Spurned Palmeiro hits back with bat He's posting big numbers, except on All-Star ballots

Sidelight

June 10, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

Rafael Palmeiro is hitting .324 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs, but there's a very good chance he again will be left off the American League All-Star team.

The Orioles first baseman was not in the top eight in fan balloting the last time the vote totals were released. So starting the game is out.

He could get a shot as a reserve, but Palmeiro plays a position that is loaded with many of the league's great hitters (Mo Vaughn, Frank Thomas) and popular players (Cecil Fielder and Mark McGwire).

Last week, a visibly frustrated Palmeiro called the voting "bogus." Lately, though, the feedback from fans has been positive and so has Palmeiro's response.

"I'm hopeful that I can make the team," Palmeiro said. "I haven't gotten any letters, but I've heard it from the fans out there [in Camden Yards]. I've seen some signs [in the stands]. I'm getting some positive reaction. I'm going to keep doing my job. If I go, fine. If not, I'll take my days off."

It's becoming a rite of summer for Palmeiro. Put up monster numbers, but watch the All-Star Game on TV. Over the last three seasons, Palmeiro has averaged 33 homers, with 99 RBIs and a .307 average, while playing solid defense.

Yet he hasn't been an All-Star since 1991.

Palmeiro continued his torrid hitting yesterday, going 4-for-5 with three RBIs and three runs scored. He has hit safely in 19 of the last 23 games, with a .433 average in the stretch. He's reached base via hit or walk in all but two games.

But Vaughn and Thomas are having Triple Crown-type seasons, near the league lead in batting average, home runs and RBIs. They are virtual locks for the All-Star team, and Palmeiro knows it.

"I can name the two guys right now who deserve to go," Palmeiro said. "Frank Thomas and Mo Vaughn. Frank [3-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs] showed you why today."

Palmeiro is creeping up on them. Since moving to the cleanup spot 28 games ago, Palmeiro has flourished, hitting .394. He thrives on pressure situations and he's hitting behind Roberto Alomar, who gets on base more than anyone in the majors.

"Hitting cleanup is a pretty good deal," Palmeiro said. "I like the RBI opportunities. That's what we all play for -- coming through for your team in the clutch situations."

Cleveland's Mike Hargrove is managing the AL All-Star team and he selects the reserves. It's possible Hargrove could take three first basemen.

However, each team must be represented and Fielder is one of the lone bright spots on a dismal Detroit Tigers team. His selection would all but assure Palmeiro of a spot on his couch, and not in the dugout in Philadelphia, where the game is being played this year.

Regardless, when players and coaches talk hitting, Palmeiro's name comes up.

"If he's disappointed about the voting, it's probably justified," said Brady Anderson, a likely All-Star candidate himself. "But he should remember that his teammates and the players throughout the league respect him as one of the best hitters in the game. That should bring him some solace."

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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