He’s 53. He hasn’t played in the big leagues since 2005. But Rafael Palmeiro doesn’t see a reason why he can’t continue his playing career.
Palmeiro said he believes he is in better shape than he was late in his career, and he is hopeful that a team will give him an opportunity to show that he still has something left in the tank.
Palmeiro’s comeback attempt after a 13-year layoff is real. He insists it’s not a joke. It’s not a publicity stunt.
“There’s no specific reason other than I love baseball,” Palmeiro said in an interview this week as he headed for a late-night workout.
“This is being serious about getting back to the level that I was when I was playing in 2002, 2003, whenever. I feel that good and I feel that confident.
“It’s taken me a long time to — I guess I can’t say that I’ve gotten over what has happened because I don’t think I’ll ever get over it — but I think it’s taken me a long time to deal with it and understand it and get to moving on with my life.”
Palmeiro is referencing his tarnished legacy as one of the disgraced players from the steroid era. He’s more associated with failing a performance-enhancing drug test late in the 2005 season than being one of five members of the 3,000-hit, 500-homer club over a 20-year career with the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles.
But Palmeiro is determined to try and end his career on his own terms. He hoped to extend his career after that 2005 season, but found no suitors. So now he’s trying to make an improbable comeback in his 50s.
Palmeiro, who resides in Colleyville, Texas, said he understands it will be an uphill battle even to land a workout with teams. The Texas Rangers have already let him know they aren’t interested in bringing him back in a playing capacity.
“We’ve let him know we don’t plan to consider it,” said Jon Daniels, Rangers president of baseball operations and general manager.
A baseball executive for a National League team said he’d be willing to watch a workout, but “most teams aren’t in the market for 53-year-olds.”
That hasn’t deterred Palmeiro in his quest. This is a guy who was teammates with Julio Franco, who played until age 48 in 2007.
The oldest position player in baseball history is Charley O’Leary, who served as a pinch-hitter at age 58 for the St. Louis Browns in 1934. O’Leary hadn’t played since 1913 when the Browns brought him out of retirement after a 21-year layoff.
“(The Rangers’ lack of interest) doesn’t discourage me even though I’d love to do a deal in front of my hometown crowd and the team I played for for a long time,” said Palmeiro, referencing his 10 years with the team (1989-93 and 1999-2003).
“I have no doubt in my mind I can help this team. I know what I can do. The way that I feel today, I feel better than I did when I was 35, 36, 37, because I take care of myself better. I have a better diet. It’s totally different than 13 years ago.
“If I get a chance, I’m not going to let somebody down. This is not a joke. This is not a publicity stunt of any sort.”
Palmeiro is known for having one of the sweetest swings of his generation. He went 2 for 4 as the designated hitter in a guest appearance during an independent league game with the Sugar Land Skeeters back in September 2015.
Palmeiro said he didn’t prepare for that appearance. Instead, he simply did it because his son, Patrick, was on the team.
“I just went down there and put on a uniform and played,” Palmeiro said. “I wasn’t working out. I wasn’t running. I wasn’t swinging. I wasn’t doing anything. They asked me to do it early in the season and I wasn’t interested. They kept asking me, so I went down and did it.
“But this is totally different. This is on a different level of intensity and seriousness. I’ve been training for a long time now, running and lifting and swinging.”
Palmeiro brushed off the notion that he’d have to land with a team who wanted a left-handed bat off the bench. For instance, that’s a role that extended Matt Stairs’ career an extra three years.
“Oh, what I’m looking for is to play in the game,” Palmeiro said. “Playing lefties and righties. Playing first base. That’s what I’m looking for.
“I know people will say, ‘You’re older now.’ Yeah, but to me age is just a number. Today I feel like I’m 35. When I was 35, I felt like I was 50. Today I feel like I’m 35 and I can perform at 35. That’s how I feel.”
Getting back in the game would also help Palmeiro write a different chapter to cap off his baseball career. How it all ended with the positive steroid test still doesn’t sit well with him.
Palmeiro infamously testified at a congressional hearing in 2005 by wagging his finger and defiantly stating he never used steroids. Months later, he failed a drug test that ruined his career.
Palmeiro would have been a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, but the positive test is why he fell off the ballot four years ago after getting less than 5 percent of the vote in his fourth year on the ballot.
Palmeiro has maintained — and continues to maintain — that what triggered the failed test was a tainted injection of vitamin B-12, a legal supplement, given to him by an Orioles teammate.
“That’s what happened, so there’s nothing I can do to change it,” Palmeiro said. “There’s nothing I can do to prove that that’s what it was. It was devastating to me and my family and my career. I was bitter. I blamed a lot of people.
“The blame was solely on me. I was to blame for my mistakes, but you learn and move on and try to make the best of things. It was at the end of my career and I didn’t think it would be the end of my career back then, but it was,” he said.
“It’s taken a long time. It has been a long time. It’s healed somewhat in the time that has passed. But I still think about it some and it’s not easy, but it is what it is. That’s life and you’ve got to move on.”
That 2005 season proved to be his final one. Palmeiro ended his career in an 0-for-19 slump and no teams were willing to give him another chance.
Instead, Palmeiro faded from the spotlight and never had a formal retirement news conference. He’s made his way back into the public eye in recent years, going to a few Rangers alumni events and interacting with fans. He’s also active in helping his kids pursue their baseball dreams.
Patrick Palmeiro spent three years in the Chicago White Sox organization and has been in the independent leagues the past three years. His son Preston, meanwhile, is making his way up the Orioles farm system after being a 2016 seventh-round pick.
But Palmeiro hasn’t made headlines like he did a month ago when he announced his comeback plans to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Palmeiro is serious about it and described his training as “going great.” He’s posted videos to his social media accounts showing him at the batting cages and fielding balls.
The comeback is real, Palmeiro declared on his Twitter account. He reiterated that to the Star-Telegram.
“Maybe the comeback started as a joke with my kids, challenging me to do something, and I took the challenge,” Palmeiro said. “I’ve been working out for years and I feel great. I’ve been swinging the bat for a long time. Maybe I can come back and play at the level I think I can, I know I can, play at the level that I did back when I was playing. So we’ll see.
“I just love baseball and I feel like I can bring a lot to a team and an organization and to contribute and bring more than what I can do on the field.”