How does a Hall of Famer and three-time Cy Young Award winner celebrate his 68th birthday?
Jim Palmer gets to the gym at 6 a.m. He might hit a bucket of golf balls later this afternoon.
“I’m wearing black,” he told me. “I’m in mourning in the morning.”
It’s still morning in Corona del Mar, a town in the affluent city of Newport Beach, Calif. Palmer won’t be there much longer, though. He’s shipping his car to Florida and heading to New Jersey this weekend for a card show. And he’s still not feeling his age.
“You are what you are,” Palmer said. “Dennis Eckersley said, ‘You don’t look a day over 50.’ I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ But it’s how you feel. I feel great.”
His lifetime statistics look the same, no matter how many years pass.
Palmer won 268 games despite being limited to nine in 1967 and missing the entire 1968 season with an arm injury. His career 2.86 ERA in 19 seasons absolutely blows my mind. And consider that it would have been lower had he not posted ERAs of 4.23 in 14 games in 1983 and 9.17 in five games in 1984 before retiring the first time.
Palmer’s comeback attempt in 1991 ended with a hamstring injury in spring training.
That’s not how I’ll remember him.
I’ll always feel sort of a bond because he started the first game I ever attended as a kid, which happened to be Game 2 of the 1971 World Series at Memorial Stadium. Palmer blanked the Pirates for seven innings and the Orioles won 11-3.
I missed school and spent the entire day with my Dad. It just didn’t get any better.
Palmer drew two bases-loaded walks. Richie Hebner, who later managed in the Orioles’ system, hit a three-run homer off him in the eighth. Brooks Robinson went 3-for-3 with three RBIs.
The Pirates may have set a record for the most Bobs pitching in one game: Johnson, Moose, Veale and Miller. But I digress ...
Palmer feels good about the direction that the current Orioles are headed, but he also knows that the pitching has to get “a little bit better.”
“A positive thing is the core players,” he said. “I used to look down on the field and feel like the core players were better on the other team, but that’s not the case now. I think our core players are better. But I think from a pitching standpoint, they just have to get a little bit better.
“Look at how far (Chris) Tillman has come. I know his work ethic. He has a certain edge and toughness, and I think somebody is going to have to be able to instill that in the rest of the staff. If they can get the rest of the guys to be able to take, not even a step, a gigantic leap forward like Chris was able to do... And I mean all facets of the game. Holding runners, fielding his position. He certainly had a chance to win 20 games.”
Palmer did it eight times.
He’s the best pitcher in franchise history, and he’s 68 today. In good health and good humor.
That’s reason to celebrate, even when dressed in black.