Thursday, February 09, 2006

That Laffy Raffy

There's an excellent article/blog by Buster Olney on that details the career paths of Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro. The article is found here. Unfortunately, it's an Insider only column, which is very unfortunate, as I think it's a very enlightening piece that should be read by the masses. For that reason, I am going to be unethical and reprint it without permission. However to be fair, ESPN has my permission to take anything I write and reprint it on their site- just give me the byline:

We are a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting, and Rafael Palmeiro still doesn't have a job. It could be that his career is over, and an arc of the Steroid Era that began at Mississippi State more than two decades ago is now complete.

Will Clark and Palmeiro were teammates at Mississippi State. In the spring of 1985, Clark was the star prospect, while Palmeiro was highly regarded -- but not in the same way as Clark. A major league scout filed these reports in early May of that year.

About Clark, he wrote, in blocked handwriting: "Has all the tools. Powerful stroke -- makes contact." Clark received a power rating of 8 at that time. About Palmeiro, the same scout reported: "Continues to generate great bat speed and make contact. Line drive power -- ball jumps off the bat." Palmeiro received a power rating of 6.

A month or so later, a scout with the same team wrote this about Clark: "Home run type stroke. Upper deck type of power." And he gave him a power rating of 9 -- very good. The first scout saw Palmeiro a second time, and again rated his power at a 6 -- high average. "Graceful, laid-back type player, but do not mistake this for laziness!" the scout wrote. "Quiet type with fragile ego. Type who cannot be screamed at. Very important to get off on right foot in pro ball."

Clark was taken second overall, by the Giants. The Cubs picked Palmeiro late in the first round, at No. 22.
And Palmeiro was a good player right away. He batted .276 in 84 games in 1987, and in his first full season, in 1988, Palmeiro hit .307, with eight homers, five triples, 41 doubles, and 124 singles.

His old college teammate? Clark was a bona fide star immediately. Four months older than Palmeiro, he broke into the big leagues with a home run in his first at-bat, against Nolan Ryan. In 1987, Clark clubbed 35 homers, 29 doubles, five triples and drove in 91 runs, with a .308 batting average. He would quickly become the face of the Giants franchise, hitting his 150th career homer in 1992, when he turned 28. In the same summer, Palmeiro was still shy of his 100th career homer.

But Clark had started to show signs of wear and tear. And suddenly, in the summer of 1993, Palmeiro went from being a good power hitter to something very different, hammering 37 home runs. It was his first full season as a teammate of Jose Canseco.

Both Clark and Palmeiro became eligible for free agency after the 1993 season, and Orioles executives wanted to sign Clark. But new owner Peter Angelos vetoed that deal because of concerns about whether Clark's body would break down, and he signed Palmeiro instead. By then, Palmeiro was open about how frustrated he was with the attention Clark received; he had always been lost in Clark's shadow. His jealousy of Clark was an open secret.

As the former teammates each moved beyond his 30th birthday, they were changing places. Palmeiro was either approaching or surpassing 40 homers every year, while Clark was going through a regression that had once been fairly typical. The nagging injuries reduced his playing time: At age 32, he managed just 117 games; the next year, 110. He was having a hard time staying healthy, but Palmeiro and some of Clark's other generational peers were generating staggering production.

Clark had a nice, if unspectacular, finish to his career, wrapping up at age 36, a typical career path -- Jackie Robinson played his last game at 37, while Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle each retired at 36. In Clark's final season, he batted .319 with 21 homers and 70 RBI in 2000. In Clark's last summer, Palmeiro blasted 39 homers and drove in 120 runs. It was as if he was ageless, compared to his college teammate.

Clark closed a very good career with 2,176 hits and 284 homers. Palmeiro, however, was destined to hit 169 homers after Clark retired, including his 500th homer in 2003, his 550th homer near the end of 2004.

Palmeiro had Hall of Fame numbers. His college teammate, once considered to be more talented, more dynamic -- and once even a markedly better major league hitter -- wasn't a serious Hall of Fame candidate. His respectable numbers have been obliterated by Palmeiro and others in their generation.

In July of 2005, Palmeiro picked up his 3,000th career hit, but observers said at the time they found him to be strangely subdued.

As it turned out, his appeal for a positive steroid test was being heard -- and a couple of weeks later, the appeal was denied. And Palmeiro became the most prominent player ever to be suspended for steroid use.

When Clark was asked in a radio interview what he would say to Palmeiro, his response was blunt: Partner, you got caught. Their careers, and their relationship, could be the prism through which we could view the entire steroid era.

I hope that enough of the truth is out about Palmeiro that he won't be in the Hall of Fame, although I'm sure there will be plenty of writers who will say, "you can't ignore the numbers." But if you were to just judge Palmeiro's career up to the point where he met Canseco, he pales in comparison to Will Clark, Steve Garvey, and Don Mattingly, none of whom are in the Hall. Raffy should be on the outside, looking in. Maybe he can set up a table next to Pete Rose and autograph copies of his book detailng the evils of a B-12 shot.


At Fri Aug 18, 12:05:00 PM PDT , Anonymous winstrol said...



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