Rafael Palmeiro to the Hall of Fame: Let voters handle steroid issue

The person who perhaps could be helped or hurt most if the National Baseball Hall of Fame offered specific instruction to its voters on whether candidates with a history of using performance-enhancing drugs should be enshrined has his own opinion as to what should happen.

Leave it up to the qualifying members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to make their own decision, former Orioles great Rafael Palmeiro says. The Hall of Fame doesn't need to offer any advice beyond what it already suggests about character and integrity, he believes.

"The Hall of Fame is a museum that tells a story, the history of each individual, great player and the history of the game. So I think it still comes down to each individual person that votes and what criteria they have," Palmeiro said. "[Voters] already have criteria to follow, and I think each individual person has a thought on what they believe and what is right and wrong. And I think that should be left up to each individual writer that votes, and I don't think the Hall of Fame should get involved."

It's an interesting take since the voters have not been particularly kind to Palmeiro, who is one of only four players in the history of the game to reach the milestones of 3,000 hits and 500 homers. The other three – Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Eddie Murray – were elected on the first ballot. Palmeiro was named on just 13 percent of 2012 ballots submitted by BBWAA members, up slightly from 11 percent in his first year of eligibility, 2011. (His vote total actually rose from 64 to 72 even though the number of ballots received dropped from 581 to 573.)

Palmeiro, however, is the only person to be on the Hall of Fame ballot after being suspended during his playing career because of a failed PED test. The suspension announcement in August 2005 came months after he infamously wagged his finger at a Congressional committee and denied have ever used steroids.

There has been a movement among some voters that the Hall of Fame must be more specific with its guidelines, especially since next year's class includes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the biggest names to ever be linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Also on next year's ballot for the first time will be burly sluggers Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa and pitcher Curt Schilling, who was a harsh critic of steroid usage in the sport when he was a player.

The 2013 ballot is expected to be a more accurate barometer of how the Steroid Era will be viewed comparatively to baseball history. Palmeiro acknowledges he'll be curious, too.

"Next year, I think, will be the telling story about what all this means. It's going to be interesting," Palmeiro said. "You have guys that were all-time greats, and so we'll see how the voters are going to look at all of us. The guys [newly eligible] next year will give us a better indication what the future holds for all of us, I guess."

The first true PED-Hall of Fame test case was slugger Mark McGwire, who is 10th all-time with 583 home runs and energized the sport in 1998 with his record-breaking home run race with Sosa. But McGwire eventually admitted to having used performance-enhancing drugs after refusing to answer direct questions during that 2005 Congressional hearing.

McGwire received 115 Hall votes in 2011, which was 19.8 percent of ballots cast and far short of the 75 percent needed for induction. This year, McGwire received 112 votes (19.5 percent), so he went backward in his sixth year on the ballot. The only other candidate to lose ground from 2011 to 2012 was another suspected – but unproven -- steroid user, slugger Juan Gonzalez, who received 30 votes, or 5.2 percent, last year and 23 votes, or 4 percent, in 2012. He fell off the ballot because he didn't get the necessary 5 percent this time.

"I am not sure what to make of that. I was surprised about Juan Gonzalez, that he totally dropped off the ballot," Palmeiro said. "I think what McGwire did for baseball -- going for the [season] home run record -- I think he was one of the great players of our time. It's just hard to see something like that happen to him, and for myself, for that matter. We'll have to see what happens next year, whether I go up or down. I don't have a clear picture of what the future holds, what it'll mean for me."

For his part, Palmeiro said he watched the Hall of Fame telecast Monday but wasn't expecting a change in fortune from 2011.

"I didn't really watch it that closely this time around. Obviously, I am disappointed again, but it is what it is. It is tough to think [87 percent] of the writers are not seeing me as a Hall of Famer," Palmeiro, 47, said. "Maybe they will one day, I don't know. At the rate that it is going, if it happens at all -- and it may not – it looks like it will happen when I am an old man."

For the record, Palmeiro is not wavering from the story he told federal investigators in 2005 – that he never purposely took steroids. And that his only explanation about why the banned drug stanozolol was discovered in his system is that he must have inadvertently received a tainted syringe of liquid Vitamin B-12, which he obtained from former Orioles teammate Miguel Tejada as an energy boost.

"It's the same story. One of these days, I am going to be so old I'm going to tell you I don't remember anymore, I'm too old to remember those things," Palmeiro joked. "No, there's nothing different."

One positive from Monday for Palmeiro is that former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin received 86.4 percent of the BBWAA vote and will go into the Hall of Fame in July. Palmeiro and Larkin have known each other since they played in college – Larkin at Michigan and Palmeiro at Mississippi State.

"I've known him my whole career, and I've done a lot of stuff with him, some charity work. And it couldn't happen to a nicer man," Palmeiro said about Larkin. "The guy is a class person and, in my opinion, he should have gone in last year. He was an impact player. He did everything, pretty much, that the game asked him to do. He won a MVP, a World Series, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers.

"He was a great leader in the clubhouse and community. That's a true Hall of Famer, in my mind."