(Baltimore Sun file photos )
While the National Baseball Hall of Fame was announcing Wednesday that three players in their first year of eligibility — pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas — had been elected by the writers' association in the same year for the first time in 15 years, Rafael Palmeiro was in his Texas home putting away Christmas decorations.
The former Orioles slugger didn't realize the announcement had been made until he noticed several missed phone calls. He turned on the TV and learned he had received only 25 votes — half of what he garnered last year — for a total of 4.4 percent, which dropped him from the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot in his fourth year of eligibility.
“It is disheartening not being on the ballot anymore,” said Palmeiro, who is one of only four players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, but is also the only one on the ballot who was suspended for failing a performance-enhancing-drug test. “I was hoping to stay on it as long as I could. Maybe gain some momentum. But it went the other way.”
Palmeiro wasn't the only former Oriole to receive disappointing results due to a ballot that featured plenty of quality candidates. Former ace Mike Mussina, who won 270 games and posted a 3.68 ERA in an 18-season career with the Orioles and New York Yankees, was named on just 20.3 percent of the 571 ballots cast in his first year of eligibility — far below the 75 percent needed for induction.
Of the other former Orioles on this year's ballot, outfielder Tim Raines received 46.1 percent of the vote, followed by reliever Lee Smith (29.9 percent), starter Curt Schilling (29.2) and outfielder Sammy Sosa (7.2 percent), who now takes Palmeiro's place as the holdover whose spot is most tenuous for 2015. Former Orioles reliever Armando Benitez received one vote, and reliever Mike Timlin received none.
Those two won't be eligible next year, but the somewhat surprising ballot casualty was Palmeiro, who can't be considered by the Hall of Fame's veterans committee until at least 2026, after his class' 15 years of eligibility expires.
“I'll look at the bright side,” Palmeiro said. “I'll be eligible in  years, and maybe at that point things are a lot different and people see it in a different light. I'm disappointed. I am not going to lie. I won't say I was hoping for a miracle and that I'd get elected, but I was hoping to stay on it a little longer.”
In 2013, Palmeiro received 50 votes and was named on 8.8 percent of ballots cast. His precipitous drop-off seemingly was a testament to the number of quality candidates this year and a rule that prohibits voters from selecting more than 10 each year.
“This was the first time I didn't vote for him, and it was strictly because I ran out of space on the ballot,” said USA Today national baseball columnist Bob Nightengale.
Nightengale said his 10th spot came down to Palmeiro and Sosa.
“So it was pretty much, ‘Well, Rafael Palmeiro was the only guy on the Hall of Fame ballot who ever tested positive for steroids. No one else did.' So that's why,” Nightengale said. “It was the first time he was off my ballot, and I was fearful he'd fall off.”
As a policy, Baltimore Sun writers do not vote for the Hall of Fame or postseason awards.
Mel Antonen, a MASN baseball analyst and contributor for SI.com, has never voted for Palmeiro or anyone else linked to performance-enhancing drug use. However, he said he was disappointed he wouldn't be able to consider Palmeiro's candidacy in future years.
“I think he deserves more time; I think time can heal all wounds. While I just wasn't ready to vote for him now, things can change, circumstances can come around and there might be reason to vote for Palmeiro down the road,” Antonen said. “So I think it's a shame that he was bounced off the ballot so quickly.”
One thing that won't change in the next decade is Palmeiro's story about his failed test in 2005. He continues to maintain that he injected a tainted liquid B-12 supplement from teammate Miguel Tejada and did not purposely use the steroid stanozolol just weeks after wagging his finger while denying PED use to a congressional committee.
“I'm not going to change [the story] for the sake of creating a myth,” Palmeiro said. “It is what it is. It happened. It's the honest-to-God truth.”
Palmeiro said he understands many don't believe him, and that he must live with that.
“I take full responsibility, accountability for my mistake. It cost me tremendously in my life. It ruined my career and now it has ruined my chance of being a Hall of Famer,” Palmeiro said. “I don't blame anybody but myself. I should have known better and I should have trusted no one. You live and you learn. Some lessons are harder than others and this one I'll pay for the rest of my life.”