Now more than ever, voters doubting Palmeiro

Hitting a baseball might be the toughest feat in sports, but it's no more daunting than assessing the legacy of a hitter who put up historically significant numbers with the benefit of steroids. With the possible exception of the Kenny Rogers detail, it's the most intimidating challenge that awaits a sports journalist these days.

For most writers fortunate enough to have a Hall of Fame vote, Rafael Palmeiro sure looked like a sure thing. True, he never won a batting title or led the league in homers or RBI, and he never made the All-Star team as a starter or finished higher than fifth in the Most Valuable Player voting. These are the designations that make a candidate's name jump off the ballot and give him true Cooperstown cachet.

But on the strength of his 3,000 career hits and 500 career home runs, Palmeiro appeared certain to make it to Cooperstown through the steady, reliable, Don Sutton-and-Phil Niekro route. Even voters who were inclined to vote for Palmeiro grudgingly couldn't deny he had earned a place among the game's elite.