Professional baseball player
Born Rafael Corrales Palmeiro, September 24, 1964, in Havana, Cuba; married Lynne; children: Patrick, Preston. Education: Attended Mississippi State University.
Addresses: Office—Baltimore Orioles, 333 W. Camden St., Baltimore, MD 21201.
Signed with Chicago Cubs, 1986; traded to Texas Rangers, 1988; signed with Baltimore Orioles, 1993; returned to Rangers as a free agent, 1999; returned to Baltimore Orioles, 2004.
Awards: Gold Glove Award, 1997; Silver Slugger Award, 1998; Gold Glove Award, 1998; Associated Press Major League All-Star Team, 1999; Gold Glove Award, 1999; Sporting News Player of the Year, 1999.
Rafael Palmeiro (pronounced pahl-MARE-oh) is one of only 19 players in baseball history to hit 500 home runs. Throughout the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, he has been one of the greatest players in the sport. From 1993 through 2002, Palmeiro hit 395 home runs, the third most in baseball history, only behind Sammy Sosa's 462 and Barry Bonds' 437. During that same period, Sosa was the only player to drive in more runs than Palmeiro, with 1,206 to Palmeiro's 1,154, and Sosa and Palmeiro are tied with the longest streak of 100-plus RBI seasons, with eight each. Surprisingly, however, Palmeiro has not been as well-known as these statistics might make him.
Palmeiro was born in Havana, Cuba in 1964, and had an excellent amateur career at Mississippi State University before moving to the major leagues. He signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1986, but after 1988, his first full year in the big leagues, he was traded to the Texas Rangers. Although he had a decent batting average, he had hit only eight home runs, which led to the Cubs concluding that he was not a strong hitter. Palmeiro told Sports Illustrated's Josh Elliott that although this quick trade left him feeling bitter, like the Cubs had not given him a chance, "It was a wake-up call for me. I realized that I'd have to produce more runs to stay in the big leagues." In response, he began working out, lifting weights and strengthening his upper body, arms, and wrists. He also stopped swinging at pitchers' first strikes, preferring to wait for ones that would more reliably lead to good hits.
Despite all this hard work, when Palmeiro's contract ran out after the 1993 season, the Rangers traded him to the Orioles. Palmeiro was shocked by this, but made the best of it. "Those years in Baltimore were great," he told Sports Illustrated's Elliott. While in Baltimore, he hit his 300th home run, and began dreaming of someday hitting his 500th.
In 1999, Palmeiro returned to the Rangers as a free agent, a move that he worked hard to get, since his wife, Lynne, and his sons, Patrick and Preston, were still living in Texas. By this time, all his hard work in Baltimore had paid off; while playing for the Orioles, he had hit a home run every 15.7 at bats, and with the Rangers he was able to continue that success. In addition, Palmeiro became a leader among his teammates; his leadership was based on the quiet strength of his personality as well as his knowledge of the game. In Sports Illustrated, Jeff Pearlman characterized Palmeiro as "sensitive, quiet, careful with his words." He quoted Palmeiro, who said, "I don't say things just to say them. But if I see a situation where I can help out, I do."
Palmeiro's success comes at least partly from his rigorous training regimen. When he does hitting drills, he swings bats with five-pound weights attached to them. He strengthens his knees and ankles in the off-season with deep-water running, and throughout the year, he spends many hours in the batting cage.
In Sports Illustrated, Elliott noted that one reason Palmeiro's career has remained relatively unnoticed is because on every team he played with, there was another player who received more media attention. With the Cubs, it was Ryne Sandberg; with the Rangers, it was Ruben Sierra and then Juan Gonzales; when Palmeiro signed with Baltimore, he was eclipsed by Cal Ripken. When he returned to the Rangers, he was overshadowed by the American League MVP season of catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Famed player Alex Rodriguez joined the Rangers two years later.
In addition, Palmeiro has never won an MVP award or finished above fifth place in the MVP voting, has never led the league in home runs or hit 50 in a season, and has never been voted to the All-Star Game starting lineup or played in a World Series. In response to these facts, Palmeiro told Sports Illustrated's Elliott, "I've been damn lucky to play with the teammates I've had . They've made me a better player. I just try to use it as a positive."
However, Palmeiro seems destined to become a much more notable figure. His status began to rise in 1997 and 1998, when he won Gold Glove Awards; in 1998 he won the Silver Slugger Award as the best-hitting American League first baseman, and in 1999 he won another Gold Glove Award. Also in 1999, he was named the Sporting News Player of the Year in a vote by his peers.
On May 18, 2003, Palmeiro became the 19th player in baseball history to hit 500 home runs. During the game, he told Sports Illustrated's Elliott, "I tried not to think about [hitting the 500th home run] too much, but it's hard not to when you have a sign that's about 600 feet long staring at you from behind the pitcher's release point." The sign in question read 499 HR RAFAEL PALMEIRO. At his final at-bat of a six-game home stand against the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians, Palmeiro took an inside fastball for a strike, hitting it high along the rightfield line. Initially he feared the cross-wind would make the hit a foul, but it stayed true, taking Palmeiro into baseball history.
The sign that Palmeiro had tried to avoid looking at was immediately changed to read 500 HR RAFAEL PALMEIRO, fireworks filled the sky, and the crowd went wild. Palmeiro's family, gathered in a private box, cried with joy. Palmeiro, unaware of any of this, later told Elliott that he didn't remember anything after he rounded the first base. He also said that the achievement would not change who he was. "I've never been a guy who does any look-at-me stuff. I'm not fancy." He added that his role models were some of the most famous players of the past: "I look at videos of Mantle and Maris and DiMaggio—those guys weren't flashy. I don't try to attract attention."
According to Elliott, "If he plays three more years—as he expects to—Palmeiro has a good shot to join Hank Aaron as the only players with 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, and 500 home runs." Palmeiro told Sports Illustrated's Elliott that he had a bigger goal: "As long as I keep my best shape for three or four more years, 600 [home runs] isn't at all out of the question. It's a matter of time."
In 2004, Palmeiro rejoined the Orioles with a one-year, $4.5 million free-agent contract with a club option for 2005. However, his batting average suffered in 2004, and he told Bruce Lowitt in the Tampa Tribune, "I'm frustrated because I feel like I'm not producing the way I should." He noted that although other players were having stellar seasons with the Orioles, "The rest of us need to step it up." The team's manager, Lee Mazzilli, told Joe Christensen in the Grand Rapids Press, "You want to see him do well. You're talking about a great ballplayer. You're talking about a Hall of Fame player. But this is also part of the job, I guess, the business and the personal."
Palmeiro finished the season with only 128 games; he needed to play in 140 games in order to trigger the $4.5 million option on his contract for 2005. While he could have gotten angry and left the team, Palmeiro decided he did not want to go to another team. On October 27, 2004, Palmeiro took a pay cut and accepted a one-year, $3 million contract. "I'm very happy. Otherwise, I wouldn't be returning. What happened last year is in the past. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm more concerned with moving forward," Palmeiro told SI.com. He further explained to SI.com, "I wanted to show the fans in Baltimore and [Orioles owner] Peter Angelos that I was serious when I said I wanted to end my career here and, if I'm fortunate enough to get elected to the Hall of Fame, that I want to go in as an Oriole."
Grand Rapids Press, September 12, 2004, p. C16.
Sporting News, September 13, 1999, p. 48; October 25, 1999, p. 10.
Sports Illustrated, April 25, 1994, p. 66; July 19, 1999, p. 46; May 19, 2003, p. 52.
Tampa Tribune, July 15, 2004, p. 4.
Biography Resource Center Online, Gale Group, 2000. "Palmeiro signs one-year contract with Orioles," SI.com,http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2004/baseball/mlb/10/27/bc.bba.orioles.palmeiro.ap/index.html (October 28, 2004).