1/7/2014 4:05 P.M. ET
Palmeiro looks to garner more Hall of Fame support
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Rafael Palmeiro is a candidate on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the fourth year. The Class of 2014 will be announced Wednesday. You can watch the announcement live at 2 p.m. ET on an MLB Network simulcast on MLB.com as part of a three-hour live show beginning at noon. On Thursday, MLB.com and MLB Network will air the news conferences featuring the electees live from New York at 11 a.m. ET.
Rafael Pameiro, with first-ballot credentials on paper but a suspension for PED use at the end of his career, is back for his fourth National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot try. For three years, his minimal support has been enough to keep him on subsequent ballots, but nowhere near enough to suggest a trend of acceptance that could eventually swing open the hall doors.
This year, Palmeiro could be in jeopardy of falling below the five-percent red-line, and falling off future ballots. In voting for the 2013 Class, he drew 8.8 percent of votes, trending downward from 11 and 12.6 in his first two years of eligibility.
"I was like, 'Wait a minute. I got 8.8 percent, which was less than last year. I lost support. I lost a lot of people who voted for me last year,'" Palmeiro told The Baltimore Sun after the 2013 voting results were announced. "That was a little bit surprising, but it's not unexpected, I guess."
With the 2014 ballot including compelling newcomers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, Palmeiro is acutely aware of the possibility of disappearing from the ballot.
"I am concerned that now ... with the guys coming up, some of my votes will be taken off and given to other guys," he said in the January 2013 interview. "I don't think there is anything I can do."
Palmeiro thus could unwittingly become one of the lasting symbols for the indelible stigma of PED association because of his unique mark on baseball history, more unique than other candidates whose game lacked the dimensions he brought to play.
The first three men to conclude their baseball careers with more than 500 homers and 3,000 hits were first-ballot shoo-ins into the Hall of Fame with an average of 93 percent support. They were Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Eddie Murray.
There is only a fourth member of that fraternity, Palmeiro, whose lack of support confirmed his expressed concerns and dreads over how his conviction for the use of performance-enhancing drugs would affect his candidacy.
There still is no gray area concerning the Cuba-born first baseman with the sweet left-handed swing.
It is all white: Palmeiro's 20-season career ended with 569 home runs and 3,020 hits.
Or all black: Palmeiro's career also ended during the 2005 season with a 10-day suspension for violating MLB's Drug Policy, giving him the blemish of being the first star of the sport's so-called PED era to be suspended.
That suspension came at the end of his career, and Palmeiro has steadfastly maintained it has unfairly sullied his body of work.
"Voters are putting too much weight on the one incident," said Palmeiro, who has also never backed off his contention that he did not purposely take steroids, but must have injected a tainted vial of B-12 supplement that he received from Baltimore teammate Miguel Tejada as an energy boost.
"I wish they would look at my whole career," has been Palmeiro's constant plea. "If they want, why don't they just throw out the last season of my career? I would still have Hall of Fame numbers.
"I had already 3,000 hits and had 500 home runs. They can use it against me. But it was at the end of my career and it was basically a lack of due diligence on my part and I basically ruined my career over a mistake that really shouldn't have happened. I've put up my numbers, and they aren't going to change."
Will his vote totals, to the positive?
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from Baseball Writers' Association of America members to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. No players reached that threshold in 2013. Second baseman Craig Biggio (68.2 percent), starting pitcher Jack Morris (67.7 percent) and first baseman Jeff Bagwell (59.6 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year's ballot. Results of the 2014 election will be announced on Wednesday, Jan. 8.
Until the arrival of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, Palmeiro was considered the most valid test case for the durability of a PED smudge because, in the view of some, Mark McGwire was a less viable Cooperstown candidate to start with.
McGwire, the Dodgers' batting coach, did briefly hold the single-season record of 70 homers and retired with a total of 583 -- but McGwire had 1,043 other hits as a lifetime .263 hitter.
Only two players with fewer than McGwire's 1,626 career hits have gained Cooperstown entrance through the front gate of BBWAA election (as opposed to via Old Timers or Veterans Committees): Jackie Robinson and Ralph Kiner. So evaluating McGwire's ballot scores -- percentages of 23.5, 23.6, 21.9, 23.7 and 19.5 -- becomes murky.
Performance puts Palmeiro in an obviously more elite company. Where does the PED issue leave him going forward?
When his suspension came down on Aug. 1, 2005 -- months after the alleged violation, after the test results were appealed and the case went through an arbitration process, and two weeks after he'd collected his 3,000th hit -- Palmeiro knew his legacy was in danger.
"Why would I do this in a season when I was going to get to 3,000 hits? It makes no sense," Palmeiro said at the time. "I would not put my career on the line. I would not put my reputation on the line and everything that I've accomplished throughout my career. ... I'm not a crazy person. I'm not stupid. This is something that's an unfortunate thing. It was an accident. I'm paying the price."
Whether the Hall of Fame vote will continue to bring him sticker shock is up to the hundreds of tenured (10-plus years) BBWAA members who do the voting. Plenty of those voters could be conflicted.
Palmeiro's career timeline was devoid of spikes. Consistency was one of his key attributes: He had 10 seasons of 37-plus homers, 10 seasons of 100-plus RBIs, 11 seasons with 30-plus doubles.
"Era domination" is viewed as one of the crucial elements of Hall of Fame worthiness, and few players ever stood out as Palmeiro did from 1993 to-2003. In that 11-season span, he hit 433 homers and drove in 1,266 runs, with a .555 slugging average that was supported by 364 other extra-base hits.
And despite the impressive power, Palmeiro had the plate discipline of a slap hitter: Only once did he strike out more than 96 times, and his walks exceeded his strikeouts in eight of his 20 seasons.
The credentials are flawless. The swan song was flawed. Hall of Fame juries can deliberate for 15 years, and the one hearing Palmeiro's case is still in its early stages -- unless it is disbanded when the 2014 class is announced.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.