SEATTLE - No left-handed batter in the history of baseball has showed the consistency and power of Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, whose entry into the elite 3,000-500 club is a testament to a stellar career that should gain him first-ballot entry into the Hall of Fame.
When Palmeiro got his 3,000th hit off Seattle’s Joel Pineiro on Friday night, he joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players in baseball history with at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.
“With numbers like that, maybe I belong in their group,” Palmeiro said recently, “but not their class. I know I’m not there.”
Perhaps. But unlike the others, Palmeiro isn’t done yet. He is also the only one in the quartet to swing exclusively from the left side of the plate.
Palmeiro’s sons were on hand to enjoy the night, too. Preston Palmeiro documented the event with a video camera and another son, Patrick, was acting as the Baltimore batboy. Both boys ran on the field with the Orioles and hugged their father.
There’s no way to accurately determine the greatest left-handed hitter in baseball history, but an argument can be made for Palmeiro, who now has 346 more hits than Ted Williams, nearly 450 more home runs than Ty Cobb and 127 more hits than Babe Ruth.
Some may scoff at the notion of placing Palmeiro among the game’s premier hitters, mainly because he has attained those lofty numbers with very little fanfare. But his peers have the utmost respect for his work ethic — and his prowess at the plate.
“Consistency. That’s the only way you accomplish numbers like that,” New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “You have to be very consistent for a long time, and that’s what he’s done.”
As he neared the 3,000 mark, Palmeiro squirmed when doing interviews about the significance of the event. He doesn’t like to talk much, especially when the subject is himself.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “The day will come, and then we’ll move on.”
Murray couldn’t have put it any better.
“Eddie and Raffy were similar in that they were very quiet and extremely productive,” former Oriole Cal Ripken said. “They are two of the best hitters of all time, and I was honored to call them both teammates.”
By the time he’s done, the 40-year-old Palmeiro will rank in the top 10 in many key offensive categories, including homers, extra-base hits and total bases. He is ninth on the career home run list, and his 3,000th hit tied him with Roberto Clemente for 25th in that category.
Besides moving up on the career hits list, Palmeiro also tied Robin Yount for No. 13 all-time with 583 doubles. His 1,187 extra-base hits rank seventh, moving Palmeiro out of a tie with Frank Robinson and within range of No. 6 Lou Gehrig (1,190).
“It was emotional. I wasn’t expecting that,” Palmeiro said. “I thought maybe for a second or two the game would stop and we could keep it moving, but they came out there.”
Palmeiro isn’t merely staggering to the finish of a great career. He’s been hitting cleanup in a formidable Baltimore lineup, and ranks among the team leaders in home runs and RBIs.
“When you look at his numbers, maybe they’re not eye-popping like they were at one time,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “But he’s far from hanging on. He’s got such a simple stroke; there’s not a lot of moving parts.”
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