At 44 years old, Bartolo Colón posted a 6.48 ERA over 143 innings in 2017. He was the oldest player in the game. Former Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro is nine years older than Colón, but still believes he can perform at a high level in the majors.
It appears the 53-year-old Palmeiro is looking to make a comeback. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic spoke to Palmeiro and his family about it, and he seems serious.
“There’s no doubt in my mind I can do it,” says Palmeiro, who ended his career as one of four players to reach both 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. “I’ve taken care of myself really well. I’ve been working out for years. Everything feels better than when I played.”
That’s great and all, but there’s no denying Palmeiro would face a steep uphill battle if he really attempted to come back. The oldest player in recent memory to receive decent playing time was Julio Franco in 2007. He was 48 that season.
One general manager told Rosenthal he wouldn’t even consider signing Palmeiro. Another said Palmeiro would have to prove himself elsewhere before they would consider taking a look at the former star.
Palmeiro doesn’t seem willing to do that. He has no plans to sign with an independent league team, and it doesn’t seem like he would be willing to spend time in the minors if a team actually did sign him. Palmeiro is so confident in his abilities that he says he won’t be sent to the minors if he gets a legitimate chance with a team during spring training.
A big part of Palmeiro’s comeback seems to be his disappointment with leaving the game in 2005. Palmeiro was hit with a 10-game suspension after testing positive for steroids. He came back, struggled mightily and then left quietly. He fell off the Hall of Fame ballot despite reaching both 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, likely due to the negative fallout after his final year in the game. In the article, Palmeiro still states that he “didn’t do anything intentionally.”
The stance on steroids within the game has softened some since then. We’ve seen some users — and suspected users — return to baseball as coaches or prominent broadcasters. Perhaps Palmeiro believes a comeback could begin his healing process with the masses. If he did reach the majors, he would be able to reset his Hall of Fame eligibility. With a younger electorate, he might stand a better chance of getting in.
None of that seems likely to happen. His age is just too large of a hurdle at this point. If Palmeiro really wants to pick up some goodwill from fans, his best shot would be to consider coaching. If he’s truly still as talented as he says, he would make a useful teacher for younger players.
After a few successful seasons, Palmeiro could find himself on the veteran’s committee Hall of Fame ballot. The earliest that can happen is 2021. If he truly wants redemption and another shot at the Hall of Fame, that seems like the better way to go.
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