Congratulations to the Orioles' Rafael Palmeiro for reaching the 3,000-hit mark. He did it with a double off of Seattle's Joel Pi�eiro in the fifth inning of Friday night's game at Safeco Field. It was a solidly struck liner to the opposite field that landed inside the foul line on the warning track in the left-field corner.
The placement of the hit was odd because Palmeiro has been an incorrigible pull hitter for most of his career, leading teams to load their defenders toward the right side of the diamond. However, this particular hit would have landed safely even if the defense had been conventionally aligned. Later in the game, he singled to clear one of those pesky zeroes from his career hit total.
From what I gather, the low-key Palmeiro hasn't exactly cherished the intense attention that followed him as he approached this milestone, so he must be relieved that it's over. Cheers, Raffy.
Here's a sampling of two Palmeiro tributes from the Seattle press:
“Quiet legend targets 3,000 at Safeco Field” by Jon Paul Morosi of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
And oh, that swing. His bat glides through the strike zone with a grace that is the envy of All-Stars in both leagues. Everyone has a different way of describing it. Teammate B.J. Ryan called it "effortless." [Seattle pitching coach Bryan] Price admired the swing's ease, strength, and consistency.
"You may fool him once, but rarely twice," Price said. "He has an idea of what he's going to do in every at-bat. He's a real pro, and that's what protects him from slumps. You never see him take a bad swing.
"Everybody knows nothing comes easily. But he makes it look easy."
“Palmeiro a slugger in the shadows” by Larry Stone of the Seattle Times:
[Palmeiro] has never been on the disabled list, not even once, in a career that started in 1984. But he has also never been voted an All-Star starter, won a most valuable player award or batting title, led a league in runs batted in or home runs, or played in a World Series.
But here's what Palmeiro has done: Played at least 152 games every full season of his career. Had at least 38 homers and 100 RBI in nine straight years, and at least 20 homers for 14 straight years. Had two 47-homer seasons, joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ken Griffey Jr. as the only left-handed hitters do that twice. Won three Gold Gloves. Ranked in the top 16, all-time, in homers, extra-base hits, total bases, doubles and RBI.
Countless articles discussing Palmeiro and his accomplishments have appeared in the national media over the past week, so if you want to learn more about the man and his career, head to your Internet news aggregator of choice, look up Palmeiro and read to your heart's content.
Also, for those who missed it: last year I wrote about Palmeiro's Oriole career for my series of articles on the Orioles' top 50 players in history. Although Palmeiro finished third among Oriole first basemen, his overall major-league career stacks up well with the two men above him on the chart, Eddie Murray and Boog Powell. Had Palmeiro stayed in Baltimore from 1999-2003 instead of returning to Texas, he probably would have passed Powell and Murray as the Orioles' best at his position.
And I don't think there is any doubt that Palmeiro has locked up a place in Cooperstown; the naysayers are becoming fewer and less credible. Some small-Hall advocates have argued that Palmeiro doesn't belong because he was never a great player. While it is true that Palmeiro never reached the league's uppermost echelon, he has been a very good player for a very long time. By the standards that have been set for the Hall, he fits in comfortably with and even strengthens the existing group of inductees.
Slight digression: like Palmeiro, I don't particularly care for the hoopla surrounding artificial celebrations of round-numbered events. Is a man's fiftieth birthday any more significant than his forty-ninth or fifty-first? Is Frank Robinson any less of a player because he retired with 2,943 hits and 586 home runs instead of hanging on for 3,000 and 600? It seems so arbitrary to single out one event simply because it generates an attractive number.
But at the same time, I realize that it's human nature to celebrate such milestones. And I mean "human nature" literally. It is widely believed that the decimal system became dominant because we humans have ten fingers. If we had, say, eight fingers, then we would likely be awaiting Palmeiro's hit number 6,000 in octal—that's 3,072 in decimal for you non-numerophiles. As it is, we gravitate to multiples of ten and powers of ten because they are just easier to digest mentally.
And it's worth mentioning that the significance of an event such as this is not in the number but in what it represents. In this case, as in so many others, what we are commemorating is not so much the culminating achievement, but the person who attained it and the process it took to get there. The fact is that few hitters are productive enough for long enough to even approach 3,000 hits, let alone 500 home runs, as Palmeiro has done. So it's entirely appropriate to recognize Palmeiro and the body of work he's put together to reach this point. Now he and the Orioles can move on to the next task, which is winning enough games to reach the postseason.
(There's still a remote chance that Sammy Sosa will get hot and hit the seventeen homers he needs to reach 600 by the end of this season, but no one's betting on that at this point.)