July 12, 2005

Palmeiro quietly approaches milestone

By Steve Ginsburg

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Rafael Palmeiro is on the cusp of
reaching one of baseball's most celebrated milestones yet the
soft-spoken slugger is uneasy with the fanfare surrounding his
chase into the record books.

"I just want to get it over with as quick as I can," says
the Baltimore Orioles first baseman as he approaches hit number
3,000. "I'm ready to get on with the season, which is more
important. We need some wins."

For Palmeiro, it is team first, personal goals second.

"Ultimately, my job is to help my team win," he told
Reuters in a clubhouse interview. "The numbers are secondary.
If people want to recognize 3,000, that's great. I appreciate
it. If they don't, that's not why I play the game anyway."

Three thousand major league hits virtually guarantees a
ticket to the Hall of Fame for the Cuban-born Palmeiro who has
the unusual ability to combine batting average with power.

Palmeiro, 40, is just two hits shy of the 3,000 mark
entering the All-Star break and will shortly become only the
fourth big-leaguer to reach the historic plateau while also
hitting 500 home runs.

With 566 career home runs over 20 seasons and three teams,
Palmeiro will join Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray --
all first-ballot Hall of Famers -- in the exclusive club.

Former player and long-time Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks
bristles over Palmeiro's failure to land a spot on the American
League squad for Tuesday's All-Star game in Detroit.

Although Palmeiro is hitting only .269, standout players
nearing the end of their playing days often land an All-Star
berth based on their career numbers.

"This year he should have been selected as an extra in the
All-Star game." Hendricks said. "I think whether he plays or
not he is an All-Star. It's ridiculous. He should have been


Palmeiro, however, disagrees.

"I think that the All-Star game is something that is based
on what you're doing that year and not on reputation or on
career accomplishments," said Palmeiro, a four-time All-Star.
"I believe that I didn't deserve to be there this year."

The 1.83-meter, 97-kg Palmeiro has a career .289 average
and three Gold Gloves as the top fielder at his position.

Yet he has never led the league in hits or home runs. He
has never been a most valuable player. And, perhaps explaining
why Palmeiro is so driven this year, he has never made it to
the World Series.

Despite those shortcomings, Boston Red Sox power hitter
David Ortiz says Palmeiro is one of the game's all-time best
hitters, marveling at his flawless, left-handed swing.

"Rafael's numbers are incredible and no one is talking
about it," Ortiz said. "He's a quiet guy but his numbers talk
for themselves.

"I don't care how long you play, I don't care how old you
are, 3,000 hits is a lot of hits. I couldn't even imagine
getting that many."


Palmeiro's spotless reputation was questioned earlier this
year when former big leaguer Jose Canseco wrote a book claiming
both players were steroid users when they played for the Texas

"I'm not going to worry about that stuff. It's over with,"
said Palmeiro, who emphatically denied using steroids during
testimony before a U.S. congressional committee.

"I went in front of Congress and the nation and addressed
what I had to address. My focus right now is playing baseball
and doing my job."

Right now, Palmeiro wants nothing more than to become the
26th major leaguer to reach the 3,000-hit mark and help the
second-placed Orioles to catch the front-running Red Sox in the
American League East.

Hendricks said it was regrettable that Palmeiro was
probably better known for appearing in advertisements for an
erectile dysfunction product than for being one of the best
hitters in baseball history.

"It's a shame that Rafael hasn't received more attention
but it's not a shame who he is and what's he's done," Hendricks
said. "He's quiet. But he shows up to work every day and gives
100 percent. You can't ask for anything more."

"But I have to say it's sad that he's recognized a lot more
for his Viagra commercials than he is as a baseball player."