By Steve Fink
(WJZ) — In trying to think of more positive banter about the Orioles this week, I began wondering who the team planned on inducting next into their Hall of Fame. Joe Angel seems like the obvious choice on the non-player side, but after that, we can all start leafing through our favorite former O’s who have yet to get the call.
For a while now, I’ve quietly rooted for one guy in particular. The thing is, the less quiet I’ve been about it and the more I’ve discussed it with others, the more I learn — surprisingly — that plenty of other fans are rooting for him too. It’s a bit of a controversial pick, and you probably know where I’m going here. (Of course you do, you read the headline.)
Personally, he’s my favorite Oriole after Adam Jones, and I think it’s time for him to be celebrated again.
Yes, it’s time to put Rafael Palmeiro into the Orioles Hall of Fame.
I’ve felt more strongly about this over the past year, particularly because of Chris Davis. Not to pile it on the big guy some more, but it occurred to me the more I’ve watched him laboriously whiff at high fastballs or aimlessly heave his bat at low-and-away sliders with that one-armed follow-through he’s seemingly perfected. Ugh, that swing.
I’ve bickered about it myself and I’ve listened to others lose their minds over it, so much that I just had to cleanse my brain by recalling happier times and happier swings. And when I think about the greatest swing I’ve ever seen, there is only one that comes to mind immediately. And I think there’s a good chance you think of that same swing, too.
I don’t even care about Raffy’s ridiculous, HOF-worthy numbers on their own (3,020 hits, 569 home runs). It’s — that swing. Dare I say, the most beautiful swing in Orioles history?
We can go back and forth all day about whether Raffy deserves as much as a ticket to an Orioles game. He’s stuck to his story about how he tested positive for steroids back in 2005 during his second run with the Birds, and he stands by his conviction that he’s been unfairly blackballed from the game he loves, despite his conviction by the court of public opinion and much of the baseball media, for that matter. What if we took his word for it? At what point do we give him the benefit of the doubt? I wish I knew the answer myself.
What I’ve realized though, is that it doesn’t matter to me. I can understand how his story could be true, how he’d been the victim of a locker room crime, and I can absolutely believe him… just as much as I understand he could be an egomaniac who simply can’t admit that he screwed up. But none of that matters to me really anymore, because I’ll never know the truth.
The only truth I know is that I loved Rafael Palmeiro, the Oriole. And I loved that swing. For as brutal as my memory is (shout out to my wife on that note), I have never forgotten how Rafael Palmeiro could fling his bat at a fireball with such ease, it was as if stepping into the box was always nothing more than batting practice. Every single time.
Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself:
I can still see him rounding the bases in front of a packed house at the Yard while Quad City DJs’ “C’mon N Ride It (That Train)” (sup late ‘90s hits?) blared over the speakers. For all you youngsters, that was back in the day when they were counting consecutive sellouts rather than consecutive Crush-outs.
Recently I was out to dinner with some friends and I mentioned to my buddy that I was going to write this very piece. And he asked me why, and I asked him, “What do you remember most about Rafael Palmeiro?”
His response: “That sweet lefty swing.”
Before we remember the finger-wag, we remember the swing. Because whether he juiced or not, we all saw for ourselves how great Raffy was naturally. And that swing, that sweet lefty swing, was all natural. No syringe is capable of giving someone that gift.
It’s time, O’s fans. Let’s give Rafael Palmeiro the honor he deserves. He is one of the greatest Orioles of all-time. He is one of the players we were all blessed to be able to see up close. And he belongs in the Orioles Hall of Fame.
#InductRaffy. It’s time.
Steve Fink is the Director of News Programming and Promotion for CBS Local Digital Media. He is a Baltimore native and a die-hard Orioles and Ravens fan. You can follow him on Twitter at @finksta.