Raffy's legacy more than just a blue pill

Maybe now we'll remember Rafael Palmeiro for something other than those Viagra commercials, Jim Caple writes.

Originally Published: July 15, 2005
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- Maybe now we'll remember him for something other than those Viagra commercials.

Rafael Palmeiro
Palmeiro is the 26th player in major-league history to reach 3,000 career hits.

Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro drove a 2-2 fastball from Seattle's Joel Pineiro into the left field corner for a standup double in the fifth inning Friday night. When he reached second base, he joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players with 3,000 career hits and 500 home runs.

"I still don't put myself in their class," Palmeiro said. "You're talking about two of the best players in history. I'm in a group with them now but that doesn't mean I belong in their class. Hank has about 200 more home runs than I do. Mays has about 100 more home runs. I shouldn't be anywhere close to this group."

Palmeiro is correct that he isn't in the class of Mays or Aaron. Palmeiro has never been spectacular -- he has never led his league in a triple crown category, has played in only four All-Star Games and has a .244 career average in the postseason -- and has never had the fortune of playing in the World Series. He is more like Murray. In a sport where day-in, day-out consistency is paramount, few have been as consistently good as Palmeiro.

He drove in 100 runs in nine consecutive seasons, and it probably would have been an 11-season streak had it not been for the 1994 strike. He hit at least 38 home runs every season from 1995 to 2003. He has never been on the disabled list, never missed more than 10 games in a season since becoming a full-time player. The last time he didn't hit at least 20 home runs, Bo Jackson did.

And yet what do most fans think of when they hear Palmeiro's name? That's right. The Viagra commercial. Few players have ever had so many hits and so many home runs on their way to the Hall of Fame with so few fans stopping to notice. There are even otherwise intelligent writers who question whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

The players know better. When they hear Palmeiro's name, they think of one of the most reliable and productive players of his era. And if they're pitchers, they also begin sweating at his mention.

"Every player in Major League Baseball knows the type of player he is and what he can do," said Orioles pitcher James Baldwin, who was on the other side more times than he liked. "Every time I faced him, you knew he was going to hit the ball hard. I've never been able to figure out how he does it. His swing looks so effortless. It's just amazing.

"Your guess is as good as mine [as to why he has been on only four All-Star teams]. Because I don't know how it's possible," he said.

Asked whether he had received adequate credit for his career, Palmeiro shrugged.

"That's for you guys to determine," he said. "I've never played the game for the fanfare or the attention. There are a lot of great players of the era who deserve the attention they got. They got to the World Series and they won championships. And I didn't. That's the way it goes.

"I want to be remembered as someone who wanted to play the game the right way, as someone who respects the game and the players who came before me," he said.

Palmeiro has never lifted the nation on his shoulders the way Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did in 1998. He has never had an entire month declared in his honor as Reggie Jackson did. Few fans have ever bought a ticket to a game because they just had to see him play.

But that doesn't mean he hasn't made his mark on the game the old-fashioned way, by steadily going out and producing, game after game after game, season after season after season.

As of Friday, Palmeiro has 3,001 hits, 566 home runs and 1,825 RBI. And if we haven't been paying close enough attention to notice or remember any of them ... well, that's our fault, not Palmeiro's. His opponents certainly remember them.

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is being published by Plume and went on sale March 2. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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