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In elite company

In elite company

On the marquee of baseball's most prolific slash-and-mash hitters, three names burn brightest:

Hank Aaron. Willie Mays. Eddie Murray.

Until now, the only men with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. High-voltage names who walked under a spotlight their whole careers.

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In contrast, Rafael Palmeiro is a nightlight. Steady. Reliable. Inconspicuous. Taken for granted.

Palmeiro's initiation into this most exclusive 3,000-500 club is confirmation for a most remarkable 19-year career, distinguished by consistency, few peaks or valleys, definitely no October stages.

He has never won a batting title, nor a home-run crown. But here he is, the 26th to collect 3,000 hits and among 20 to slug 500 homers, one of only four to combine the numbers (for the record, Aaron, Mays and Murray collected nine homer and three batting titles).

Something else Palmeiro has never done -- play on a pennant winner -- both distinguishes and obscures him. Of the earlier 3,000 hit men, only Rod Carew never played in a World Series.

Absence of that national exposure has unquestionably denied Palmeiro, the Quiet Superstar, his due appreciation on the periphery ... media, fans, Madison Avenue.

But inside the walls, they know. Former teammates and hardened viewers of the baseball parade know, recollect and hail Raffy.

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
Palmeiro teammate: Rangers 2001-03

"He is an icon to all Latin players and someone I truly admire, especially him being from my hometown, Miami.

"He's a no-nonsense kind of guy. When you go about your business the right way, keep your mouth shut ... he's kinda kept a very stealth profile. That said, the numbers he is putting up are staggering. When he's in Cooperstown, people will realize how great he is. When you stack up all his numbers against other great ones, people will take a step back and say, 'Wow, this guy's incredible.'

"I don't think he's been underappreciated by his peers. We all know how great he is. I do think the media and fans have overlooked him. A lot of people will be surprised to see him reach this level, but I'm not -- I was his teammate."

Greg Maddux, Cubs
Cubs, 1986-88

"He has effortless power, is very quick inside, has a good idea of the strike zone and is a true professional."

Pure Palmeiro 3,000/500 Club

Julio Franco, Braves
Rangers, 1989-93

"He's surprised a lot of people. But I don't think there's a more deserving guy to get it than him. He's a class act and he's a great hitter."

Esteban Loaiza, Nationals
Rangers 1999-2000

"He has so many years in the big leagues and at the age he is at right now, he is still swinging the bat. When I was with him at Texas, he was a leader. He was a great person and a great ballplayer. A lot of players looked up to him. I admired seeing him play the game the way it is supposed to be played."

Frank Catalanotto, Blue Jays
Rangers 2000-02

"I'm happy for him. He's a great player and a great hitter, but this just shows how good a hitter he really is. It's one thing to hit for power for so long, but it's another thing altogether to do that and wind up with so many hits."

Buddy Bell, manager, Royals
Rangers 1989

"He's just one of the most pure hitters I've ever seen. He's very patient. He stays within his swing all the time. I don't think I've ever seen him out of his swing, in terms of swinging too hard. He's just got the classic swing.

"He's probably one of the most underrated hitters that's ever played the game. ... You don't really hear much about him. He's also a helluva first baseman."

Kevin Mench, Rangers
Rangers, 2003

"For him to be able to do that says a lot about his consistency and his approach to the game. It's really amazing. He takes care of himself and he knows what it takes to stay on the field all these years. He's a lock for the Hall of Fame."

Lou Piniella, manager, Devil Rays

"He's had a marvelous career. He's had one of the easiest swings with weight shift. Been one of the most prolific home run hitters of our age. You know, he's headed to the Hall of Fame. He's a professional."

Rudy Jaramillo, batting coach, Rangers
Rangers, 1999-2003

"He's is in great company and he has put in the time. He's always good at having a plan and the mental approach to the game. He's a complete hitter who used the entire field as young hitter but learned to pull the ball and became one of the best home run hitters. He loves to play and he deserves everything he gets after he is done."

Laynce Nix, Rangers
Rangers, 2003

"I watched him play while I was growing up and you have to hand it to him, he is still playing and putting up numbers. He has earned everything he has in this game and he has worked very hard to be where he is. I wish him all the best."

Scott Erickson, Dodgers
Orioles, 1995-98

"Basically, he's got great, great hands. He uses a small bat, gets on the plate and consistently gets wood on the ball. He can't do 3,000 hits and 500 home runs without hitting the ball hard and that's what he does. To last that long and get those numbers, you've got to hit the ball hard. He doesn't take a long swing. Just uses his hands and drops the head."

Royce Clayton, Diamondbacks
Rangers, 1999-2000

"He was a great teammate. When I came over to Texas, my sixth or seventh year, and he'd been around a long time, he just had that calming influence. You couldn't tell if he was four-for-four or oh-for-four. He's very even-keeled and wasn't afraid to be light-hearted. He has a great personality and he's a guy you really enjoy playing with.

"I don't know anybody that didn't get along with Raffy. He's one of those very few people that is able to get along with everybody, very quiet, but when there was something that needed to be said, he wasn't afraid to speak up. He's just one of those great teammates you have over the course of your career.

"I know he's paid his dues, he's been around the game for a long time, he's established himself as an unsung hero because even though he's done the things he's done, nobody knows who Rafael Palmeiro is except for the people that he's playing ... he's one of those most underrated superstars in the game."

John Thomson, Braves
Rangers, 2003

"You don't think of him being in that kind of group because he's not getting 50 homers a year and he's not getting 200 hits a year. That means he's been healthy that long and been able to hit that long. He's just got one of those swings that makes him capable of doing that."

Mike Mussina, Yankees
Orioles, 1994-98

"He was a good guy in the clubhouse: Never rocked the boat, went out and did his job, went about his business the way you're supposed to. He fit in nicely with the team we had -- with Robbie Alomar and Cal (Ripken Jr.) and Mike Bordick. We blended together pretty well.

"I think he's accomplished a lot of things people did not expect of him. He hasn't played on high-profile teams and hasn't been to the postseason too often ... but to play as long as he has, and put up the numbers he has -- it's impressive."

Ruben Sierra, Yankees
Rangers, 1989-92 and 2000-01

"For me, it was an honor to play with him. He was very quiet, liked to work on his own. He helped guys when they wanted to be helped. Otherwise, he didn't bother people; he stayed out of the way, doing what he needed to do.

"I want to see him get all that he deserves. People don't recognize him the way they should, but the numbers don't lie. God knows how hard he's had to work to get there. I appreciate the way he has worked hard his whole career."

Cal Ripken Jr., retired
Orioles, 1994-98

"I had the pleasure to play with Raffy and watch him hit each and every day for several years. He is one of the most natural hitters I have ever seen, and he has one of the sweetest swings in the game. The fact that he reached 3,000 hits and 500 home runs shouldn't surprise anyone. He will end up in the Hall of Fame one day, unless he plays forever, which seems like a real possibility."

Joe Torre, Manager

"In baseball, we all are very respectful of what he's done. But he's played a position where there have been a lot of big boomers that have gotten a lot of attention. Palmeiro is more of a line-drive guy that hits his home runs; there's really not a lot of fanfare that goes with it. Still, to play that long at that level is very special."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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