Palmer pitches a gem at Lions Card Show

By on March 29, 2017
Former Baltimore Orioles great and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer signs  a  jersey  for  a  fan  Saturday  at  the  Ephrata  Lions  Club  Card Show and Auction held at the Rec Center. Lions Club member Jack Forney is at left assisting Palmer. Photo by Preston WhitcraftFormer Baltimore Orioles great and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer signs  a  jersey  for  a  fan  Saturday  at  the  Ephrata  Lions  Club  Card Show and Auction held at the Rec Center. Lions Club member Jack Forney is at left assisting Palmer. Photo by Preston Whitcraft

Former Baltimore Orioles great and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer signs a jersey for a fan Saturday at the Ephrata Lions Club Card Show and Auction held at the Rec Center. Lions Club member Jack Forney is at left assisting Palmer. Photo by Preston Whitcraft

Jim Palmer doesn’t look much different than he did more than three decades ago.

Slim and fit, the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame right-hander seems like he could still blow 90-plus mph fastballs past big-league hitters.

His baseball mind remains sharp, ready to outwit slugger Craig Nettles in Yankee Stadium or trade verbal barbs with legendary O’s manager Earl Weaver.

Dressed in a black Under Armour shirt and black jeans, the 71-year-old Palmer was at the Ephrata Lions annual Card Show and Auction last Saturday, sharing tales from his 19-year career with the Orioles and entertaining visitors with anecdotes about the Orioles’ fiery skipper.

“(Earl) was the master of the negative-positive,” Palmer said. “That was what he did. That was part of his managing strategy.”

The 6-foot-3 Palmer is the only pitcher to earn a World Series win in three different decades, including the 1971 Fall Classic, when he out-dueled the Pirates’ Bob Johnson in an 11-3 win.

That was the same year in which Baltimore had four 20-game winners on their staff in Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson.

But that didn’t stop Weaver from using pitcher Dave Leonhard to help execute his managing style prior to Game Five of the ‘71 World Series against the Bucs.

Although Leonhard compiled a 90-40 career record in the minors, he was just happy to be on the ball club with the Orioles. So he was taken aback when Weaver approached him with the series tied 2-2 at Three Rivers Stadium.

“(Earl) says, ‘Can you get up today and throw because I need you to scare them,’” Palmer smiled. “And Davey goes, ‘If the Pirates scouted us the way we scouted them, getting me up in the bullpen is not going to scare Clemente and Stargell and all them.’ Earl looked at him and said, ‘I’m not talking about Clemente and Stargell and Hebner and Robertson. I’m talking about Palmer and Cuellar and McNally.’ (Weaver’s theory was) if he got somebody up we didn’t want to come in, we’d pitch better.”

Nobody pitched better than Palmer during the decade of the 1970s. His 186 victories during that span, with all eight of his 20-win seasons, topped all MLB hurlers. An adopted child, Palmer’s parents were influential in getting him signed with Baltimore in 1963. He also could have signed with Houston.

“(My parents) just thought the Orioles were the right team,” Palmer said.

The Colt .45s’ loss was the Orioles’ gain.

“I just think the consistency through the 70s (was my proudest achievement),” said Palmer, whose first roommate with the Orioles was Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. “You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that if you could stay healthy and play on the Orioles’ teams, especially the ones from, like, ‘69 on … We had a really good farm system. There was continuity for 20 years and I had the chance to be a part of that. (Robin Roberts) mentored me and I was able to do that same thing with Flanagan and McGregor and Dennis Martinez and Storm Davis and Mike Boddicker and whoever.”

Roberts was just a youngster when the 1920 Chicago White Sox became the first MLB club with four 20-game winners. The Orioles’ 1971 staff is the only other in history to equal that feat.

“(Pitching coach) George Bamberger used to have a cap and he used to put four little lines and then a line … for five, on his Oriole hat,” Palmer recalled. “In the modern age, they change hats like you change relief pitchers, but back then, you got one hat that year. And (Bamberger) said, ‘I’ve got a complete-game clause. If you guys get 50 complete games, I get a $5,000 bonus,’ which would have been a tremendous amount of money back then. We pitched 72 complete games, I think, that year.”

Although relief pitchers weren’t needed very often by the 1971 Orioles, they have become a crucial part of every team’s roster in the current age.

Palmer pointed to the use of relievers out of the bullpen as one of the major differences in the game over the past 40 years.

“It’s a game of how good your bullpen is,” he said.

That, and a more lively ball.

The Red Sox and Rockies each clubbed more than 200 home runs as a team last season. And the Orioles’ Mark Trumbo was one of seven with 40 or more round-trippers, leading all of MLB with 47.

“The ball was juiced last year,” Palmer said. “(Commissioner) Rob Manfred is never going to admit it, but I saw him up at Cooperstown last year and I said, ‘So either the drug testing isn’t working or the ball is going further.’ And everybody I’ve talked to said the ball is going further.”

When it was suggested that maybe the players are just getting bigger and stronger, Palmer said, “Guys are bigger and stronger, but do they hit the ball any further than Frank Robinson hit it or Frank Howard or Harmon Killebrew or Willie Mays or a Mickey Mantle. They can make the ball more lively. They do it in the Home Run Hitting Contest.”

The ‘83 Orioles had a couple sluggers of their own in Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, and Palmer earned his final career in Game Three of the World Series, pitching two innings of scoreless relief in a 3-2 Baltimore win. Fellow Hall of Famer Steve Carlton started and suffered the loss.

“I hurt my back in ‘83, so I had to go to Hagerstown,” Palmer said. “If I’m going to pitch in the post-season, I needed to go down there. I had no qualms with going there. I mean, it made sense. The team’s trying to win, I’m trying to get back on the roster. So I was very fortunate. (Phillies shortstop) Ivan DeJesus lets a ball go through his legs, we win 3-2. I get a win on my 37th birthday.”

Looking at Palmer, that game seems like it could have just happened yesterday.

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