For Palmeiro, 3,000 hits, 500 HRs add up to a spot in Hall of Fame

July 14, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

RAFAEL PALMEIRO could get his 3,000th career hit at Seattle's Safeco Field tonight, and there actually is talk show debate over whether he should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Please.

Maybe I'm prejudiced, because I watched him deliver an amazing five-year performance in his first incarnation as an Oriole, but I can't see how anyone could question whether he should be inducted at Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility.

Tonight, maybe tomorrow, he'll become only the fourth player in baseball history to amass both 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. The other guys are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray. End of conversation.

(Well, actually, it can't be the end of the conversation, since there would be a big white space after that last paragraph if I didn't stretch the point for a while, so bear with me.)

Do I think that Palmeiro belongs in the same class of talent as Mays, who many believe is the greatest all-around player in the history of the game? Of course not. Do I believe he is on the same level as Aaron, who owns baseball's all-time home run record? Of course not.

I'll stop short of calling anyone in Cooperstown who doesn't measure up to Babe Ruth, Mays and Aaron a second-tier Hall of Famer, but there is a small group of elite players who stand above all others. I believe that Frank Robinson is in that group. Cal Ripken will be, but only because he brought so much else along with his on-field performance.

Palmeiro is another story only because he is a guy who has ground out huge cumulative numbers without ever being considered a truly dominant offensive player. He played on a number of winning teams but isn't remembered for any spectacular individual achievements. If you ask a lot of people outside of Baltimore and Arlington, Texas, what they remember most about Palmeiro, they're probably as likely to say that little blue pill (Viagra) as anything he did to the white one with the red seams.

That doesn't make him anything but a great player, but he is not one of the handful of greatest players ever, and that won't change if he gets to 600 home runs.

That said, it has been a privilege to watch him play all these years.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has been transformed in a relatively short time from media punching bag and leader-by-consensus to - dare I say it? - a surprisingly strong commish.

I agree strongly with his decision not to give in to the demands of the International Olympic Committee to get baseball back into the Olympics in 2016.

Major League Baseball should not disrupt the regular season every four years to accommodate the Olympics. Baseball is our national pastime, and there are plenty of other opportunities to showcase the game internationally (the new World Baseball Classic, for example) without cutting a month out of the pennant races.

Texas Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph) also thought it was pretty cool that he was part of an all-Baltimore infield in the fifth inning of the All-Star Game on Tuesday night, but he isn't pining to put on an Orioles uniform.

"That was great, but it would be great to someday be part of an all-Texas Rangers infield," Teixeira said. "I grew up rooting for the Orioles, but that's not really the same team that I grew up rooting for."

Maybe so, but if Teixeira gets close to free agency in a couple of years, the Orioles would be foolish not to make a big play for him.

Oh, by the way, I'm back. I've been filling in on Page 1 the past week or two while Laura Vecsey and David Steele laze away the summer, but I've always intended to come back to this space.

It just got more urgent when I saw that Ray Frager wrote an extra Page 2 column this week. I think we can all agree that one Ray column a week is enough.

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