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Rafael Palmeiro falls off Hall of Fame ballot; Mike Mussina receives 20.3 percent of vote

While the National Baseball Hall of Fame was announcing Wednesday that three players in their first year of eligibility — pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas — had been elected by the writers' association in the same year for the first time in 15 years, Rafael Palmeiro was in his Texas home putting away Christmas decorations.

The former Orioles slugger didn't realize the announcement had been made until he noticed several missed phone calls. He turned on the TV and learned he had received only 25 votes — half of what he garnered last year — for a total of 4.4 percent, which dropped him from the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot in his fourth year of eligibility.

“It is disheartening not being on the ballot anymore,” said Palmeiro, who is one of only four players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, but is also the only one on the ballot who was suspended for failing a performance-enhancing-drug test. “I was hoping to stay on it as long as I could. Maybe gain some momentum. But it went the other way.”

Palmeiro wasn't the only former Oriole to receive disappointing results due to a ballot that featured plenty of quality candidates. Former ace Mike Mussina, who won 270 games and posted a 3.68 ERA in an 18-season career with the Orioles and New York Yankees, was named on just 20.3 percent of the 571 ballots cast in his first year of eligibility — far below the 75 percent needed for induction.

Of the other former Orioles on this year's ballot, outfielder Tim Raines received 46.1 percent of the vote, followed by reliever Lee Smith (29.9 percent), starter Curt Schilling (29.2) and outfielder Sammy Sosa (7.2 percent), who now takes Palmeiro's place as the holdover whose spot is most tenuous for 2015. Former Orioles reliever Armando Benitez received one vote, and reliever Mike Timlin received none.

Those two won't be eligible next year, but the somewhat surprising ballot casualty was Palmeiro, who can't be considered by the Hall of Fame's veterans committee until at least 2026, after his class' 15 years of eligibility expires.

“I'll look at the bright side,” Palmeiro said. “I'll be eligible in [12] years, and maybe at that point things are a lot different and people see it in a different light. I'm disappointed. I am not going to lie. I won't say I was hoping for a miracle and that I'd get elected, but I was hoping to stay on it a little longer.”

In 2013, Palmeiro received 50 votes and was named on 8.8 percent of ballots cast. His precipitous drop-off seemingly was a testament to the number of quality candidates this year and a rule that prohibits voters from selecting more than 10 each year.

“This was the first time I didn't vote for him, and it was strictly because I ran out of space on the ballot,” said USA Today national baseball columnist Bob Nightengale.

Nightengale said his 10th spot came down to Palmeiro and Sosa.

“So it was pretty much, ‘Well, Rafael Palmeiro was the only guy on the Hall of Fame ballot who ever tested positive for steroids. No one else did.' So that's why,” Nightengale said. “It was the first time he was off my ballot, and I was fearful he'd fall off.”

As a policy, Baltimore Sun writers do not vote for the Hall of Fame or postseason awards.

Mel Antonen, a MASN baseball analyst and contributor for SI.com, has never voted for Palmeiro or anyone else linked to performance-enhancing drug use. However, he said he was disappointed he wouldn't be able to consider Palmeiro's candidacy in future years.

“I think he deserves more time; I think time can heal all wounds. While I just wasn't ready to vote for him now, things can change, circumstances can come around and there might be reason to vote for Palmeiro down the road,” Antonen said. “So I think it's a shame that he was bounced off the ballot so quickly.”

One thing that won't change in the next decade is Palmeiro's story about his failed test in 2005. He continues to maintain that he injected a tainted liquid B-12 supplement from teammate Miguel Tejada and did not purposely use the steroid stanozolol just weeks after wagging his finger while denying PED use to a congressional committee.

“I'm not going to change [the story] for the sake of creating a myth,” Palmeiro said. “It is what it is. It happened. It's the honest-to-God truth.”

Palmeiro said he understands many don't believe him, and that he must live with that.

“I take full responsibility, accountability for my mistake. It cost me tremendously in my life. It ruined my career and now it has ruined my chance of being a Hall of Famer,” Palmeiro said. “I don't blame anybody but myself. I should have known better and I should have trusted no one. You live and you learn. Some lessons are harder than others and this one I'll pay for the rest of my life.”

What surprised Palmeiro even more than his low vote total Wednesday was the underwhelming response to Mussina, whom Palmeiro called “as good as it gets; he was dominating.”

Antonen, for one, agreed, saying he expected Mussina to get about 40 percent of the vote — similar to what Schilling received in his first year on the ballot.

“I think it is one of those things that [Mussina] does have a lot of support out there, they just didn't vote for him this year. I think they will vote for him,” Antonen said. “I think when you see what he did and how he pitched and how he stacked up against guys like Tom Glavine, who is now a Hall of Famer, there is no question that Mike Mussina should be in Cooperstown.”

Even with the election of three players and the loss of Palmeiro and pitcher Jack Morris, who wasn't chosen in his 15th and final year of eligibility, next year's ballot is expected to remain full. Newcomers include Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz — who have nine Cy Young Awards among them — plus nine-time All-Star Gary Sheffield, among others. Craig Biggio, who fell two votes short of induction this year, will lead next year's holdovers.

This year's ceremony on July 27 should be well-attended and have an Atlanta Braves flair. Maddux, who won four Cy Young Awards and 355 games in his 23-season career, spent 11 seasons with the Braves, including 10 as the teammate of Glavine, who won a total of 305 games in his 22-season career. They were managed by Bobby Cox, who was one of three skippers — along with Tony La Russa and Joe Torre — selected by this year's expansion-era committee for induction.

Thomas, a career .301 hitter with 521 home runs who was named on 83.7 percent of ballots in his first year of eligibility, will be the one inductee in July who will be honored for his ability to hit a baseball.

At one point, it was thought that the sweet-swinging Palmeiro would be honored, but that won't happen for at least a decade, if ever.

Palmeiro has been considered for the Orioles' Hall of Fame, but lost out to Mussina and Roberto Alomar in consecutive years.

“It would definitely be an honor. But I just don't see it happening. It's all kind of tied together,” Palmeiro said of the Orioles' Hall, before showing he hadn't lost his sense of humor.

“Any Hall of Fame would be an honor. Even if my kids made a Hall of Fame for me here in my home, I'd appreciate it. We'll have to create a Hall of Fame here at the Palmeiro house and they can put a crown on my head and that will be it.”

dan.connolly@baltsun.com
twitter.com/danconnollysun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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