A Moment with Jim Palmer

Jim Palmer is the only MLB pitcher to pitch in the World Series in three different decades. Photo Courtesy: Keith Allison
Jim Palmer is the only MLB pitcher to pitch in the World Series in three different decades. Photo Courtesy: Keith Allison

By Will Martin

On a weekend where the Yankees and Red Sox are renewing an infamous rivalry at Fenway Park I was reminded of another team that made the 1970’s and early 1980’s very fun to watch and very memorable.

The team that was in Arlington this past weekend, the Baltimore Orioles.

If you grew up in the East Coast in the 1970’s one thing was a given.

Either you got by Baltimore to win the Eastern Division or you found yourself chasing said team led by Earl Weaver who we lost back on January 19th of this year.

Orioles fans will grudgingly talk about a 90 win season in 1978 that was only good enough for 4th place. In 1980 the O’s would tally 100 wins and still were three short of the Yankees (who were then swept by the Royals).

In 1971 Baltimore became only the second team in baseball history to tally up four 20 game winners. Pat Dobson, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and the last living remainder of that foursome Jim Palmer. In 19 years no one ever hit a grand slam off of Mr. Palmer! Dave McNally in the 1970 World Series the only pitcher to ever hit a grand slam in postseason.

Growing up a Yankee fan in New Jersey in the 70’s I remember going to bed frustrated often in the summers of 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980. Lee May and Ken Singleton were always tough on the pinstripe crew. Ah, those battles with Earl Weaver and Billy Martin. The ten player trade 6/15/76…don’t get me started!

Jim Palmer was a 19 year mainstay on the Orioles staff from 1966-1983. The only ballplayer to have pitched in a World Series game in three different decades. Jim Palmer also waited 17 years between titles (1966, 1983).

In the 1970’s Palmer would amass eight 20 win seasons (elbow troubles in 1974 kept him at 7-12). Three Cy Young Awards in that decade. The summer of 1973 he was untouchable after the All-Star break. Year one of the Designated Hitter.

Career record and ERA of 268-152 and 2.86 his induction in 1990 was a no-brainer. I remember a 1-0 pitchers duel he won at Yankee Stadium 6/1/78 and another game he lost to Catfish Hunter later that summer by a 3-0 count.

A mainstay at ESPN and ABC as a color commentator in addition to other duties at Home Team Sports, Comcast Sports Net, Mid Atlantic and Mid Atlantic Sports Network (HTS, CSN, MASN) he is as much of a fixture with the backdrop of Baltimore as Earl Weaver, Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken Jr. and Johnny Unitas.

May 2009 I was able to get a picture with the Hall Of Famer. This July weekend Jim Palmer took the time to ‘Hang with Mr. Will’ and the Blitz Nation. Here is how that discussion went.

It is always a pleasure when you get to be surrounded by royalty in this great game of baseball. 1973 from the All-Star break onward defeat was something he rarely encountered in the birth year of the Designated Hitter. A 19 year career in Baltimore as a pitcher and now just as involved in the Orioles booth he is Jim Palmer! Jim, thank you for the time. Talk about the year that has been with the emergence of the Orioles and what figures to be a tight American League East.
Well it’s been a great year. Obviously, here with the Orioles you’re coming off a one game playoff to get into the postseason (here in Arlington to defeat the Rangers). So the Orioles do that and I don’t think anybody thought after you go from 69 to 93 wins in a season that you go out and replicate that.

You know, it’s a tough division. The Red Sox are healthy, they’ve made some acquisitions. John Farrell, he came over and he knows them (Blue Jays) because he was their pitching coach, terrific baseball guy. You know it’s going to be a good division.

The Yankees are looking like the Red Sox in 2012. They’re very banged up while (Joe) Girardi has them over .500 that may be very fleeting because they are so banged up and the rest of the league has caught up with them. He’s done a great job and then you have Tampa Bay who-they won again- so they have won 18 of 22 games. Everybody knows how well they can play. David Price is back. Wil Myers is a kid they traded for from Kansas City who led all of the minor leagues in home runs last year so it’s a great division.

The Orioles for the first time have some core players. We have a guy Manny Machado who just turned 21. He just made his first All-Star team. Playing third base and leading the league in doubles with 39 doubles. His range at third base…I played with Brooks Robinson who won 16 straight Gold Gloves. They are very similar.

Brooksie always says, ‘Manny, are you ever going to make an error?’ Well, he’s made six but he’s just a terrific third baseman. The Orioles have the best-at least in my observation-the least amount of errors and the best defense in the American League.

Let’s hope that the starting pitching gets a little bit better and they’ll be in the race but that’s what baseball’s all about. Anybody who knows the American League East knows it’s going to be a very competitive division. You don’t just coast to any division title.

January 19th of this year-and hence the #4 worn on the right sleeve of the Baltimore uniforms-we lost a good one along with Stan Musial. Both signed at age 18 by the St. Louis Cardinals back in their day. Earl Weaver-fiery competitor who did not like to lose. Preferred a three run homer approach to the game compared to Billy Martin going the little ball route. Did you and Earl see eye to eye in terms of your pitching approach and the way Earl wanted games to be played in your day?
Uh…(laughs) no because Earl was 5’6″ and I was 6’3″. (Heavy Laughter) We never saw eye to eye. You know, everybody said we had a love/hate relationship. When I got into the Hall Of Fame (as did Earl) I said one of the reasons-actually there’s a lot of reasons-but some of the reasons are that for one I played for the Orioles and was surrounded by great players.

Number two when you have a manager who trusts you that would give you the baseball every fourth day and will allow you to pitch complete games out there when the game is on the line you can’t ask for any more than that.

(Smiling) Our love/hate relationship was that we both loved to win and we both hated to lose. Earl was a tough guy but I think you can put all that aside because we won. You go to spring training and he’d tell us if you play together and do the things we’re supposed to do we’ll make the postseason…and a lot of the time it turned out to be that way.

Talking with Hall Of Famer Jim Palmer this just popped into my head. We’ve seen a great performance from Detroit Tiger Max Scherzer. He’s 13-1 coming out of the break much like a young man who did the same in 1978 with Ron Guidry.

In that 25-3 season for ‘Louisiana Lightning’ I recall one of his losses was to you-the Orioles I think July 28th of 1978 (it was actually 8/4/78)- when Rich Dauer hit a home run to provide a 2-1 victory for the O’s. Do you see any similarities of Max Scherzer in 2013 to Ron Guidry 1978?
Well, to go 25-3 like Ron Guidry did that year you have to be a very talented pitcher. Ron certainly was and I think he had an ERA of 1.78 and averaged less than two runs per game. He had great stuff. He threw a great slider and a good change-up and would throw between 93-97 miles per hour when he needed to. The Yankees played very well that year.

We saw Scherzer in Detroit. He can throw 93-98 mph and also has a great change up and slider. The Tigers are a great team. You look at the World Series appearances in the last seven years. They are scoring a lot of runs for Max. A great defensive ballclub. When you can pitch at that level and you can strike people out-that’s something Max can do-I don’t know that you start out 13-0 and then lose to (Derek) Holland to get to 13-1. A lot of things have to be going well to be able to do that.

Max is a talented guy who-it’s like a kid who is growing into his clothes. Clothes that are too big when you first bought them-I think he understands his windup now and the stuffs always been there. They’ve done a nice job, Jeff Jones has done a nice job allowing Max Scherzer to mature along with Jim Leyland-manager of the Tigers.

They’ve got themselves a lot with (Justin) Verlander, (Anibal) Sanchez, and (Doug) Fister among others. A really nice pitching staff, especially the starters.

Final question for Jim Palmer and we so appreciateĀ the time. Truly an honor. When you look at all the pitchers who are in the game today is there any one that reminds you of you that you would like to help or mentor? Help get to the next level?
Well we have a guy Chris Tillman who is 11-3 and done a little work with Brady Anderson who was working with those guys in conditioning a couple of years ago down in the University of Irvine. We just talk about mechanics. Trying to be a little more North and South off the mound. Chris went 9-3 last year, he’s 11-3 this year so what, he’s 20-6? There’s only a couple of guys who have been better. Max Scherzer I think is 29-8 since the beginning of 2012.

Chris is a very competitive guy and I think he can be even better. I don’t mean in terms of win percentage but I think his velocity can be more consistent and slider but he’s a guy who has come a long way. He was a guy we got in the Erik Bedard trade along with George Sherill and Adam Jones so obviously a pretty good trade for the Orioles.

Jim Palmer, Hall Of Famer. Long time Orioles hurler and now doing the same in the booth. Thank you for your time. In case you weren’t aware both you and Texas Ranger David Murphy are days apart in the birthday department. October 18th for him and I believe October 15th for you.
(Smiling) but I look younger!