Rafael Palmeiro. Surely you remember him. That finger-wagging, Viagra-endorsing, positive-steroid-testing, 3,000-hit-having, 500-home-run-having, non Hall of Famer. You know who I’m talking about.
Mr. Palmeiro is one of only five players in baseball history (Hank Aaron, Eddie Murray, Willie Mays, and Alex Rodriguez being the others) with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. His career, however, ended suddenly, and with great embarrassment, after testing positive for stanozolol. Palmeiro served a 10-day suspension that, coincidentally, fell near his planned appreciation day in Baltimore. Palmeiro returned from suspension on August 14, played in six more games, and then was put out to pasture with 3,020 hits, 569 home runs, and 1,835 RBIs. He won three Gold Gloves at first base and played only 431 games at designated hitter. Palmeiro was not a one-trick pony. He fielded his position well and had one of the purest swings in the game.
For his efforts over a 20-year career, Palmeiro was rewarded with 11.0 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in his first year of eligibility, 2011. By 2014, he was completely off the ballot, with 4.4 percent of the vote. That year, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens both received close to 35 percent. Mark McGwire, who hit only 14 more home runs than Palmeiro with nearly 1,400 fewer hits, saw his name checked by 11.0 percent of voters.
There are things in life that are far less certain than Bonds, Clemens, and McGwire using steroids and performance enhancing drugs. All three went to great lengths to perpetuate the lies and cover-ups that kept the truth hidden as homers were mashed, wins were recorded, and hat sizes slowly inched towards Martian territory. Palmeiro’s story differs from the other three only in that he actually tested positive under MLB’s testing procedure, something that was little more than a lightly-regarded joke when Bonds slammed 73 home runs in 2001.
With one positive test, Palmeiro rendered his entire career meaningless in the eyes of the Hall of Fame gatekeepers. No one knows when or even if Palmeiro used steroids at other times during his career. Jose Canseco says he did, which means about as much as Chicken Little kindly informing you that the sky may or may not be falling. There is certainly a case to be made for guilt by association, as the Texas Rangers of the 1990s are not known for running the cleanest of ships. With Palmeiro, however, there is never a year where you could clearly define a watershed, this-is-when-he-started-juicing moment. Maybe it was 1991 when his slugging percentage jumped from .468 to .532. Perhaps the 1.050 OPS in 1999 at age 34 was achieved with a needle in the rear end. We will never truly know.
No one actually knows if Palmeiro took performance enhancing substances before somehow testing positive for one of the most rudimentary drugs on the market. Stanozolol is the drug of choice for LA Fitness meatheads, not MLB superstars. Maybe going back to the well one too many times for a drug that worked in the Nineties is what did Palmeiro in, or maybe he really was brought down by a tainted Vitamin B supplement from Miguel Tejada. There are less plausible explanations for why an outdated, easily-detectable drug would enter the bloodstream of a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.
It’s hard to moralize away Palmeiro’s positive drug test. You can convince yourself a vote for Bonds or Clemens is perfectly acceptable because their steroid use only seemed to further push their already Hall worthy credentials into the stratosphere. With Palmeiro, there’s just that extra seed of doubt, planted by a questionable positive test in the final year of his career. There is no concrete evidence that he juiced throughout his entire 20-year career. Any evidence against him is circumstantial at best, speculation/Canseco-fueled gossip at worst.
Sometime in the not-so-distant future, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will enter the Hall of Fame. Those with a vote have become willing to overlook their transgressions. Rafael Palmeiro will not have that same chance, as he was unceremoniously dropped from the ballot. The tide has turned for Bonds and Clemens, but Palmeiro will not get the chance to be swept along with his fellow steroid brothers. At this point, he cannot go back and undo the harm caused by his positive test. There’s no way to put his name back on the ballot just because the collective voting group finally seems more accepting of players from the Steroid Era.
Rafael Palmeiro will have to wait for the Veterans Committee. He is deserving of a second chance, but only time will tell if it will be granted.