Fences mended, Palmeiro to play close to home

Updated: January 11, 2004, 4:48 PM ET
Associated Press

BALTIMORE -- Rafael Palmeiro is returning to Baltimore, where he enjoyed five outstanding seasons before his acrimonious departure in 1998.

Palmeiro, 39, agreed to terms with the Orioles on Saturday, accepting a one-year contract with a club option for 2005. The first baseman-designated hitter became a free agent after spending the past five seasons with the Texas Rangers.

Palmeiro hit .260 with 38 homers and 112 RBIs last year. During an outstanding career that began in 1986 with the Chicago Cubs, he's hit .291 with 2,780 hits and 528 home runs.

"Raffy is one of the steadiest, most consistent hitters in the game. He's a former team MVP and helped us to the postseason twice," said Mike Flanagan, Orioles vice president for baseball operations.

After the strike-shortened 1994 season, Palmeiro averaged 40 home runs and 119 RBIs in his final four years with Baltimore. He helped the Orioles reach the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, and made the All-Star team in 1998.

But Baltimore moved slowly in negotiating a new deal after the 1998 season, and Palmeiro ultimately rejected a five-year, $50 million offer from the Orioles and signed a five-year, $45 million contract with Texas.

At the time, Palmeiro said the deciding factor was that he wanted to play close to home. The Orioles privately accused him of prolonging negotiations to drive up the Rangers' offer.

And now, the Orioles and Palmeiro are united again with the same goal: to reach the playoffs.

"It brings another powerful hitter to the middle of our lineup," Flanagan said.

Coming off a team-record sixth straight losing season, Baltimore has undergone a dramatic facelift this offseason in an effort to challenge Boston and the New York Yankees in the AL East.

After hiring Lee Mazzilli as their new manager, the Orioles raided the free agent market and nabbed Palmeiro, shortstop Miguel Tejada and catcher Javy Lopez _ all three of whom are represented by the same agents, Fernando Cuza and Diego Benz.

The Orioles still hope to add standout outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and pitcher Sidney Ponson, another former Oriole, by next week.

Palmeiro has played in at least 154 games every year since 1995, although recently most of his playing time has been as a DH. He probably will split time at first base with Jay Gibbons, David Segui and B.J. Surhoff.

Palmeiro could reach 600 home runs and 3,000 hits before the end of the 2005 season. He has hit at least 38 homers in each of the last nine years.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press