically stated, "I have never used steroids. Period." Less than five months later, Palmeiro tested positive for a banned substance.

So the tally goes: 3,020 hits, 569 home runs, and one positive PED test.

Funny how the little numbers matter the most at times like these.

Of all the alleged PED users on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, Palmeiro has the most to overcome. Roger Clemens was accused, fought the accusation like a rabid dog and was never convicted of anything. Barry Bonds was accused, denied it and was eventually brought to federal court on obstruction of justice charges for perjury. He was convicted on one charge, but not for using steroids. Sammy Sosa was outed by an anonymous source in a newspaper article that didn't identify the substance he supposedly testified positive for.

But Palmeiro was the only member of this quartet with an actual public positive test to his name. The only one who was ever suspended.

Just because he insists he didn't take PEDs isn't enough of a reason to give him the benefit of the doubt. Just because his career didn't spike like Sosa's or Clemens' or Bonds' isn't reason to not suspect him. Matt Lawton was suspended for taking a banned substance, and he never hit more than 21 home runs in a season or had a noticeable spike either.

The absence of numerical evidence is not evidence of the absence of steroids.

Palmeiro's accomplishments were surely great. There's no arguing with the overall statistics he created. The argument comes from the fact that he seems to have had chemical help when writing his career resume.

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