Jim Palmer: A Pitcher Baltimore Could Love

Posted on July 13, 2012

By Stan "The Fan" Charles

One of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game, Jim Palmer -- or as Howard Cosell would have said, "James Alvin Palmer" -- has the honor of now being the third Oriole, and only pitcher, to have a statue of himself placed in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Manager Buck Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette often go on and on about the importance of starting pitching, and yet, through all the great ones the Orioles developed and acquired, Palmer stands at the top of the heap. Mike Mussina and Dave McNally can be tossed in the discussion, but neither had the longevity in O's livery to measure up to No. 22.

How good was "Cakes," as he was called because of his penchant for eating pancakes on the days he pitched? How long did his career span? He was the only player to appear in all of the Orioles' six World Series appearances, which spanned three decades (1966, 1970, 1983). He won games during each of those three series. Palmer won 268 regular-season games, tossed a no-hitter and completed 211 games, while chucking 53 shutouts. Amazingly, Jim had 11 seasons during which he tossed more than 200 innings, including four seasons of more than 300 innings.

Palmer was also the last pitcher to win a game in which Sandy Koufax pitched, Game 2 of the '66 World Series. All the 20-year-old Palmer did was win, 6-0, on a four-hit shutout. You remember that series? That's the one the Orioles had no chance in, until they swept the vaunted and Brooks Robinson leaped to the moon.

Palmer, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, gave his team a better-than-average chance to win on every fourth day, as evidenced by his 63.8 career winning percentage (268-152). But, it's not as if his 19-year career was all wine and roses. There were injuries real and imagined (actually, if Palmer said they were injuries, then they were injuries). Few people know their bodies the way Palmer knew his.

After that 1966 season, the sky was deemed the limit for the smooth, high-kicking Palmer. But arm problems limited him to just 49 innings pitched in 1967, and zero in 1968 as he came back from arm surgery. Think of that for a moment. Palmer went from beating Koufax at 20 to having his career flash before his eyes at 21. It was that period (1967-68) that shaped much of Palmer's supposed hypochondria. But, two things you couldn't question about Palmer were his talent and his heart.

Palmer was able to reestablish his greatness in 1969. Under manager Earl Weaver, and pitching in just 181 innings, Palmer went 16-4. For the next eight seasons (excluding a strike-shortened 1974), he won 20 or more games seven times and nailed down three Cy Young Awards.

It was that stretch of years that set Palmer up for the last chapter of his playing career, when he participated sporadically for six seasons, pitching to an average of about 138 innings per season. There were countless injuries, and the inevitable erosion of his talent, but there was still enough of his greatness to rub off on the likes of the Orioles' last great generation of pitchers: Mike Flanagan, Mike Boddicker, Scott McGregor and Dennis Martinez (and even a one-year wonder named Steve Stone in 1980).

During those last six years, Palmer rallied his body and won 16 and 15 games in 1980 and 1982, respectively. His last win in an Oriole uniform came in relief against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 3 of the 1983 World Series. Ironically, the losing pitcher in that game would be perhaps the game's best left-hander after Koufax, Steve Carlton.

Palmer's last season was 1984; he pitched 17.2 innings, going 0-3, walking 17 and striking out four.

One remarkable stat about Palmer is that in his entire major league career, spanning the aforementioned 19 seasons and 3,948 innings pitched, he never allowed a grand slam (although Johnny Bench did hit one off of Palmer during a Triple-A game).

Palmer, who was adopted and grew up first in New York and then Los Angeles, probably searched for just the right place that felt like home. Professionally, he probably sought out a father figure, who would make him the man he was, and then some. In first Baltimore and then with Weaver he found both … and the rest was, as they say, history.

Posted July 14, 2012


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