The American League's winningest pitcher in the 1970s, Palmer was a mainstay on six pennant-winning teams.
Q&A: Jim Palmer
Hall of Famer Jim Palmer played his entire career for the Orioles. The only pitcher to win a World Series game in three different decades (the 1960s, '70s and '80s), the right-hander led Baltimore to three World Series Championships, going 7-5 with a 2.61 ERA in the postseason. Palmer played on three All-Star teams, and won four Gold Gloves and three Cy Young awards. He has worked as a broadcaster for ABC and ESPN and now calls games for his former team. SI.com's Sarah Braunstein spoke to Palmer recently about how the game has changed since his playing days, his take on the steroids era and what he learned from Earl Weaver.
SI.com:How has 24/7 media coverage changed the game?
Palmer:When Davey Johnson was managing the Orioles he said that if you wake up on Tuesday morning worrying about decisions you made on Monday night then you're going to drive yourself crazy. Players nowadays have to worry that something they do will be on TV or on YouTube forever. In my day, if you threw a home run, you threw a home run. Nothing you could do about it. I could read about it [the next day], but it's not the same thing.
SI.com:Was game preparation simpler when you were playing?
Palmer:I was a fastball pitcher, so most likely you're going to get [batters] out with fastballs. And once you establish your fastballs, it either moves or it has good velocity, then you adjust from that. It's great to have scouting reports but at the end of the day you have to react to the way the hitter reacts to you. In pitching that is sometimes overlooked. It precludes scouting reports.
SI.com:Were there any batters whom you hated to face?
Palmer:Oh yeah -- Rod Carew, Rickey Henderson, George Brett and Doug Griffin, [a second baseman for the Red Sox and the Blue Jays] whom nobody's ever heard of. He just kept getting hits [off of me]. I think we matched up well. I pitched away, and he liked the ball away -- until Nolan Ryan hit him in the side of the batting helmet [in 1974] and he became a little gun shy.
SI.com:Was it easier to get away with throwing at guys on opposing teams?
Palmer:Well, I didn't really throw at guys, but the answer is definitely yes. I think the players today have to lighten up. We had a period when every time a guy would throw inside the batter would run at the mound, [the pitcher] would get suspended. The umpires are just doing their job, and they mean well, but sometimes, when a pitcher throws up and in, they toss him because they're mind readers and they know it was on purpose? I think that's taking it a little too far.
SI.com:Are we too focused today on pitch counts and speeds and not on what's actually happening in the game?
Palmer:The first time I ever kept a chart for Earl Weaver, Mike Cuellar was pitching. We're playing the Twins, the score is 5-2 in the ninth inning and Cuellar has thrown 135 pitches. He gives up leadoff single and Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, and Harmon Killebrew are coming up. So I walk over and say, "Mr. Weaver, that's his 135th pitch." And he replies, "Get your rear end down to the other end of the bench. I'll let you know when he's tired." Then Carew hit into a double play, Oliva flew out to center field and the game was over. Earl didn't believe in pitch counts, and Mike Cuellar could get you out in a number of ways and could make pitches. And that's when I learned that pitch counts didn't mean anything.
SI.com:Despite being a small-market team, the Orioles were very successful when you played. Why is it so difficult for them and other small-market franchises now?
Palmer:[Baseball] was much more [uniformly] competitive back then. You didn't need a salary cap, no team was outspending the others by as much as they are now. If you drafted someone, you were able to sign him because drafting bonuses weren't as high. Scott Boras wasn't in business. Everybody can say, "Gee we really want to be a winning team." But it's one thing to talk about it and it's another to devote every conscious thought and deed to how they can be better or win a ballgame. I think as a small-market team you really have to have this internal drive.
SI.com:Does all the money in the game today make players less passionate?
Palmer:Nobody's going to admit to that. But human nature tells me that that's going to be the case. In the old days, a pitcher had to win 16 games [in a season] to get a raise, and now you win only 10 or 11 and you get infinitely more money. Because of arbitration you're going to get a raise anyway. Is that conducive to having to make yourself better? That doesn't mean there aren't players who every year look at their [stats] and say, "I want to be better this year." I'm not suggesting that. I just think the system rewards being average.
SI.com:Do you look back fondly on your era because of what has happened since with steroids?
Palmer:I didn't play in a perfect era but I played in a great era because the pay structure -- and the fact that there weren't as many teams -- made you be the best player you had to be. I got a chance to play against some of the statistically greatest players ever before [the era of] performance-enhancing drugs. People could relate to the ballplayers because a lot of them lived in town, especially the Orioles. When I got to Baltimore the highest-paid pitcher was making $32,000 and I said, "Boy, if I ever make that much wouldn't it be great?" The minimum salary was $7,000. Guys lived around the corner [from the ballpark] in an $11,000 row house and would walk to the ballpark.
SI.com:Is the game easier or harder than when you played?
Palmer:I think the challenges are greater now because of all the stuff that has happened off of the field. Whether it's [using] performance-enhancing drugs, or something else, there's an opportunity to make so much money that players take short cuts. I think the game is more difficult now because players are scrutinized more.
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