Former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro knew heading into Wednesday that his positive test for a banned steroid in 2005 was going to severely damage his chances of being selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first opportunity.
He didn't realize, however, exactly how little support he would receive from the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
The 2011 Hall results were announced Wednesday afternoon, and Palmeiro was included on just 64 of the 581 ballots submitted — or 11 percent, falling woefully short of the 75 percent needed for induction.
"Not good, actually, it's disappointing, really disappointing that it was only 11 percent," Palmeiro said in a telephone interview with The Sun shortly after the announcement. "I wasn't expecting to be going in this year with the feedback I have gotten throughout the last few weeks or so. But I thought more voters would look at my overall career and put more emphasis or weight on what I have done and not just on a positive [drug] test at the end of my career. There was a message there to be sent, and it was received."
Despite being just one of four big leaguers with more than 500 home runs and 3,000 hits — the other three, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, are in the Hall of Fame — Palmeiro finished 16th among candidates in this year's voting, behind players such as Dave Parker, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy.
"I think, obviously, without this stupid test, the positive test, I felt strongly about going in in the first year with 500-plus home runs and 3,000-plus hits," Palmeiro said. "I think it would have been hard for voters to look at my career and say I should not go in on the first time around."
In 2005, Palmeiro became the first player of significance to be suspended under baseball's strengthened performance-enhancing drug policy when he tested positive for stanozolol, which he maintains was taken unknowingly and must have been in a tainted shot of liquid vitamin B12 that he received from then-Orioles teammate Miguel Tejada. Palmeiro failed the test within two months of testifying at a congressional hearing that he had never taken steroids.
"I know what I did, I know the amount of work I put in, I know the amount of love I have for the game of baseball and the respect I have for the game of baseball," Palmeiro said. "Unfortunately, I made a stupid mistake [taking the B12 shot] at the end of my career that is obviously costing me."
Palmeiro said Wednesday that he assumed he would be named on "maybe 25 percent" of ballots, similar to the 23.7 percent that slugger Mark McGwire's received last year.
However, McGwire, who refused to answer questions about his alleged steroid use at the 2005 congressional hearing but admitted last year to using banned substances during his career, saw his total drop by 13 votes and his percentage plummet to 19.8 this year, his worst showing in five years on the ballot.
"I was a little surprised," Palmeiro said about McGwire's declining total. "I would have thought that coming out and admitting it would have helped him … but that apparently worked against him."
BBWAA voters seem to be either choosing not to support anyone linked to performance-enhancing drugs or at least taking a wait-and-see approach. One prominent baseball writer, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, said he has adopted a policy not to vote for any first-time candidates for now — even if they weren't specifically linked to steroids.
"I don't know exactly who did what or to what extent. This is my way of distinguishing greats of the past from the uncertainty of the present," said Rosenthal, who covered Palmeiro and the Orioles for The Sun. "Going forward, I may make certain exceptions to my first-time rule. As for Palmeiro and others, I will reassess year by year. I'm open-minded."
Although disappointed in how he fared, Palmeiro said he was "extremely happy" for second baseman Roberto Alomar, a former teammate of Palmeiro's on the Orioles, who was named on 90 percent of BBWAA ballots in his second attempt at induction.
"He's one of best second baseman of all time," said Palmeiro, who played alongside Alomar in 1996 to 1998. " What an incredible talent. He took over a game. He could do everything, hit for power, hit for average, run, steal bases, play great defense. He probably could have pitched had he been asked to."
Because Palmeiro received at least 5 percent of the vote Wednesday, he will remain on the ballot for 2012. Assuming he maintains that 5 percent each year, he'll stay on the ballot until 2025 or until he receives 75 percent of the vote.
"I am grateful for the 11 percent and I am grateful that I will stay on the ballot for another year," Palmeiro said. "I'll go through this process again, and I will probably be disappointed and hurt again. But it is what it is."