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Durable power

National | Rafael Palmeiro wasn't born a power hitter. He just developed into one in his early 30s.

Issue: "Memorial Day 2003," May 24, 2003

Rafael Palmeiro wasn't born a power hitter. He just developed into one in his early 30s. And Mr. Palmeiro never led the majors in home runs. Even so, his Mother's Day blast became No. 500, and the Texas first baseman became just the 19th slugger to reach the elite plateau.

In the 7th inning against Texas, Cleveland pitcher David Elder placed a full-count too high. Mr. Palmeiro turned on the ball and parked it in the right-field stands in his last at bat before departing on a long road trip. Besides a quick flip of the bat, the first baseman's home brisk jog around the bases was exactly like the previous 499. ESPN.com wasn't so excited. "One Big Snooze Fest," the headline read. Maybe that was Mr. Palmeiro's best feat-somehow he turned one of the ultimate feats for a power hitter into just another day at the park.

Since he transformed himself from a slap hitter with power to the gaps into a dead-pull home-run giant, no one in baseball history has been a more consistent threat to go deep. Mr. Palmeiro has bashed 38 or more home runs in each of the past eight seasons, something only the smallish Cuban first baseman has done. He played more games in the 1990s than Cal Ripken. And the 38-year-old still hasn't landed on the disabled list despite playing most of the 1999 season on a bum knee. That year, he limped around the bases 47 times while batting a career-high .324.

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"Those are the kinds of things that make him special, to be able to be a productive hitter and have great longevity, his ability to deal with injuries throughout a 15-20 year career," Boston pitcher and former teammate John Burkett told the Boston Globe. "Those are the kinds of guys who wind up in the Hall of Fame."

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