The Orioles have committed $39 million to free agents in the five weeks since the free-agent market opened in early November, most of it in the form of the five-year, $30.35 million contract that made Palmeiro a symbol of the new ownership group's commitment to building a championship team.
"It was just something I couldn't pass up," said Palmeiro, who traveled to Baltimore with his wife, Lynne, for an afternoon news conference at Camden Yards. "Coming to Baltimore and playing in this stadium the last two years, I'm just looking forward to playing here all year around."
The feeling obviously is mutual. Manager Johnny Oates continues to talk as if Santa Claus arrived two weeks early, and why not? Palmeiro led the league in runs scored (124), ranked fifth with 37 home runs and had 105 RBIs for the Texas Rangers last year. It was a career year, but the Orioles obviously are confident that he can replicate those numbers in left-handed-hitter-friendly Oriole Park.
They paid dearly to find out, signing Palmeiro to a contract that calls for $22.5 million over five years and another $7.85 million in deferred payments.
Sources said Palmeiro will receive a $2 million signing bonus and $2 million in salary for 1994, $4 million for 1995, $4.5 million for '96 and '97 and $5.5 million in 1998. The remainder of the guarantee will be paid over the following five years, so the actual present-day value of the contract is approximately $27.5 million. There also are award bonuses.
That made it also a day of vindication for Palmeiro, who turned down a five-year, $26.5 million contract from the Texas Rangers and found himself out in the cold when the Rangers turned to free-agent first baseman Will Clark instead.
"I feel wanted," Palmeiro said. "I feel that this team has respect for my ability. I didn't feel that way toward the other club. I feel this team has a commitment to winning. I think they showed that with the great contract they gave me."
Palmeiro made headlines three weeks ago when he criticized Clark and the Rangers, but he sought to put that unhappy episode behind him at yesterday's news conference. He is not considered a controversial guy, and he wanted it known that his outburst was out of character.
"I was talking out of frustration," Palmeiro said. "I felt alone. I felt they took advantage of me. It's something I regret saying. I should never have said what I did about Will Clark. He's a great player and he did what he had to do. As far as the Rangers, I don't feel they treated me with respect, but that's old news now."
It was clear that Palmeiro wanted to look ahead. He originally intended to re-sign with the Rangers. He had just built a $3 million home in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. But when that door closed, it created an opening for the Orioles that led to their most significant free-agent signing.
Everybody was happy. Palmeiro got his big payday. The Orioles got the big-name run-producer they have been looking for since the trade for first baseman Glenn Davis turned into a disaster.
The signing of pitcher Sid Fernandez was a big first step, but the acquisition of Palmeiro may have taken the Orioles to a new level of competitiveness in the American League East.
It might be the biggest move of general manager Roland Hemond's long career. He compared it yesterday with the 1981 acquisition of Carlton Fisk that helped turn the Chicago White Sox into a division winner two years later.
"The Palmeiro signing is certainly a reason to get excited," said shortstop Cal Ripken, who figures to hit behind Palmeiro when the Orioles face a left-handed starting pitcher. "We've been close the last two years and we needed to go that extra step. Raffy may be the final piece, but no one is smart enough to know what is going to happen in a baseball season."
At least one rival was most impressed.
Pat Gillick, general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, said: "He's excellent player. He's improved defensively a lot, too, since he came to Texas. Baltimore has made a real good catch there."
Palmeiro was careful not to cast himself as a savior, though he recognizes that the Orioles hope he'll put them over the top after a pair of divisional challenges that came up short in September.
"I don't think that one player can make the difference," Palmeiro said. "I think it takes all the players and the coaching staff. This team has a lot of good players. We just need to have a winning attitude and we'll be all right."
The Orioles first pursued Clark because he was the kind of fiery leader who figured to alter the chemistry in an easygoing clubhouse. Palmeiro is more laid-back -- he has been compared to Ripken in that regard -- but he could provide leadership if he continues to produce the kind of statistics he did last year.
"As far as leadership, I lead by example, by working hard and playing every day," he said. "I'm not a rah-rah guy. I'm not the kind of guy who is going to get in people's faces. I've never been that way, but I've still had the respect of my teammates."
Palmeiro appears to have a great deal of respect for his new teammates. He spoke glowingly of the Orioles lineup in general and of the starting rotation in particular.
"Mike Mussina . . . I think he's the best pitcher in the game," he said. "When he's healthy, he's the best there is. Ben McDonald is young and he's coming along. I have the hardest time hitting against him. Jamie Moyer? I've played with him and he's turned himself into a good pitcher. Sid? I'm just glad he's on my team. [Arthur] Rhodes? He's scary. I'm just glad I don't have to face those guys."
Details of the $30.35 million, five-year contract agreed to between first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and the Orioles:
SIGNING BONUS $2 million.
YEARLY BREAKDOWN 1994: $3.5 million ($1.5 million deferred without interest)*
$5.5 million ($1.5 million deferred without interest)*
$6 million ($1.5 million deferred without interest)*
$6 million ($1.5 million deferred without interest)*
$7.35 million ($1.85 million deferred without interest)*
Approximately $27.6 million, using discount rate of 9 percent per year.
Full no-trade clause for the first two years. In the final three years, player may designate eight teams he may not be traded to.
Most Valuable Player: $100,000
Divisional Series MVP: $50,000
League Championship Series MVP: $50,000
World Series MVP: $50,000
All-Star Game election: $50,000 ($30,000 if selected as reserve)
AP, UPI or The Sporting News All-Star team: $50,000
Gold Glove: $25,000
*-Deferred money to be paid five years after season in which it
was earned, from 1999 through 2003.
PALMEIRO AT THE PARK
=1 Rafael Palmeiro's statistics at Camden Yards:
Year.. .. .. .. Avg.. .. .. .. H.. .. .. AB .. .. HR.. .. .. .. RBI
1992 .. .. .. ..357 .. .. .. .10 .. .. ..28 .. .. 0 .. .. .. .. 6
1993 .. ... .. .280 .. .. .. ..7 .. .. ..25 .. .. 1 .. .. .. .. 3
Total .. ... .. 317.. .. .. .. 17.. .. .. 53 .. ..1 .. . ... .. 9