13. Rafael Palmeiro, 1B (1994-1998, 2004-2005)
Gold Glove: 1997, 1998
Silver Slugger: 1998
Well, you knew it was coming.
I had a lot of trouble deciding on how to rank Palmeiro. Frankly, past the top ten I wasn't too worried about placement, except in Palmeiro's case. This is a guy who has been better than the league offensively every single year of his career (besides 1986, when he had 78 plate appearances). He had four really good seasons for the Orioles in his first run, one pretty good season, and then came back years later to have a couple that were not up to his standards, but he was still contributing as much as you can expect out of a 40-year old first baseman.
Rafael Palmeiro has probably retired. He seems to want to just fade and let everything be, which is, at this point, probably his best idea. Yes, he tested positive for steroids in 2005. It happened, we've discussed it at great length, and I really don't want this to be about that. He hit 569 home runs, had 3020 hits, and is a career .288/.371/.515 hitter. Everything else aside, Rafael Palmeiro could hit.
Palmeiro (born September 24, 1964 in Havana, Cuba) was drafted in the first round of the 1985 amateur draft by the Cubs, with the 22nd pick overall, out of Mississippi State. Palmeiro was an outfielder in college, and came to the majors as an outfielder as well. In 1986, he played in 22 games for the Cubs, then had an 84-game trial run in 1987, hitting .276/.336/.543 with 14 homers and 15 doubles. He became a regular in '88, the same year that Mark Grace came up with the Cubs. The two had very similar seasons, Palmeiro playing the outfield with Grace at first. Grace hit .296/.371/.403 with seven homers and Palmeiro hit .307/.349/.436 with eight homers. He also stole 12 bases and made the All-Star team.
Grace went on to have a really good career and is one of my favorite players, but you could probably consider the Cubs keeping Grace and trading Palmeiro to the Rangers for nothing but Mitch Williams after the 1988 season to be a mistake. With the Rangers, Palmeiro moved to first base, and hit .275/.354/.374 with eight homers and 64 RBI. People were beginning to consider him a lightweight at the plate. In 1990, he got some of the power he had shown in '87 back, hitting .319/.361/.468 with 35 doubles, six triples and 14 homers, driving in 89 runs. That was the last time until 2005 that Palmeiro would hit under 20 home runs.
He hit 26 in '91 and 22 in '92, then hit 37 and drove in 100 runs for the first time in 1993. After the '93 season, the Rangers signed Will Clark (Palmeiro's teammate at Mississippi State), and Palmeiro shipped out to Baltimore. In the strike-shortened '94 season, he hit .319/.392/.550 with 23 homers. In 143 games in 1995, he hit .310/.380/.583 with 39 home runs. He hit 39 more in 1996, with 142 RBI, and helped guide the Orioles to the playoffs as the American League wild card. In 1997, 38 more homers, and the Orioles won the division.
Palmeiro topped the 40-homer mark for the first time in 1998 at age 33, hitting 43 home runs with 121 RBI. The Orioles let Palmeiro walk via free agency, signing Will Clark to replace him. Palmeiro hit .324/.420/.630 with 47 home runs and 148 RBI in 1999, and won the stupidest Gold Glove in recent memory, having played all of 28 games at first base. Clark was injured a lot.
Palmeiro from 2000 through 2003 still hit a ton of home runs, though he saw his averages fall off some. He notched 39 homers in 2000, 47 in 2001, 43 in 2002 and 38 in 2003. At age 39, he came back to Baltimore and hit 23 home runs, then re-signed for 2005, when he hit 18 more and joined the 3,000-hit club. We all know the rest of that story.
Now the trouble I had with where to put Palmeiro had nothing to do with his numbers or his play. Palmeiro belongs up here, and probably higher, for his play. So it all really depends on how serious you take Palmeiro's scandal. On the one hand, there are a lot of guys cheating that will soon get caught, and even more that have cheated and never got caught or never will be caught. On the other hand, Palmeiro kind of disgraced the team and even the sport. It wouldn't have been so bad without all the finger wagging at Congress, but to follow that up with a positive test, and then attempt to pass the blame off onto your teammate, all the while acting like a 15-year old that really, seriously, does not have any idea what happened to his dad's beer, is a smidge difficult to respect in any way.
I don't know where anyone else would put Palmeiro. I do believe that considering everything, he belongs somewhere on this list. He was a great player and gave us many, many reasons to cheer him over the years. The end isn't the whole story, it's just the freshest part.
2nd, Slugging Percentage (.520)
4th, OPS (.886)
8th, Total Bases (1958)
9th, Doubles (204)
5th, Home Runs (223)
7th, RBI (701)
8th, Adjusted OPS+ (127)
7th, Runs Created (720)
8th, Extra Base Hits (434)
8th, Bases On Balls (486)