Next on my favorite Oriole hit list is Jim Palmer.
Look at that windup! You can’t really see it (except if you look at this video) but Palmer, when he wound up, would start by raising his left leg really high and dropping his right arm really low behind him. He looked like a giant crane. Elegant, all arms and legs.
Palmer reached the majors at 19 and in his second season (1966) he pitched well enough to earn a start in the O’s World Series tilt against the Dodgers. In game two, Palmer faced Sandy Koufax (one of the greatest pitchers of all-time). Palmer beat Koufax 2-0, pitching a complete game, four hitter. Everyone thought he was on his way.
He started 1967 off well, tossing a one hit shutout against the Yankees, but then struggled. He later said his arm felt sore during the Yankee game and he lasted only one inning in his next outing. He was sent back to the minors and he feared his career might be over; he actually looked into becoming an infielder. Fortunately he didn’t.
He spent all of 1968 in the minors, but only managed to throw a total of 37 innings. Things looked bad. So bad, that he was placed on waivers, no one picked him up. Then, he was left open for the expansion draft, but neither Seattle nor Kansas City saw fit to pick him. The end looked near.
Miraculously, during a stint in the Puerto Rican Winter League, his arm started to feel better. He would be called back up to the majors in 1969, joining the new Orioles manager, Earl Weaver. These two would spend much of their careers together. Both thought they were the smartest guy in the room, so neither took well to the other. Yet, they flourished together. Palmer eventually wrote a book about their relationship, it was entitled “Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine.” Weaver was known for being vertically challenged. Palmer was 6’4″.
The center fielder for those great Orioles teams was Paul Blair. Sadly, Blair died just this past year. Blair believed that Palmer and Weaver were good for each other. He said that before Weaver, when Palmer did not have his best stuff, he’d tell the manager, then Hank Bauer, that he felt a twinge in his arm and ask out of the game. Bauer would oblige. After Weaver took the helm of the O’s, he wouldn’t take Palmer out when Palmer would complain. Palmer had to learn to pitch with less then his best. “So Palmer learned to get his fastball over, his curveball over,” said Blair, “and he learned to pitch because he was going nine. Earl made him grow up a little.”
For the years I was an Orioles fan – 1969 to 1972 – Palmer was exceptional.
- 1969, 16-4, 2.34 ERA, 181 IP, ERA+ of 152
- 1970, 20-10, 2.71 ERA, 305 IP, ERA+ of 134
- 1971, 20-9, 2.68 ERA, 282 IP, ERA+ of 126
- 1972, 21-10, 2.07 ERA, 274 IP, ERA+ of 149
Palmer would win 20 games 8 times and lead the league in wins twice, ERA twice, innings pitched 4 times, and win three Cy Young awards (the award for best pitcher in the league for the year). Since integration, Palmer had the second most 20 win seasons.
- Warren Spahn – 13
- Jim Palmer – 8
- Fergie Jenkins – 7
- Bob Lemon – 7
- Roger Clemens – 6
- Steve Carlton – 6
- Juan Marichal – 6
- Robin Roberts – 6
The only one of those guys not in the Hall of Fame? Roger Clemens.
Only six players, since integration have tossed more then 3,500 innings with a career ERA+ over 125:
- Roger Clemens – 4,916 IP with 143 ERA+
- Randy Johnson – 4,135 IP with 135 ERA+
- Greg Maddux – 5,008 IP with 132 ERA+
- Tom Seaver – 4,783 IP with 127 ERA+
- Bob Gibson – 3884 IP with 127 ERA+
- Jim Palmer – 3948 IP with 125 ERA+
The only guys not in the Hall of Fame? Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. Johnson will be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time next year and will most likely get in on his first go round, like Greg Maddux did this year. Makes me realize that I grew up seeing nearly all of these great pitchers. Bob Gibson was at the tail end of his career, retiring in 1975.
An aside. Clemens is a jerk, but the whole steroid thing is such a problem. Can you really keep Clemens out of the Hall of Fame? Can you keep the greatest home run hitter of all time – Barry Bonds – out of the Hall of Fame? How can you really tell who did and did not do steroids? Just because some guys got caught and others did not? This is a vexing issue for which we don’t really have an answer. I say, let them all in. Fans will know that steroids played a role in the careers of some of the Hall of Famers, but the Hall of Fame should have the greatest players in it. Aside complete.
Here is something to end on with Jim Palmer. Many fans, and many women fans, know Palmer most for the television advertisements he did for Jockey underwear at the very end of his career and after he retired. “It’s nice that people think I look good in underwear. It’s very complimentary. But what does it have to do with reality?” said Palmer back in 1985. Here is Palmer in his Jockey briefs: