Ex-Oriole Palmeiro unlikely to make Hall of Fame in first year on ballot

Despite numerous accolades, first baseman's image tainted by suspicions of steroid use

November 29, 2010|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

Rafael Palmeiro, whose Orioles and baseball career ended in 2005, months after he tested positive for a banned substance, is one of 19 new candidates on this year's Hall of Fame ballot, unveiled Monday.

Despite Palmeiro's being one of just four players in the history of the sport to collect at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs — the other three are already enshrined — his chances of making the Hall, at least initially, seem remote at best.

Instead, it's his former Orioles teammate, second baseman Roberto Alomar, along with pitcher Bert Blyleven, who is considered the most likely to be inducted this summer. The results will be announced Jan. 5.

Last year, Alomar, who played for the Orioles from 1996 to 1998, was named on 397 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballots — or 73.7 percent of those submitted. It was the highest percentage received for a first-time candidate without his being inducted in the Hall's history. Candidates need 75 percent for enshrinement.

Palmeiro headlines this year's first-timers along with a trio of former Most Valuable Players: Juan Gonzalez, Jeff Bagwell and Larry Walker. Other former Orioles on the ballot are newcomers B.J. Surhoff, Charles Johnson and Kevin Brown and holdovers Lee Smith, Tim Raines and Harold Baines.

Palmeiro, who played seven of his 20 seasons with the Orioles, seemingly was a lock for Hall enshrinement before the banned substance stanozolol was discovered in his system in May 2005. He has continually denied using steroids, suggesting that a dose of Vitamin B-12 he received from former teammate Miguel Tejada must have been contaminated.

So far, the best Hall of Fame test case for Palmeiro is Mark McGwire, who never tested positive but eventually admitted using steroids. Last year, McGwire, in his fourth year on the ballot, received 23.7 percent of the vote — his highest percentage. Other prominent players who have been linked to steroids, such as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, have not been retired for five years and, therefore, aren't eligible for Hall consideration yet.

Writers likely will have to weigh the failed drug test against Palmeiro's career numbers, which include 585 doubles (16th all time), 569 homers (12th all time) and 1,835 RBIs (15th all time). He was a four-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner and was in the top 20 in American League MVP voting 10 times; his highest finish was fifth in 1999 with Texas.

"It's less about the steroids than a feeling he was a very good player for a very long time — but not great. I tend to set the bar pretty high on HOF standard of greatness," Bill Plunkett, the Los Angeles Angels beat writer for The Orange County Register, said in an e-mail. "Now, the steroid revelations would seem to indicate he was able to be a very good player for a long time because of some chemical assistance. That factors in."

Bob Dutton, who covers the Royals for The Kansas City Star, said he is leaning toward not voting for Palmeiro but will study the first baseman's merits once he receives his ballot. He doesn't expect Palmeiro to get enough votes in 2011 but says that could change with time.

"I think the overall bar for all users and suspected users comes way down once a Bonds or a Clemens gets in. I think voters will have a much tougher time holding Palmeiro [or anyone] to a higher standard if, say, Bonds gets in," Dutton said in an e-mail. "I don't think Mark McGwire was a great test case because I believe a lot of voters see him as a one-dimensional player [a power hitter] who benefited immensely from the juice. The real battle line will be Bonds and Clemens."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

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