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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Why Your Team Should Sign This Guy


One of those who shall not be named.

One of those who has fallen from Major League Baseball's pantheon.

A putative Hall of Famer but for some problems with testing labs and Congress.

That's right, Rafael Palmeiro.

I'm not really kidding here. You have a player who needs redemption, even if he's at an age where most players opt for the radio booth if they can get the work instead of sitting on the bench as a part-time DH/1B and getting about 150 plus at-bats in a season. If you have a team with skittish stars, Raffy might be the perfect tonic for what ails you, the prescription to calm them down.

It's not because of his leadership, as he seemed to be leadership-challenged last season when he tried to divert attention to Miguel Tejada as the purveyor of secret substances. It's precisely because in addition to his need for redemption, he'd be the distraction.

Say what you will about Reggie Jackson, who clearly liked to draw attention to himself when he played (very well) for Oakland in the early 70's and then the Yankees in the late 70's, but Jackson was a lightning rod. The A's fought amongst themselves and the Yankees did not all get along, but Reggie diverted the hot lights from teammates who weren't as at ease under them as he was. It could well be that if you have a teammate like that, the rest of the team, especially the introverts and those seeking renewed confidence without having to have a microphone stuck in their faces daily, can relax a bit more.

Most certainly, were Rafael Palmeiro to join a contender, he'd provide that diversion. Heretofore, though, he hasn't been a media attraction anywhere close to the way, say, Curt Schilling is. And I would submit that Schilling's being a media hound, in its own way, diverted the crushing New England media away from certain players at certain key times, enabling to breathe a little easier in the cramped Fenway clubhouse. If Palmeiro joined your team and was publicly forthcoming about his trevails, well, your young stars in the making might not be under as many bright lights and thrusting microphones so soon.

Is it a risk? You bet, for many reasons. There isn't necessarily any evidence that Palmeiro can still play. There also isn't any evidence that he'd be a personable public citizen, meaning that instead of helping divert attention he'd help direct it to those who might have no choice but to talk because the potential Hall of Famer won't, thereby increasing the precise pressure you'd like to reduce. There's also the risk that your team will get booed for making this type of decision. After all, it's not necessarily the most conventional general manager that would sign Palmeiro.

It's been said that the most successful people out there are the ones who have made the most mistakes because they're not afraid to stretch their abilities and go for it all. Put differently, I've read that in her house, the author Joyce Carol Oates has dozens of finished manuscripts she never submitted for publication, and I'd daresay that Emeril has probably tossed a lot of food into the waste bins in his kitchen, all in search of the best products to offer. Many GMs don't get that kind of leeway, don't want to take that kind of chance, because their career could end and end quickly. That said, is signing Palmeiro that big a risk? He's not your starting first baseman or DH anymore, but he could be an important contributor to a contender.

Given that for all of his accomplishments, he's never been to the World Series. I guess you could count that as extra motivation.

It used to be, many years ago, that teams' benches were populated with grizzled veterans hanging on to get another season's salary, hanging on because they loved the game for what it was and didn't want to give it up, in a time when baseball players' salaries were much closer to those of average Americans (in this day and age, the average salary is about $2 million). Yet, even in those times, some players retired young (such as Hall of Fame 3B George Kell) because the travel was too much. (Ironically, Kell retired at 32 and then became a broadcaster, ensuring that he'd be traveling as much as he did when he played).

Today, you don't see that many grizzled veterans on benches. Some have made their money in prior years and don't want the travel anymore. Some have priced themselves out of the market and get replaced with younger players commanded a significantly smaller salary. Even though most players miss the game terribly when they leave it, it's not as though you're seeing Steve Carlton bounce around to about four different teams after he left the Phillies, still trying to compete, or Willie Mays playing center field for the Mets in 1973 (virtually as an extra outfielder). Those types of veterans add some spice to the game, but they are fewer and farther between.

Perhaps when you think of this type of grizzled, cagey veteran, you don't think of Rafael Palmeiro. He was a real star during his day, and he has issues. Still, in the right situation, he probably could do some good for a contending ball club.

If he's willing to talk.

To the press.

About everything.

Such frank discussions could help liberate a high-strung team and a potential Hall of Famer.

A win-win proposition for both parties.

And the thing of it is, he won't cost you that much, either.

Not if he's smart.

And it's time that he show us that he has more common sense than he's displayed in the recent past, too.

Can he do it?

Will a team take the risk?

Those are the big questions.

At least they are for those who still care.