Claim to fame: 500 home runs. 3,000 hits. Steroids.
Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Palmeiro becomes eligible for enshrinement in 2011 through the Baseball Writers Association of America, meaning its members will vote on him for the first time in coming months.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I was tempted to simply write “No” and move on to other more enjoyable things. I have no desire to see a Palmeiro plaque in Cooperstown, and the idea of him giving an induction speech triggers my gag reflex. But there are a few things that should probably be said here.
First, were it not for steroids, Palmeiro would be a sure bet for Cooperstown. No member of the 3,000-hit club has failed to be a first ballot selection since Paul Waner in 1952, and Palmeiro is also one of just four players in this group with at least 500 home runs. Palmeiro also boasts a career batting average of .288, an OPS+ of 132 and a Wins Above Replacement ranking of 66.0, all things which put him in line for Cooperstown. Baseball-Reference.com lists him above on three of its four Hall of Fame ranking tools.
But, of course, Palmeiro was named as a steroid user in Jose Canseco’s memoir Juiced, subsequently denied before Congress with a defiant wave of his finger that he’d ever used, and had a positive test a few months later in August 2005 that effectively ended his career. A finger wave has never been so damning or potentially haunting to his Hall of Fame case. I suspect it’s the image at least 70 percent of the BBWAA will reference as they decline to vote for him.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Palmeiro stays on the ballot a full 15 years, consistently receiving votes from the 10-20 percent of the electorate that says there’s no proof he used steroids besides that positive test or that he was doing anything different than many other ballplayers. Some may also say that 500/3,000 is 500/3,000 regardless of how it’s accomplished, that if it was so easy with steroids, then why didn’t more players accomplish it? After all, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and even Barry Bonds did not.
Still, I don’t see Palmeiro as more than an afterthought or a pariah, only the latest McGwire, Dave Parker, or Dick Allen to come before voters. Historically, these types of players have a loyal core of support but rarely get enshrined. And why should they? I believe Cooperstown can make its own rules, that no one is required to be enshrined. I’d vote for Parker or Allen, flawed individuals who were also very talented, but if baseball wants to do its best to forget Palmeiro, McGwire, or any other member of the Steroid Era, so be it.
Why Palmeiro and Co.’s exploits should be celebrated in any Hall of Fame is beyond me, though a Steroid Hall of Fame might be something worth considering. More on that some other time.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.
Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, John Smoltz, Keith Hernandez, Larry Walker, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark