When Corrye, Chip and I discussed who would write up each of the individual Hall of Fame candidates for the site, I used my first pick on Rafael Palmeiro. I will dismiss all suspense now by saying that my vote for Palmeiro is a NO vote. Per the disclaimer, this has absolutely nothing to do with Palmeiro's steroid use or comically stubborn performance in front of Congress. With the exception of three players, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, and Tony Gwynn, I basically have resigned myself to the possibility that all players have augmented their performance in some manner. I am excluding these three players based on body types that in no way jibe with the use of muscle building chemicals whatsoever. My opposition to Palmeiro is rooted in my opinion of what the Hall out to be, no more no less. I am a Small Hall person who believes that it ought to celebrate those who transcended their peers and their time period and posted truly dominant performances, regardless of how long their respective prime might last. I don't care about accumulated stats or benchmarks including 300 wins, 500 homers, or 3000 hits. Johnny Damon, assuming he can play 3 more years, will have posted a serious of quite impressive numbers (3000 hits, 100 triples, 500 doubles, 250 HR, and 400 stolen bases). However, can you remember any time in the past 20 years that you said to yourself that Johnny Damon was even one of the 20 best players you had seen that year. The same logic that applies to Damon applies to Palmeiro and that is why he receives my no vote.
Rafael Palmeiro's career statistics include 569 home runs, 1835 RBI, and 3020 hits. On face value alone, these numbers sound like the resume of a first ballot HOF. However, if we have learned anything worshipping at the altars of Bill James, Rob Neyer, and Dave Cameron, it is that all statistics have meaning only when placed into context. Palmeiro played during the single greatest offensive explosion the game has seen or is ever likely to see. For example, 15 of the 25 highest single season home run totals occurred during the 14 year period between 1997 and 2010. The question then becomes how does Palemeiro compare to those at his position during his playing career. There were literally hundreds of 1st baseman who played during Palmeiro's career for the sake of brevity I will restrict the comparison to those most likely to receive HOF consideration when their time comes. Rafe's competition for this exercise is Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, and Jim Thome. According to Fangraphs WAR metric, Bagwell is the 7th greatest 1B of all time, Thomas is the 11th, Palmeiro the 15th, and Thome the 17th (although Thome only trails Palemiro by 2 WAR and is rather likely to pass him by the end of this season). If we use Baseball-Reference's WAR calculation, which does not allow us to sort by position, Bagwell is the 57th best player, Thomas the 64th, Thome the 80th, and Palmeiro the 109th. Palmeiro comes in fourth despite the fact that he played as many, if not more, seasons than any player he was compared to in this exercise. The gap is even greater if we cherry pick each of the players 5 greatest seasons by Fangraphs WAR. Bagwell leads the pack with 38.2 WAR, Thomas is 2nd with 36 WAR, Thome is third with 32.2 WAR, and Palmeiro brings up the rear with 31.6 WAR. If we utilize the wRC+ metric from Fangraphs, we see a pronounced difference in the 4 players abilities as a hitter. Thomas is the 10th ranked 1B, Bagwell the 12th, Thome the 16th, and Palmeiro the 58th. This ranking actually places Palmeiro behind such legends of the games as John Kruk, Pedro Guerrero, and the Clark Brothers (Jack and Will). Palmeiro was an above average defensive player evidenced by his +52 fielding runs accumulated according to Fangraphs. This total placed him 2nd in this group behind Bagwell and in front of the defensive black holes that were Thome and Thomas. However, this gap is simply not large enough to cancel out the significantly greater offensive value offered by Bagwell, Thomas, and Thome. In the end, Palmeiro was the inferior player in this comparison.
Palmeiro is a good player who you could count on for 38 home runs almost every year during his prime, although this is somewhat attributable to positive park factors he received from playing in Texas and Baltimore. However, this is more to offensive value than hitting the long ball and as a complete player he was simply not as dominant a force as Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, and Jim Thome. If you cannot dominate your era, you are not a HOF in my book.