Perhaps Will Clark can replace Rafael Palmeiro the hitter in the Texas lineup, but the man Clark replaces firmly believes the Rangers will miss Rafael Palmeiro the diplomat.
Still stung by the Rangers' failure to sign him as a free agent last December, Palmeiro spoke of his role as a liaison between various groups of players in the Rangers' clubhouse, especially Americans and Latin Americans.
"I felt they treated me with no respect," the Baltimore Orioles' new first baseman said, putting on his new uniform in his new spring training clubhouse. "They didn't appreciate what I did for them."
The Rangers, for whom Palmeiro hit 37 home runs and drove in 105 runs last season, his fifth with them, tried to sign him. He rejected their five-year, $26.5-million offer, and they balked at offering him a $30-million proposal that his agent, Jim Bronner, has said he would have accepted.
Instead, the Rangers signed another free agent, Clark, for $30-million, or about $27-million if the total is discounted for deferred money without interest. Three weeks later, Palmeiro signed with the Orioles for $30.35-million, or about $28-million discounted.
At the time the Rangers signed Clark, they explained that they had preferred to re-sign Palmerio but were concerned that if they waited for him to check out the market they could have lost both him and Clark, so they acted quickly to sign Clark.
As the contract dispute was raging, a friend of Palmeiro said the Rangers would miss his clubhouse presence, and Palmeiro echoed that view.
"I got along with everybody," the Cuban native said.
"I feel I was the leader on the team, on the field and off the field, and they didn't appreciate that. I kept that team going all year. There were a lot of cliques in the clubhouse, and that made the difference. But to them, that wasn't an important issue. What they did was a marketing strategy." Palmeiro said he felt the Rangers decided that Clark was was a "more marketable guy than I am."
That belief did not make Palmeiro feel any better about Clark, whom he hasn't cared for since their days as teammates at Mississippi State University. When the Rangers signed Clark, Palmeiro unleashed a barrage of nasty, bitter comments at him.
Palmeiro, 29, declined to discuss the cliques he said existed in the Rangers' clubhouse, other than to say they were divided along Latin and American lines but also included about three other groups within those larger groups.
"I think it affected the team before last year but not last year," Palmeiro said of the divisions. "We got things straight. I think the attitude of the team was better last year."
Besides his diplomatic efforts, Palmeiro cited the managerial change from Bobby Valentine to Kevin Kennedy as contributing to the improved atmosphere. But even though Kennedy remains the manager, Palmeiro said, he foresees potential trouble.
"I think there's a problem there," he said. "I think there's going to be some friction in the clubhouse. I'm not going to say it will happen. But the biggest difference from what I've gathered is all the guys were upset that the team didn't sign me. They all looked at me as their leader. Now a new guy comes in. It will take some time to adjust."
Palmeiro said players "turned to me" when they needed help and when things weren't going well. One was Juan Gonzalez, a home run champion from Puerto Rico who speaks little English.
"I'm sure he's going to miss me," Palmeiro said. "We were like brothers and he always turned to me. He's not going to have me there anymore. He's going to have to deal with his problems himself."