FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- For years, Rafael Palmeiro was
linked to the words power and consistency. Now, for some, there's
The image of Palmeiro taking a sweet swing from the left side of
the plate has been replaced in some minds by the sight of him
testifying before a House committee investigating steroids in
The hearing included testimony from Jose Canseco, who in his
book cited Palmeiro and several other players as steroid users.
Palmeiro emphatically denies using the performance-enhancing drug,
but the Baltimore Orioles' first baseman can't deny how perceptions
"In my opinion, everyone that plays baseball in this era has
been tainted," Palmeiro said. "Not just the people that he has
named in the book, I think this whole era over the last 10, 15 or
20 years has been tainted. Regardless of whether you did or you
didn't do anything, this whole era will have that label."
Palmeiro needs only 78 hits to join Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and
Eddie Murray in the 3,000-hit, 500-homer club. His career numbers
should earn him a ticket to the Hall of Fame -- unless voters
believe those numbers stem from steroid use.
"What can you do about it? All I can do is keep playing the
game with passion, the way it's supposed to be played, and respect
it," Palmeiro said.
Those close to Palmeiro know his success can be attributed to
hard work and a seemingly effortless swing that has produced 551
homers and 2,922 hits.
"When I was with the Minnesota Twins and he was elsewhere, I
would always use his swing as an example for some of our younger
hitters," Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley said. "Then we got
a chance to hook up last year, and I got to see up close what I
knew was a beautiful swing."
Sammy Sosa, who also testified before the House committee,
played with Palmeiro on the Texas Rangers in 1989. At that time,
the two spoke excitedly of doing great things in the major leagues.
Sosa was traded to the Chicago White Sox three months later, but
remained close to Palmeiro and is delighted to again be his
"He's got talent, and the numbers that he has is because he was
working hard," Sosa said. "He's a smart hitter, he's got a good
swing. He's always been an awesome hitter."
While Sosa chases the 600-homer mark this season -- he's only 26
away -- the 40-year-old Palmeiro will be zeroing in on his 3,000th
hit. But both players are more intent upon helping the Orioles make
a run at Boston and New York in the AL East.
"The season's more important, that's for sure," Palmeiro said.
"I think the 3,000 hits, sort of like the 600 homers for Sammy, is
a nice bonus for all of us and our fans to enjoy."
Palmeiro recalled his talks with Sosa in 1989.
"They were just dreams, really," Palmeiro said. "As a young
player, you don't realize the potential you have until you start
playing and developing. But we had big dreams, and we've
accomplished a lot them. All but the one that we want most, and
that's to get to the World Series."
Born in Cuba, Palmeiro played for Mississippi State before the
Chicago Cubs drafted him as the 22nd overall pick in 1985. He made
it to the majors in his second pro season and hit only 33 homers in
his first 414 games. At that point, he was more concerned with
keeping his job than amassing Hall of Fame numbers.
"How do you think about something like that when you're just
trying to stick in the big leagues? As a young player, all you want
is to get a chance to play," he said. "You think I thought I'd
play 19 years? I just wanted to make a career, make some money in
this game and enjoy myself."
And how would he like to be remembered?
"I would hope for the most part," Palmeiro said, "people
would look at me and say, 'There's a guy who worked his tail off
and went about his business and played the game the right way. He
left a mark, and then he moved on.' "