Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, make way for Orioles first baseman--designated hitter Rafael Palmeiro (right), who, with a double last Friday night in Seattle, became the fourth player with 3,000 hits and 500 homers. "With numbers like that, maybe I belong in their group," said Palmiero, "but not their class. I know I'm not there."
Like Murray, but unlike Aaron and Mays, Palmeiro amassed spectacular numbers while rarely being spectacular. Palmeiro was never elected to start an All-Star Game, is the only player with 3,000 hits never to finish among the top four in MVP voting (since the award was instituted in 1931) and is the only player to hit 500 home runs without clubbing three in one game.
Palmeiro's hallmarks were durability and consistency. He had 10 seasons with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs, as many as Aaron and more than Mays (nine) and Murray (four). He maintained his silky smooth stroke and limber physique, never missing more than 10 games in any of his 17 full seasons. "In terms of home runs and RBIs, he's done it more consistently than anybody else in baseball," said teammate B.J. Surhoff. "I think the biggest thing that stands out to me is the number of games he's been able to play every single year. That really says a lot."
Palmeiro is proof that no-doubt Hall of Famers don't have to be spectacular, just quietly reliable.
Now the race to 3,000 hits is between the Astros' Craig Biggio (2,732 at week's end) and Barry Bonds (2,730 and holding), both of whom could reach the mark in 2007. Biggio (below) will be 41 that season; Bonds, 43. Further down the road, assuming good health and reasonable production, are the Yankees' Gary Sheffield (ETA: 2009), the Reds' Ken Griffey Jr. (2010) and the Angels' Garret Anderson (2011).
Biggio, meanwhile, set a record recently when he was hit by a pitch for the 268th time--appropriately on his elbow pad, a modern convenience made popular by the most dangerous pitching era in history.
?How dominating was A's righthander Rich Harden when he two-hit Texas last week? Facing the AL's top slugging team, he threw only 20 pitchers that were called balls to a total of 29 batters.