Rafael Palmeiro has put up numbers in Major League Baseball that are among the all-time greats to ever play the game.
Over a 20-year MLB career, Palmeiro thrilled the fan bases of three franchises – the Chicago Cubs, the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles. When Palmeiro reflects on his playing days though, Chicago, Texas and Baltimore all take a backseat to his time spent in Starkville beforehand as a Mississippi State Bulldog.
“It’s unreal – I don’t get embraced like this anywhere else,” Palmeiro said this past Saturday. “I played in Texas for a long time and Baltimore, but when I come back here, this is special.”
Palmeiro was in town over the weekend for the opening of the new Dudy Noble Field. Palmeiro was bestowed two honors over the course of Friday and Saturday. On Friday, Palmeiro and his former teammate Will Clark – the duo known as Thunder and Lightning around MSU – had statues unveiled that sit in front of the home plate entrance of the new ballpark. On Saturday, Palmeiro, Clark, Ron Polk, Jeff Brantley, the late David “Boo” Ferris and the late C.R. Dudy Noble were inaugural inductees into State’s Ron Polk Ring of Honor.
Palmeiro enjoyed having the chance to take part in all the festivities.
“It’s always great to come back here,” Palmeiro said. “We don’t get to come back often, but when we do, it’s always special. What we’ve got here now with this ballpark, it’s one of a kind. It’s always fun to come back home and be a part of it.”
As much as Palmeiro enjoyed being back in Starkville, MSU loved having him return just as much. It gave the Bulldog faithful time to reminisce on Palmeiro’s historic State career.
Palmeiro was the first-ever Triple Crown winner in Southeastern Conference history. He remains among the MSU career leaders in several categories. He’s first in home runs (67), second in total bases (530), second in RBI (239), third in batting average (.372), third in runs scored (224) and ninth in hits (268). He also owns 11 single-season MSU records.
All the success at Mississippi State served as the springboard to Palmeiro’s professional career. He was a first-round pick in the 1985 MLB Draft and went on to become one of only six major league players in history to collect 3,000 or more hits and 500 or more home runs an a career. He had an amazing 10 major league seasons with 100-plus RBI and 35-plus home runs.
As outstanding as his time was in the pros though, Palmeiro says nothing compared to hitting the diamond at Mississippi State.
“If you’re a player and you’ve gone through college and high school and the minor leagues, once you get out of college, it becomes a job,” Palmeiro said. “It wasn’t a job when we were in college. When we lost a game, it hurt. We got upset. We were mad. We had some great teams and I made some great friends and I have some great memories. Those times, I know it’s not the big leagues, but there’s nothing like it.”
With his new statue and spot in the Ron Polk Ring of Honor, now many more generations will get the opportunity to look back on Palmeiro’s years and reflect on one of the greatest Bulldogs to ever play the game. Even after all he’s experienced, it’s wild for Palmeiro to think about how he’s treasured in Starkville.
“To have a statue in front of a stadium, who could ever imagine something like that?” Palmeiro said. “I mean, a statue? No one ever thinks of that. I’m so honored. It’s just such an incredible thing. It makes it even more special that (Clark) gets to have the same thing as me as well. He deserves it as much, then coach Polk with his Ring of Honor and Will. That makes it a lot more special for me.”
(Editor's Note: The Starkville Daily News will highlight each member of the inaugural class of the Ron Polk Ring of Honor. Today Rafael Palmeiro was featured.)