05/11/2003 5:30 PM ET
Palmeiro slugs 500th home run
Raffy hits longball milestone, aims higher
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
A quiet professional, Rafael Palmeiro lets his bat do the talking for him.
With a three-run homer off the Indians' Dave Elder in the seventh inning, Palmeiro became the newest member of the 500 Homer Club, and that speaks volumes.
The Texas Rangers slugger became the 19th player in the history of Major League Baseball to hit at least 500 home runs. Palmeiro, 38, becomes the second Latino player behind Sammy Sosa to reach the historic plateau.
"It's an unbelievable honor to be playing with him as he does this," Alex Rodriguez said. "I've had the opportunity now to play with a few future Hall of Famers, and Raffy is just amazing."
Palmeiro's trek toward 600 home runs has just begun. His place in baseball history has been secured.
"I'll play as long as I can and as long as I'm still having fun. It's hard to say now because I'm still in the process and I have a long way to go," Palmeiro said. "I want to continue to play the game the right way and the way it's meant to be played. That's what I show my boys when I practice with them. You have to have respect for this game."
Respect is the first of three words often associated with the veteran. The other two are consistency and overshadowed.
Palmeiro has played on teams that have included superstars Ryne Sandberg, Nolan Ryan, Ivan Rodriguez, Cal Ripken and now Alex Rodriguez, but his offense has remained steady. Consider these stats entering the 2003 season:
With 104 RBIs in 2002, Palmeiro recorded his eighth consecutive season with at least 100 RBIs.
He is one of only 11 players with at least 450 home runs, 2,500 hits and 500 doubles.
He has more than 35 home runs and more than 100 RBIs in each of his last eight seasons.
He is one of 12 players with at least 20 home runs in 12 consecutive seasons.
He has never been on the disabled list.
"Raffy's substance is his style, his style is not his substance. He's just not a 'look at me' type of guy," Rangers manager Buck Showalter said. "He's not a guy that goes around trying to do things that draw attention to him. He doesn't have a big enough ego that somebody has to tell him how great he is every day. He just wants the respect of his peers and his teammates. I think as time goes on, people will look at his numbers and go, 'Wow, are you kidding me?'
"I guess it's sometimes a poor reflection on our society that people are always looking for the fancy bells and whistles and overlook somebody who quietly comes to work and gets the job done every day."
Palmeiro, a four-time All-Star, has also quietly won three Gold Glove Awards.
"I like to call him the Silent Assassin," said Arizona outfielder and fellow Floridian Luis Gonzalez. "He's put a lot of damage on a lot of pitchers, and he's quietly just gone about his everyday business. He's not a vocal guy, but he's a great leader on his club. He's just quietly gone out there and put Hall of Fame numbers up."
Born in Cuba and raised in Miami, Palmeiro was an All-American at Mississippi State. He was drafted by the Cubs in 1985 and made his Major League debut with the team Sept. 8, 1986. He homered in his second big-league game and went on an impressive stretch of 29 big-league plate appearances before he swung and missed a pitch.
"I hit a lot of home runs in every league I played in. When I came to the big leagues, I struggled a little bit, but it was a matter of me developing," said Palmeiro, who hit 25 home runs and racked up 95 RBIs during parts of three seasons with the Cubs.
In 1988, his first full season in the Major Leagues, he finished second in the National League in batting (.307) and doubles (41), and third in hits (78).
"He's been a great hitter for a long time," said Phillies first baseman Jim Thome, who as a high school student watched Palmeiro play for the Cubs. "Not only is he a very good power hitter, he's a very good hitter. And he's put up those numbers very quietly. That is what's so amazing about what he's done."
Palmeiro was traded to Texas before the 1989 season along with pitchers Drew Hall and Jamie Moyer for pitchers Paul Kilgus, Mitch Williams, Steve Wilson, Curtis Wilkerson and two minor league players.
Former Rangers general manager and current television broadcaster Tom Grieve proposed the deal. The Rangers wanted to add better hitters -- not necessarily power hitters -- and Palmeiro fit the bill.
"The scouts felt that at that stage of Raffy's career, he was such a good hitter," Grieve said. "He hit a lot balls to left field and he was more or less hitting the ball where it was pitched. He was line-drive hitter who put the ball in play. He was a guy who was going to hit 35 or 45 doubles because he was a good line-drive hitter."
The Cubs had traded closer Lee Smith in 1987 and were desperately seeking a stopper. Williams fit the description and the teams orchestrated the deal. Chicago went on to finish in first place in 1989 as the famed "Boys of (Don) Zimmer."
But Palmeiro wound up being the real gem of that deal.
"I don't think any of the scouts would say that 14 or 15 years later Raffy would hit 500 home runs, but I think realistically they thought he would hit close to .300 and hit 25 to 35 home runs and drive in 100 runs," Grieve said. "From the Cubs' standpoint, they felt they had two players they felt were fairly similar -- Mark Grace and Raffy. They probably felt they could trade one of them to get the young closer they needed."
Palmeiro did not hit more than 20 home runs until 1991 when he hit 26. He has hit at least 38 home runs in the last eight consecutive seasons, averaging more than 40. He says his father helped him make the adjustment from being a spray-hitter to a pull-hitter early in his career. That's when he went from a being good hitter to a good-hitting power hitter.
"You knew he was going to be a good hitter, but you didn't think he was going to put up 500 homers," Grace said. "But he's also played in Baltimore and Texas since then, which are tremendous offensive ballparks, and he's taken advantage of it. He's one of my favorite guys to watch hit."
So with 500 home runs in his pocket, Palmeiro continues his march toward home run glory. He admits that maybe, just maybe, he'll look back on his numbers when he retires and smile. But for now he says his stats are for his kids to brag about and for the media-types who love talking about numbers.
"I guarantee you that if you asked a lot of guys how many homers he's hit, they wouldn't know," Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi said. "A lot of people are surprised when they hear he's hit 500."
That's exactly what Palmeiro wants while he is still playing.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. Mark Feinsand, Ken Mandel and John Schlegel contributed to this story.