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No. 500 a thing of beauty
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05/11/2003 11:04 PM ET
No. 500 a thing of beauty
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 John Schlegel

Rafael Palmeiro launches his 500th home run using the same beautiful stroke that connected for 499 other long balls. (Donna McWilliam/AP)
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ARLINGTON -- The swing was pure, the contact effortless, the flight majestic, like so many of the 499 before it.

Rafael Palmeiro's 500th homer was an absolute thing of beauty, not only for its historic value as only the 19th time a Major League player has hit a 500th homer, but for its fitting simplicity.

The real beauty of Raffy's milestone is that you could take a picture of homer No. 500, put it next to hundreds of others and you might only be able to tell the difference by the particular uniform he's wearing. This was the same ol', same ol' -- only this was like none other.

This one had the added weight of expectation, anticipation and urgency, coming on the last day of a homestand in Texas. A man of great balance and consistency, Palmeiro turned it up a notch this week because wanted so desperately to hit No. 500 in front of the home fans, his family and friends.

All that weight. All that wait.

Yet the homer itself had all the effort and all the burden of a wispy cloud in the Texas sky, a canopy that finally broke out some beautiful blue Sunday after a week of suffocating gray.

During that week, which was played under the gray conditions of a difficult homestand for the Rangers, and a sometimes a painful process of an individual seeking a milestone, the Rangers probably saw more "un-Raffy-like at-bats," as Rangers manager Buck Showalter called them, than they'll see in the next month.

Who could blame him? The man wanted this chase over with as soon as possible, so he could go about the business of simply being a part of a team trying to get its season headed in the right direction.

But the historic swing was very Raffy-like, indeed.

"That's him -- short, quick hands and not trying to muscle the ball out," Showalter said. "He learned at a very young age what works for him, and he's stuck with it.

"We've always talked about how selective he is, and I think he was frustrated the last few games and got out of that a little bit. He was trying to please everybody. Raffy's a pleaser."

When it comes to baseball swings, perhaps nothing's more pleasing to the eye than a left-handed hitter putting an artful stroke on the ball the way Palmeiro can do it.

And that's exactly what launched No. 500.

"That was classic," said Rangers GM John Hart. "That'll be a great highlight home run. I had a chance to watch the tape of it several times, and you could see the ball jumped out real quick. He had a classic Raffy swing -- well-balanced and smooth and good extension. Goodbye."

And hello 500 Homer Club.

For Palmeiro, putting his name among the great power hitters of the game was something he couldn't quite grasp before Sunday. And he couldn't quite do it as he absorbed the enormity of his accomplishment after Sunday's game.

Mickey Mantle. Babe Ruth. Ted Williams.

Rafael Palmeiro?

"Obviously, I've hit 500 home runs so I belong in that 500 Club, but when you talk about guys like Mantle and Ruth and Williams, I'm not as good as they were," the slugger himself said. "Those guys were the greatest of all time. I've just been able to scrape together some good years and stayed healthy and gotten there. I don't put myself in some of those guys' group. They're the best of all time."

Maybe he doesn't rank with them -- at least not yet. But it's kind of impossible not to mention Palmeiro among the top home-run hitters in baseball history.

"That's fine," he said. "I'll accept that."

Thing is, Palmeiro's making it clear that he's not nearly done. One goal he has mentioned and certainly has a chance to accomplish is reaching 3,000 hits -- another of baseball's other most hallowed hitting milestone. And there's good reason to believe that he can do it, considering he's at 2,666 and counting and he's still cranking out the hits at age 38.

Now, if he manages to do that, then he'll really be in select company. Only Hank Aaron (3,771 hits/755 homers), Willie Mays (3,283/660) and Eddie Murray (3,255/504) have been able to burst through both of baseball's most-hallowed barriers.

With that goal in mind, Palmeiro joked that he might make an adjustment in that sweet swing of his.

"Yeah, I'm going to go back to my Punch-and-Judy days, hit the ball the other way, start bunting the ball a little bit," he said.

The irony is Rafael Palmeiro's stroke is so effortless, so pure, that he might just hit an other 100 homers by accident, even if he were trying to slap singles all over the park.

It's that pretty. And make no mistake: Sunday was the most magnificent moment for one of baseball's most beautiful swings.

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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