Statistically, Rafael Palmeiro is one of the greatest offensive players in baseball history. He retired as a career .288/.371/.515 (132 OPS+) hitter with 3,020 hits and 569 home runs. Palmeiro joins Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Eddie Murray as the only players with 3,000 hits and 500 homers.
But, back in 2005, Palmeiro was suspended after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs -- back then the suspension was only 10 games -- and that happened only a few months after he appeared in front of Congress and flatly denied ever taking steroids. Palmeiro claimed the failed test was the result of a tainted B-12 sample.
Because of the failed test, Palmeiro has never come close to receiving enough votes for Hall of Fame induction. Players need to appear on 75 percent of the ballots for induction, and in his four years of eligibility, Palmeiro never received more than 12.6 percent of the vote. He dropped off the ballot this past winter after receiving only 4.4 percent of the vote, less than the 5 percent necessary to remain eligible next year.
Flinder Boyd of Fox Sports recently interviewed and profiled Palmeiro, now 51. His career ended following that 2005 season. Palmeiro explains he is still haunted by the failed PED test and his exclusion from the Hall of Fame. From Boyd:
Throughout everything, Palmeiro always had one hope of redemption. He'd always wanted to be in the Hall of Fame. It wasn't just a whimsical dream. The statistical goals that he wrote down before each season were yearly projections he needed to be enshrined amongst the greats.
"Based on my credentials, what I did on the field equals first-ballot Hall of Famer, end of story," he says.
The first year he was eligible, in 2011, he watched the results from his couch. Reporters were calling asking what he thought his chances were and how much the steroids would affect the Hall of Fame voting. But really they just wanted to know if he was a steroid user and unrepentant cheater, or a naive sap, or maybe an innocent man. He was polite and, if asked, he'd repeat that his positive test was a result of a tainted B-12 vial. Needing 75 percent of eligible baseball writers to vote him in, his heart sunk as he watched his name scroll across the bottom of his TV screen with just 11 percent of the vote, less than even admitted long-term steroid abuser Mark McGwire.
"That was like a knife in the back," he says. "I knew I wasn't going in the first year because of what happened, but I'm thinking 50 or 60 percent. They'll punish me, then the second year I'll get in."
Palmeiro told Boyd he thinks he could hit .270 with 25 home runs if he was given the opportunity to play a full season right -- "It's between the ears, man," he said -- though I think we would all take the under on that. Father Time remains undefeated.
All throughout his career Palmeiro used his fame for good, namely by being active in the community and raising money for charity. Once his career was over, he spent his days at his Texas estate wondering how he would survive life after baseball. "I was done with baseball. I hated it. It wasn't like I had a void, like 'what do I do now,' it was, 'let's see if I survive today,'" he told Boyd.
None of us can really relate to Palmeiro's situation. He was a truly great player who had Hall of Fame aspirations, and up until his failed test, he was considered a first ballot lock for Cooperstown. Palmeiro spent his career working towards a goal and he reached the necessary milestones, but the PED test wiped it all away. That's tough.
The Hall of Fame voting body has been very tough on players tied to PEDs -- Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are two of the greatest players we will ever see, and they have not yet come close to induction because of PED suspensions (neither failed a test like Palmeiro) -- though perhaps that could be changing.
This past winter Mike Piazza was voted into Cooperstown, and Jeff Bagwell received 71.6 percent of the vote, putting him in line for induction next year. Neither Piazza nor Bagwell failed a test, but they were suspected of PED use. That seems completely ridiculous to me, though it absolutely happens.
Unless he comes out and admits his PED use a la Mark McGwire, we'll never know the full extent of Palmeiro's steroids history. Regardless, the failed test ensures he will never sniff Cooperstown despite Hall of Fame numbers. Based on Boyd's article, Palmeiro is tortured by his inability to gain closure.