Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Rafael Palmeiro -- and the Importance of Keeping It Up

I keep calling Rafael Palmeiro a mere “compiler.” But until last week, I had no problem letting him in the Hall of Fame.

What does it mean to say that someone who is admittedly just a mere compiler is also worthy of the Hall of Fame?

All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, and do not include 2005 stats. As of the end of the 2004 season, Palmeiro had 2,922 hits (33rd on the All-Time List at the time) and 551 home runs (10th on the All-Time list at the time).

Forget 3,000 hits. The threshold is 2,800 hits .

Every eligible person with more than 2,800 hits is in the Hall of Fame. Every eligible ballplayer with 2600-2700 hits is in the Hall of Fame (except for one 19th century guy I never heard of until I tried to write this sentence).

Interestingly enough, that 2700-2800 mark seems to trip up a whole lot of wanna-be Hall of Famers. Some of my all-time favorites – Andre Dawson, Vada Pinson, Al Oliver, Rusty Staub, Bill Buckner and Dave Parker -- have 2700-2800 hits. (Maybe not incidentally, Barry Bonds has 2,711 hits)

Rafael Palmeiro only had 200 hits once (1991), and has only lead the league in hits once (1990). Another two times he finished 3rd.

He has 551 home runs – and hit over 40 home runs four times. He never lead the league in Home Runs – finishing 2nd once and 3rd twice.

I don’t want to give too much weight to subjective awards, but Palmeiro finished in the top 5 of the MVP voting once. In 1999. He has been to the all-star game 4 times in 17 full seasons.

Baltimore lost the ALCS in 1996 and 1997. He was an important player on both those teams.

The only impressive stat Palmeiro has is the compiler’s stat. From 1988-2004, 17 seasons, Palmeiro has played over 150 games in 15 of them. 162 games once, 160 games twice, 159 games twice, 158 games three times, 156 games once, 155 games once, 154 games three times. The only seasons where Palmeiro played less than 150 games were the two strike shortened seasons of 1994-1995. In 1994 he missed one game, and in 1995 he missed one game.

And that stat is impressive. It tells you that for 17 seasons, baseball professionals thought enough of him to pencil Raffi in the line up, and that for 17 straight seasons, he never lost the edge that allowed him to be the best possible choice for his manager. 17 straight seasons! That tells you that Palmeiro had some quality in him that maybe can be missed in a box score, missed on an All-Star team. Missed in an MVP vote.

A platinum career that may not be as visible as the lightning careers of other who put together gaudier stats for a few years at a stretch. Whatever was going on around him, what ever caused other ballplayers to sag, Palmeiro kept it up -- for 17 straight seasons.

And Palmeiro made good use of that time, in order to compile all those impressive numbers.

To me that is Hall of Fame worthy, in and of itself.

And if you relented, and opened the Hall of Fame up to all the ballplayers with similar careers, you might find a dozen batters. Maybe some of the 2,700 club. A handful of pitchers. Blyleven, Kaat, Morris, maybe Tommy John. 20 more Hall of Famers for 100 years of baseball. I’ve been to Cooperstown. It is a pretty big building. There's room.

However, even if you have bought my argument, that keeping yourself on the field for all those years is a criteria of greatness that must be considered, you have to ask yourself.

Did he Palmeiro himself on the field – or did the steroids?

If I had to say today, I would say keep Palmeiro out of the Hall.

I think that by the time he is actually up for election, 5 years after he retires, the decision will be more grey.

By then, we may know more about the steroids war between pitchers and catchers that I would bet my eye teeth has been going on for 15 years.

[Oh yeah. My eye teeth have been capped.]