Although he had an excellent 20-season major-league career, Rafael Palmeiro may be best remembered for something he did off the field. Called to a congressional hearing before the 2005 season to discuss the use of steroids in baseball, he wagged his finger while emphatically denying using banned substances. Just five months later, about two weeks after collecting his 3,000th hit on July 15, Major League Baseball suspended Palmeiro for 10 days after he tested positive for the use of performance enhancing drugs.1 His playing career ended soon afterward, and as of 2023 he was – along with Pete Rose and Álex Rodríguez – one of only three members of the 3,000-Hit Club denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Palmeiro’s on-field accomplishments with the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, and Baltimore Orioles were substantial. A native of Cuba who moved to Miami as a child, he was a four-time All-Star with three Gold Glove Awards and two Silver Slugger Awards. The lefty swung the bat with power, finishing his career with 569 home runs, 13th most all-time as of 2023. Palmeiro could also hit for average. He batted over .300 in six seasons, with a career-best .324 average in 1999. His 191 hits led the American League in 1990 and his 49 doubles led the AL in 1991.
Palmeiro took a consistent path to 3,000 hits, topping 200 only once (in 1991) but averaging 167 per year from 1988 to 2004. His 1,000th hit came with the Rangers, a single in his 921st career game on May 16, 1993. It took him 885 more games to get to 2,000 hits. He reached that milestone with an RBI double to right field on May 2, 1999, in a Rangers’ home game against the Cleveland Indians. After that historic knock, Palmeiro opined, “Three thousand is still on my mind, but it’s way out there.”2 Later, as he approached the 3,000-hit milestone, Palmeiro downplayed the accomplishment, saying, “I haven’t really thought about it. The day will come, and then we will move on.”3
He finished the 2004 season with 2,922 hits, 78 shy of 3,000. In 2005 the 40-year-old Palmeiro played in every Orioles game through the end of June, mostly at first base, finishing the month with 2,992 hits. In order to reach 3,000 hits in front of home fans, he needed eight hits in the next nine games. But he went hitless in the first three Baltimore games in July and finished the Orioles homestand on July 10 two hits below the milestone.
This made it likely he would reach the 3,000-hit plateau during a four-game series in Seattle that started on July 14. A single in the first game in Safeco Field put Palmeiro at 2,999 career hits going into the July 15 contest. In an interview before the game Palmeiro said he internalized his father’s mandate to always push himself to improve and produce on the field. He added that although the directive was both a blessing and a curse, it led to his career-long mantra that got him to the precipice of history. “Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t take anything for granted,” Palmeiro opined.4
The two teams were headed in opposite directions before the Friday night game. The Mariners were in last place, 13½ games behind the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the American League West Division, with a 39-49 record. Baltimore, with a 48-40 record, was in second place in the American League East, and trailed the Boston Red Sox by a single game.
The starting pitcher for the Orioles was righty Rodrigo López. López, in his fourth year with Baltimore, had an 8-5 record with a 4.47 ERA going into the game. Seattle countered with Joel Piñeiro. The right-hander, in his sixth year with the team, entered the contest with a 5.44 ERA and a 3-4 record.
Piñeiro retired the initial two Baltimore batters in the top of the first inning. But he surrendered a home run to Melvin Mora to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead. Miguel Tejada followed with his 31st double of the season, which brought Palmeiro to the plate.5 After falling behind in the count, 3-and-1, Piñeiro walked Palmeiro, and retired the next batter to get out of the inning. López held the Mariners scoreless in the bottom half.
In the top of the second, the first three Baltimore batters reached base to load the bases. A groundout by Brian Roberts and a single by Sammy Sosa drove in runs to make the score 3-0, but Piñeiro limited the damage to two runs by retiring Mora and Tejada.6
The Mariners got on the board in the bottom of the second when Richie Sexson led off with his 19th home run of the season. Although López allowed another single that frame, the Mariners didn’t send any more runners across home plate, so the score remained 3-1 in the Orioles’ favor.
Palmeiro led off the top of the third inning. He pulled the second pitch from Piñeiro to Sexson on the ground at first base for an unassisted putout. Both pitchers settled down and neither team scored in the third or fourth inning.
Mora doubled off Piñeiro to open the fifth. After Tejada flied out, Palmeiro stepped to the plate. With the count 2-and-2, the lefty hit a line drive down the third-base line into the left-field corner, scoring Mora and putting Palmeiro at second base with his 3,000th hit. The game paused as the Orioles trotted out to the keystone sack to congratulate the slugger. Every member of the team shook his hand or gave him a hug as the crowd stood applauding.
After his teammates retreated, Palmeiro stood alone at second and doffed his helmet to the crowd to acknowledge the ovation. When game action continued after the celebration, a double by Jay Gibbons scored Palmeiro. This increased the Baltimore lead to 5-1.
López retired the first batter he faced in the bottom of the sixth. But a walk and a single brought Beltré to the plate with one out. Beltré battled López for nine pitches before hitting the 10th for an RBI ground-rule double. That was the end of the night for López, as Mariners manager Mike Hargrove brought in Tim Byrdak to pitch to Jeremy Reed with men on second and third. Reed’s groundout to first drove in another run and brought the Mariners back to within two runs.
Palmeiro made it 3,001 career hits with a seventh-inning single against reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa. The last tally in the game was a leadoff home run by Baltimore’s Sal Fasano in the eighth inning.7 The final score in the contest was 6-3, Orioles.
After the game Palmeiro declared, “I was just trying to drive the runner in. I was trying to do my thing, keep it simple. I did what I had to do, and it was my 3,000th hit. It was emotional. I wasn’t expecting that. I thought maybe for maybe a second or two that the game would stop and we could keep it moving, but they [his teammates] came out there.”8
Palmeiro became the 26th major leaguer to reach 3,000 hits. He joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Eddie Murray as the only members of the 3,000-Hit Club with 500 home runs.9 Speaking of those players, Palmeiro said, “Maybe I belong in their group, but not in their class. I know I’m not there.” Although Palmeiro minimized the feat, Cal Ripken Jr., who collected his 3,000th hit five years earlier, did not. He said, “Eddie [Murray] and Raffy were very similar in that they were very quiet but extremely productive. They are two of the best hitters of all time, and I was honored to call them both teammates.”10
Palmeiro played in only 22 more major-league games after recording his 3,000th hit. He retired with 3,020 hits. Palmeiro was the third player born outside the continental United States, and the only Cuban, to reach the 3,000-hit plateau. Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico) and Rod Carew (Panama) were the other two at the time, but four more men have joined them as of 2023.11
Many thanks to John Fredland, Kurt Blumenau, and Gary Belleville for their insightful comments on the first draft of this paper. The article was fact-checked by Russ Walsh and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I used Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for team, season, and player pages and logs and the box scores and play-by-plays. I also reviewed a recording of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) television broadcast of the game, posted on YouTube.
1 CBS News, New York, “LISTEN: 11 Years Later, Rafael Palmeiro Stands Firm That He Never Used Steroids,” https://www.cbsnews.com/newyork/news/rafael-palmeiro-denies-steroid-use/. (last accessed April 28, 2023).
2 “Texas’ Palmeiro Reaches 2,000th Hit,” Greenwood (South Carolina) Index-Journal, May 3, 1999: 4B.
3 David Ginsburg (Associated Press), “Palmeiro Reaches 3,000-Hit Milestone,” Salina (Kansas) Journal, July 16, 2005: D4.
4 Laura Vecsey, “Not One to Take a Leading Role, Palmeiro Is Alone in Spotlight,” Baltimore Sun, July 16, 2005: C1.
5 Tejada, the 2002 AL MVP, led the majors with 50 doubles in 2005. In 2009 he pleaded guilty in federal court to lying to Congress during the 2005 investigation into steroid use among baseball players. In 2013 Major League Baseball suspended him for 105 games for using Adderall without a prescription. “Miguel Tejada Suspended 105 Games,” ESPN.com, August 17, 2013. https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/9576752/miguel-tejada-kansas-city-royals-suspended-105-games.
6 Sosa, the first player to hit 60 or more home runs in back-to-back seasons (1998-99), tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Tim Bielik, “Sammy Sosa Tests Positive for Steroids: America Is Not Surprised,” BleacherReport.com, June 16, 2009. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/200767-no-shock-sosa-tests-positive-for-steroids-america-not-surprised.
7 Fasano was released by the Angels after the 2002 season. He didn’t play in 2003 but returned to the minors in 2004. The 33-year-old finally made it back to the majors two months before this game. This was his eighth homer in only 102 at-bats with Baltimore in 2005.
8 “Palmeiro Joins 3,000 Club,” Indiana (Pennsylvania) Gazette, July 16, 2005: 17.
10 Ginsburg, “Palmeiro Reaches 3,000-Hit Milestone.”
11 The four other foreign-born players with 3,000 hits are Beltré and Albert Pujols (Dominican Republic), Ichiro Suzuki (Japan), Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela).