Ranger finally gets his due

Thanks to Torre, not fans, Palmeiro starts All-Star Game

DH starts for Canseco

Ex-Oriole not bitter over vote for Thome

July 14, 1999|By BOSTON GLOBE

BOSTON -- For the past two weeks, baseball people have been compiling their annual list of All-Star Game snubs. They've been talking about all the players who enjoyed a great first half of the season but were not voted starters by the fans or not chosen as reserves by the managers.

But it's all part of the system. Fans are going to vote for their favorite players, regardless of whether those players' statistics warrant a start in the All-Star Game, and managers filling out their rosters often will lean toward players from their teams. So it's pretty much a given that a handful of deserving players are going to be left to come off the bench or even left at home, victims of what some consider to be a popularity contest.

A perennial member of the snub club has been Texas Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. Few players have been as consistent during the past decade -- or as overlooked. This year marks his fourth selection to the All-Star Game, yet he has never been a starter.

The fans this season voted Cleveland's Jim Thome to start at first base despite a far more stellar first half of the season by Palmeiro. You compare: Palmeiro is batting .355 with 22 homers and 76 RBIs, placing him among the American League leaders in each category; Thome, meanwhile, is batting .280 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs. Yet Thome got more than 1.3 million votes to Palmeiro's 700,000. Think Palmeiro was robbed of a spot in the starting lineup for the 70th All-Star Game at Fenway Park?

For those who think he was, justice was done Monday when manager Joe Torre named Palmeiro the AL's designated hitter, replacing fan selection Jose Canseco, who is out with an ailing back. There was some speculation that the New York manager would move the Red Sox's Nomar Garciaparra, who has missed the last nine games after aggravating a strained left groin, from shortstop to the DH spot and put Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter in the starting lineup. But Torre chose to avoid possible controversy and go with Palmeiro.

"If I had to fill in the starting lineup," said Torre, "he jumped out at me because of what he's doing this year and what he's done over the past years offensively."

For Palmeiro, who went 2-for-2 with an RBI in last season's All-Star Game in Denver, it was a long overdue honor.

"That's pretty exciting," Palmeiro, now in his 12th season in the majors and second stint with the Rangers, said of his starting assignment. "I wasn't expecting that. I really didn't think that it would happen. I didn't even think about it. But it's real nice and it will be a pretty nice emotional deal when they call my name and I run out there."

He harbors no bitterness for the man voted in ahead of him at first base. "Jim Thome is a great player. He's had a great career, and he deserves to be voted in," said Palmeiro. "You know last year he went in there and competed in the home run hitting contest and did very well, so fans don't forget that. I'm not disappointed at all. I'm here, and this just tells me I'm having a good year. It's nice that Joe thought enough of me to put me in there."

Palmeiro batted seventh in the AL order, behind former Orioles teammate Cal Ripken and in front of current teammate Ivan Rodriguez. Because of the aftereffects of two knee surgeries this spring, a lot of Palmeiro's at-bats have come as the Rangers' designated hitter. He has flourished in the role. He got his 2,000th career hit earlier this season and is on pace to eclipse his career high of 43 home runs, set last season with the Orioles.

The only player to play in more games in the '90s than Palmeiro is Ripken. Every year, Palmeiro is up around 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. Yet he's never been voted by the fans as a starter. Yet he, unlike teammate Juan Gonzalez, who skipped the All-Star festivities because the fans did not vote him the starter in right field, is simply happy to be here. Starter or reserve.

"It's an honor for me," he said. "Of course, I've never won an MVP and I've never been voted in. Juan's won two MVPs and was voted by the fans last year to start. He has a point. I can understand where Juan is coming from. I kind of support him in that matter, but I'm in a different situation. And we're two different players.

"I just go out and do my thing and keep putting my numbers up. I keep saying that eventually, when it's all said and done, people are going to realize that I was a pretty good player. As far as being appreciated, as long as I'm appreciated by my teammates and respected by my peers, that's all I can ask for."

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