Breaking down Rafael Palmeiro's tainted Hall of Fame case

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

Rafael Palmeiro is one of only four players with 3,000 hits and 500 homers.
Rafael Palmeiro is one of only four players with 3,000 hits and 500 homers. (USATSI)

Hall of Fame: Cox, La Russa, Torre get in | Miller snubbed | Steinbrenner's complicated case| One-and-done candidates | Luis Gonzalez's case | Moises Alou's case | Lee Smith's case | Fred McGriff's case | Don Mattingly's case | Jack Morris' case

The BBWAA Hall of Fame announcement is less than a month away, so, between now and then, we will analyze each of the Hall of Fame candidates individually.

The idea is simple: we'll attempt to paint an argument as each player being a Hall of Famer and then create an argument as to why the player is not a Hall of Famer. Some will be easier than others but most are not obvious. When we're done, you can decide for yourself if the player is Cooperstown worthy.

Today we're going to cover first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

THE BARE ESSENTIALS

Palmeiro played in parts of 20 big league seasons from 1986-2005. He originally broke in with the Cubs but went on to have two stints with both the Rangers and Orioles. Palmeiro retired as a .288/.371/.515 (132 OPS+) career hitter with 3,020 hits and 569 home runs, as well as more walks (1,353) than strikeouts (1,348). He never won a World Series and in fact his 2,831 career games are the most by any player who never appeared in the Fall Classic. Only once did his club advance beyond the LDS round of the postseason (1997 Orioles).

This is Palmeiro's fourth year of Hall of Fame eligibility. He has appeared on 8.8 to 12.6 percent of the ballots these last three years. As a reminder, a player needs to appear on 75 percent of the ballots for induction.

THE CASE FOR INDUCTION

Palmeiro hits every statistical benchmark you could possibly imagine:

2,831 games played (18th all-time)
3,020 hits (25th all-time)
569 home runs (12th all-time)
585 doubles (17th all-time)
1,835 runs batted in (16th all-time)
5,388 total bases (11th all-time)
71.8 WAR (57th all-time)

Palmeiro is one of only four players with both 3,000+ career hits and 500+ homers, joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray.

The argument can be made that Palmeiro was a compiler -- he hit only .261 with a 108 OPS+ during his final two years to get over the 3,000 hit plateau -- but the only time he was ever a below-average hitter was his 22-game big league debut with the Cubbies in 1986 (91 OPS+). Other than that, he never dipped below a 104 OPS+ and only once dipped below a 108 OPS+ (1989).

During his peak from 1991-2002, Palmeiro hit .292/.380/.547 (140 OPS+) with an average of 35 doubles, 39 homers and 117 RBI per 162 games. He ranked second in hits (2,032), third in homers (443), first in runs driven in (1,327) and first in games played (1,845) during that 12-year span. Palmeiro was both an incredibly productive and highly durable player.

Although he was only elected to four All-Star Games, Palmeiro received MVP votes in 10 different seasons. He topped out at fifth place in the voting in 1999. Palmeiro also led the league in hits (1990), doubles (1991) and runs (1993) on separate occasions.

THE CASE AGAINST INDUCTION

The case against Palmeiro being a Hall of Famer is quite simple: performance-enhancing drugs. He was accused of using PEDs by former teammate Jose Canseco and infamously told congress he had never used steriods while under oath in March 2005.

"Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never," said Palmeiro to Congress while pointing his finger (since immortalized in bobblehead form).

Less than six months later (and roughly two weeks after recording his 3,000th career hit) Palmeiro was suspended 10 days after testing positive for the anabolic steriod stanozolol. His appeal had already been denied when the suspension was announced.

"I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period. Ultimately, although I never intentionally put a banned substance into my body, the independent arbitrator ruled that I had to be suspended under the terms of the program," said Palmeiro in a statement following the suspension.

Palmeiro's name was also included in the Mitchell Report in 2007, though there was no new evidence. Only the information provided by Canseco. Palmeiro continues to maintain that he never knowingly used steriods or any other banned substances.

Aside from the PED stuff, Palmeiro was not particularly graceful defensive player -- he hilariously won the 1999 Gold Glove despite playing only 28 games at first base -- who spent a big chunk of time at DH later in his career.


The BBWAA has taken a hard-line against PEDs in recent years. Unlike other Hall of Fame candidates like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, who have been shunned by the voters because of suspected PED use, Palmeiro actually failed a test. That changes everything. Statistically though, his career is first ballot Hall of Fame worthy. No doubt about it.

Tuesday: The cases for and against Sammy Sosa.

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