Posted December 30, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Eller: Palmeiro should get in Hall

It wasn't until recently that I realized what I wanted to do in this business.

My passion for sports has always been there, while my knack for writing is something that's developed over the past few years (and will continue to do so for quite a while), leading me to where I am today.

As for my future, baseball has always been at the forefront of my sports passions, and to cover baseball exclusively is the goal I've set for myself. Should that dream become a reality some day, entrance into the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA for short) wouldn't be far behind. It's a privileged group of sportswriters around the country who together have compiled decades worth of history and seen more than their fair share of games on the diamond.

But membership into the BBWAA also holds the responsibility of casting a vote for baseball's annual Hall of Fame inductions. It's a daunting task each year, being asked to look at the resume of some of the sport's greatest athletes of all-time and decide whether or not they're worthy of enshrinement into the Hall of Fame.

This year the challenge is no different, with several candidates hoping the phone call from Cooperstown is in the near future. There are the likely winners, including strikeout-machine Bert Blyleven and former Baltimore Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar. Both are expected to receive the required 75 percent of total votes for enshrinment, Blyleven nearing his final year of eligibility and Alomar in just his second.
And while those two names appear to be near-locks into Cooperstown, another all-time great isn't exactly a sure bet to have his phone ring.

For most of us, the name Rafael Palmeiro has become synonymous with the image of a black suit, a seat before Congress and that pesky little finger that wagged so confidently before the panel more than five years ago. During a 2005 hearing held by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to investigate steroids in baseball, Palmeiro famously denied ever using any steroids, saying "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."

For whatever Palmeiro couldn't say with that bold statement, his index finger did the rest of the talking that day, but still the legacy of one of the game's greatest hitters was tainted.

With such a memorable episode off the field, it's easy to forget just how dominant Palmeiro was during his 20-year career. Over his two decades with the Cubs, Rangers and Orioles, Palmeiro hit 569 home runs, 12th on the coveted all-time list, had 3,020 hits and more than 1,800 RBIs. He was a four-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner.

From 1995 through 2003, Palmeiro hit at least 38 home runs and had more than 100 RBIs in each season, the only player in history to accomplish that feat for nine straight seasons. And the seven other players in history to eclipse both 3,000 hits and 1,800 RBIs -- Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Eddie Murray, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski and Dave Winfield -- are all Hall of Famers.

There's certainly no question that based on numbers alone, Palmeiro is a shoo-in for the Hall, even in his first year of eligibility. But as we've seen more and more, the idea of an "athlete" goes beyond what he or she can do on the diamond or with a football or on the court. A great athlete must be an entertainer, put butts in the seats and, above all, play the game fairly.

That's what makes Palmeiro's induction into Cooperstown anything but a lock. Despite his numbers, there is still a large cloud of doubt lingering over him, one that I think will cost him enshrinment into baseball's final resting place for quite some time.

Now, while I don't believe Palmeiro will be inducted this year, that's not to say he won't ever get in. Players have several years of eligibility on the ballot and anyone would be crazy to claim our views on steroids in baseball will be the same that far down the road. In fact, of the ever-growing list of poster boys in this Steroid Era, Palmeiro seems to be more likely to be accepted than guys like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire.

The day may come when Palmeiro is judged more on his time at the plate rather than in the courtroom, and if I had a vote today I would cast it for Palmeiro. I don't know whether he is telling the truth when he says he never "knowingly" took steroids, but as a hopeful voter some day, all we have to go on right now is a denial from Palmeiro and a career decorated with some of the most impressive statistics in history. And to me, that speaks louder than any accusation or wave of a finger.

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