I had a chance to talk to former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro about Wednesday’s Hall of Fame announcement that the Baseball Writers' Association of America did not vote in anyone for the 2013 induction class.
That includes Palmeiro, who was on his third year of the ballot and is one of just four players in the game’s history to have at least 500 homers and 3,000 hits.
He’s also the only one on this year’s ballot to have tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. In 2005, months after he told a congressional committee that he had never taken steroids, a drug test found stanozolol in his system and Major League Baseball suspended him for 10 days.
That was Palmeiro’s last season. He was eligible for the Hall for the first time in 2011 and received 64 votes, or 11 percent of ballots turned in. Last year, he jumped a bit, garnering 72 votes and 12.6 percent. But this year, with a host of strong first-time candidates on the ballot and voters not allowed to check off more than 10 names, Palmeiro dropped to just 8.8 percent and 50 votes.
He’s not sure why 22 fewer voters passed him by this year, assuming it has to do with the quality of the ballot. Next year, another wave of excellent players will be added, including Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Mike Mussina.
Palmeiro realizes he could get less than the 5 percent needed to stay eligible – and so his dream of being in the Hall of Fame would then be in the hands of the Veterans’ Committee.
He says he understands why he isn’t already in Cooperstown. And he has not wavered from the story he told in 2005 – that he did not purposely take steroids, but must have injected a tainted vial of B-12 supplement that he received from teammate Miguel Tejada as an energy boost.
On realizing his vote tally dropped: “I wasn’t even thinking about it. When I was watching (MLB Network) and I first saw the announcement that no one had gotten in, I was really surprised. It didn’t really dawn on me to see how many people had voted for me. And then when they put up the numbers, I was like, ‘Wait a minute. I got 8.8 percent, which was less than last year. I lost support. I lost a lot of people who voted for me last year.’ That was a little bit surprising, but it’s not unexpected, I guess, I’ve seen what has happened with (Mark) McGwire and now I am understanding a little bit more about how the voting works. With more people on the ballot that are going to get more votes, some guys may say, ‘OK, I’m going to have to change my vote from Palmeiro to Bagwell or Biggio or make room for others.’ So I guess that is maybe what happened. Maybe they thought, ‘Hey, he just doesn’t deserve to be in it.’ But I still got 50 votes. I have to look at it from the positive side.”
On his chances: “I think there are still people out there that aren’t looking at what happened to me at the end of my career, but are looking at my whole body of work. And I appreciate that. And to the people that don’t, the people that look at it from the standpoint of, ‘Hey, he tested positive for something and there’s no way they are going to put him in. That’s fine. I respect that, too.’”
On whether he’s bothered by voters changing their ballots: “No, because there are more people that are more worthy than I am. I mean, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, those two guys are, I think, probably the best two players that have ever played the game and happen to be in the same era. So, no, I don’t have a problem with guys getting the votes over me, because, yeah, they were better. That’s fine. The one (thing) that is hard is the one where they are not giving me or any of the other guys slack (on the steroids issue). Especially me, because I keep looking back at that incident and what happened to me was basically at the end of my career. I had already hit 3,000 hits (at the time of his suspension) and had 500 home runs. They can use it against me. But it was at the end of my career and it was basically a lack of due diligence on my part and I basically ruined my career over a mistake that really shouldn’t have happened. But that’s the way it is.”
On the steroid test tainting his legacy: “I live with it every day. There’s nothing I can do about that. But I can see if I did something at the beginning of my career or the middle of my career and the change in my production was so overwhelming that people were like, ‘Whoa, we’ve got to watch this guy.’ But that never happened. My improvements were gradual improvements throughout the years based on the efforts and hard work I put into the game. Unfortunately, I made a mistake at the end and it basically wiped out everything that I had did for 20 years. And that’s unfortunate.”
On no one getting voted in: “It’s unreal to me, truthfully, it’s unreal. But the writers wanted to make a statement and send a message and they did. These two guys (Bonds and Clemens) are definitely two of the greatest players of all time. And not just that but there are other players that didn’t get enough votes: (Craig) Biggio, for instance, who had a great career. (Mike) Piazza, the best offensive catcher of his era and he came up short. There are a lot of great players (on the ballot) and for not one to go in is unbelievable.”
On concerns that he could drop off the ballot in 2014: “I was concerned the first year. I was concerned that I wasn’t going to get any votes. And then last year I was concerned again that I was going to dip down below the threshold and this year I didn’t really think about it because I was concentrating on the numbers at the top of the list and dropping didn’t even dawn on me. So now I am concerned that now, in the next year with the guys coming up, some of my votes will be taken off and given to other guys. It is concerning, but I don’t think there is anything I can do. I always go back to the same thing, that some of these guys that have me on the fence can look at my whole career and not just look at what happened at the end of my career and base their decision on that.”
On whether a message was sent to him Wednesday: “I don’t know if there was a message that was sent to me. But I think there was a message sent to this year’s class. Starting three years ago, they ask me every year and I can tell you I don’t know if I will ever have a chance to get in at anytime in the 15 years that I’m a part of it, if I am lucky enough to get enough votes to stay on every year. I have thought about it as being very unlikely from the get-go. But it seems to me it is becoming more unlikely as we go. I don’t know if the criteria needs to change (for his induction to be a reality) or if they have to look at it from a different standpoint or look at the era in a different light, I don’t know. Dropping down from (12.6) to 8.8 is definitely not a good sign.”
On his thoughts entering Wednesday: “I think it was about the same. The curiosity was there because Bonds and Clemens were on the ballot and (Sammy) Sosa for that matter. So that was just a curiosity I had; it didn’t make it more important or less important. It is always important because it is the Hall of Fame and it is the pinnacle of achievement in our game. I wasn’t really optimistic or anything.”
On his perception of the voters’ mentality: “It’s hard to say because I don’t know all the voters. … I don’t know what they are thinking, I don’t know how they weigh their options of how to vote or not. … Maybe I’ll get more votes in the future. Maybe I’ll get less votes. But I don’t think it is going to be a drastic change unless they change the way the voting is done and the criteria of the vote and how they weigh this era of the last 25 years. If it doesn’t change, I’m not sure if any of us is going to get in. But if they loosen up and give the voters a better understanding … You have 569 guys voting and each one of them has to make up their own idea of what it is and everyone has a different opinion. Some of them have a real hard stand on them, some of them, like Buster Olney (of ESPN), said, ‘These guys are the best of the best of their era and I don’t care what they did, they are the best and they are all going to go in.’ And then you have the other guys that are hard-core hardliners and say, ‘This is the Holy Grail of Baseball and no way.’ I think if they had guidelines that you could follow for the last 25 years then maybe your chances would be better. But it doesn’t seem like anything like that is going to happen.”
His overall thoughts on his legacy: “I didn’t expect much difference than last year. It’s like anything else. You get used to it and you don’t expect different results. You kind of sit back and kind of go with it. I did what I did. I had the career that I had … and it wasn’t good enough basically. I made a mistake in judgment at the end. And that shouldn’t happen to a player of my caliber at the stage of my career, going through what I had gone through that year with Congress. It happened. The unthinkable happened to me and it ruined my career and any chances I had at the Hall of Fame are probably gone with that. Ever since 2005 I kind of felt this was going to happen when I went down (with the positive test). It’s not a surprise. I’ve learned to live with it. It’s hard. It’s hard because baseball is my life and my family has suffered as much as I have and I put everything I had into the game. I didn’t have much, but I put everything I had into it. I wasn’t the most talented, I wasn’t the most gifted, I wasn’t a big strong guy, I wasn’t fast. I wasn’t special. I just played the game and did some good things for a long time. And it just wasn’t good enough.”
On his story of inadvertently taking steroids: “It hasn’t changed. There is nothing to change about it, man. I wish I could go back and do it again. I wish I could go back and change the mistake that I made or go back and prove myself that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I can’t. There is nothing that I can do and say. I can go on TV and do all the interviews and do the same thing all over again. But some people are going to say, ‘Whatever. He is just doing that for the Hall of Fame.’ That’s the last thing I want to do. I don’t want to go out and have some kind of campaign for the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is a very special place for some very special people that have played this game. My campaign ended in 2005. What I say at this point hardly matters.”