Model of consistency
Palmeiro becomes 19th member of 500-homer clubPosted: Sunday May 11, 2003 5:50 PM
Updated: Monday May 12, 2003 9:50 PM
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- As soon as Rafael Palmeiro knew the ball was going to stay fair, the Texas slugger dropped his bat and started trotting the bases like he had 499 times before.
"It was just like any other home run. I hit it, and I knew I got it," Palmeiro said. "I knew it was going to be far enough. I just wanted to make sure it didn't go foul."
Like all of his previous homers, there was no posing and no strutting after the ball left the bat.
But on this home run, Palmeiro became just the 19th player ever and second this season to join the 500-homer club.
Palmeiro hit a full-count fastball into the right field stands off Cleveland right-hander David Elder, a 370-foot shot. The homer came in his fifth at-bat of the game, in his last chance to get No. 500 at home.
Fireworks exploded in the daylight sky and the crowd broke out into a loud and extended ovation.
"Once I got to first and I touched first base, I don't remember what happened," Palmeiro said. "It was just a numb feeling all the way around the bases."
A banner that has been hanging high in center field, and updated for every homer since No. 495, was flipped over to 500. A specially designed logo commemorating Palmeiro's feat was unveiled on the right field wall, the tarp that had covered it removed by his two sons.
Palmeiro was mobbed by his teammates at home plate, and as the crowd chanted "Raffy!" he came out of the dugout for a curtain call. He took the field to start the seventh inning, getting another loud ovation, before being replaced at first base by Herbert Perry.
The homer gave the Rangers a 16-5 lead. Texas won 17-10.
Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs hit his 500th homer on April 4, and now has 505. They are the only players born outside the United States in the 500-homer club. Sosa was born in the Dominican Republic, and Palmeiro was born in Cuba.
Sosa hit his first home run while playing for the Rangers, and hit his 500th for Chicago. Palmeiro, a first-round pick of the Cubs in 1985, hit his first career homer at Wrigley Field against Philadelphia's Kevin Gross on Sept. 9, 1986.
This marked the third time two players have hit the historic homer in the same season. Mickey Mantle and Eddie Mathews did it in 1967, and Harmon Killebrew and Frank Robinson in 1971.
Los Angeles' Fred McGriff could make it three with 17 more homers this season.
Next on the home run list is Eddie Murray, Cleveland's hitting coach, at 504 homers.
Palmeiro's home run was caught out of the air by Father John Collet, who gave the ball to the slugger in return for a few autographed items. Collet, an instructor at Holy Trinity Seminary on the University of Dallas campus, paid $20 for his ticket.
"I never thought I'd be in the middle of action like that," said Collet, who cradled the ball in his arms in the crowd. "There were quite a few people reaching."
Collet had blood on his hand, apparently from being scratched by others trying to get the prized ball.
The 38-year-old Palmeiro has never led the league in home runs, instead reaching the milestone with consistency and a smooth, seemingly effortless left-handed swing.
Palmeiro is the only player to hit at hit at least 38 homers in eight straight seasons -- a streak he is trying to extend this season. He also had more than 100 RBIs each year. He has 10 homers and 25 RBIs this season.
Only four others have been older when reaching 500 homers: Ted Williams, Murray, Willie McCovey and Ernie Banks. Every member of the 500-homer club eligible for the Hall of Fame has been elected to the shrine.
"Obviously I've hit 500 home runs, so I belong in the 500 club," Palmeiro said. "But talk about names like Mantle and Ruth and Williams, I'm not as good as they ever were. Those guys were the greatest of all-time. I've just been able to string together some years and I've been healthy and I've gotten here."
Among those at the game were Palmeiro's mother, Maria, and his brother Rick, who had arrived from Miami on Wednesday.
Palmeiro stopped an 0-for-12 slump with his 499th homer in the eighth inning against Toronto on Thursday, a week after his previous homer, then struck out to end that game. He was 3-for-9 against the Indians with three walks and a sacrifice fly before the homer.
Elder was the 328th pitcher Palmeiro homered against, with Bobby Witt allowing the most (seven). That list includes 10 Cy Young winners. Palmeiro has homered against all 30 major league teams and in 36 ballparks.
"I tried to get a fastball in and just didn't get it there," Elder said. "He has 500 reasons why pitchers shouldn't make mistakes. That's not what I wanted to happen."
Palmeiro didn't start out as a power hitter. He hit just 25 homers in 258 games for the Cubs before being traded to Texas after the 1988 season.
In his first season in Texas, Palmeiro hit eight homers in 156 games, and then led the AL with 191 hits with just 14 homers in 1990. Palmeiro had 203 hits, a league-high 49 doubles and 26 homers in 1991.
As he got stronger, Palmeiro learned to pull the ball, and the numbers started to build. He had 37 homers and 105 RBIs in 1993, then left Texas as a free agent for Baltimore.
Palmeiro had 182 homers and 553 RBIs in 742 games over five seasons in Baltimore before returning to the Rangers.
Along with his homers, Palmeiro also has three Gold Gloves at first base. He has never been on the disabled list, averaging 157 games a year since 1988.