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KINGS OF THE HILL AGAIN
Ron Fimrite
July 21, 1975
Beset by injuries in 1974, Met Tom Seaver and Oriole Jim Palmer had their poorest seasons. Now rearmed with good health and improved pitches, they have returned to lead their leagues
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July 21, 1975

Kings Of The Hill Again

Beset by injuries in 1974, Met Tom Seaver and Oriole Jim Palmer had their poorest seasons. Now rearmed with good health and improved pitches, they have returned to lead their leagues

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TYPICAL GAMES

PALMER

SEAVER

Pitches thrown

113

119

Strikes

74

75

Balls

39

44

Fastballs

76

75

Curves

15

27

Sliders

12

9

Changeups

10

8

Hits allowed

7

6

Earned runs

2.26

1.94

Walks

2

2

Strikeouts

5

7

(The figures were derived by taking the 1975 totals in each category, dividing them by the number of innings pitched and multiplying by nine. All figures except earned runs have been rounded off to the nearest whole number.)

No one is more keenly aware of athletic mortality than a baseball pitcher. His arm is his livelihood, and that ordinarily durable member is so cruelly abused in the course of his working day that, in time, it becomes as fragile as a butterfly's wing. Of necessity, a pitcher regards his arm not so much as a part of his body as an exotic pet to be coddled, pampered and, above all, protected. For if the arm goes, so will the pitcher.

The pitching arm is imperiled by any bodily malfunction. A sore toe can bring about a minute adjustment in the pitching motion that can damage the arm and wreck a career. The motion itself is so delicately structured that the slightest alteration, the tiniest departure from ritual, can hasten disaster. The delivery is even vulnerable to sabotage from the psyche. The right arm of former Pirate Pitcher Steve Blass survived 10 years in the big leagues, but because of some undiagnosed malady of the subconscious, his motion did not. And his once luminous career was ended.

Every time a pitcher ascends the mound he stands before the abyss. Fortunately, most pitchers are able to set aside this disturbing fact. For others, the reality is always there. They have looked into the abyss and narrowly escaped the terminal plunge. They are wiser for the experience.

Two such pitchers are Jim Palmer of the Baltimore Orioles and Tom Seaver of the New York Mets. Both suffered injuries a year ago that resulted in their worst seasons and threatened their careers. They have recovered and are en route to their best seasons. Considering their past performances, that is no small matter.

Palmer won 20 or more games every year from 1970 through 1973. He has a career record of 142-75 and an earned run average of 2.68. He was named the American League's Cy Young Award winner in 1973. Seaver, who has had three 20-victory seasons, is a two-time National League Cy Young winner. In three years he has led the league in both strikeouts and ERA. He is the first National League pitcher to strike out 200 or more batters seven years in succession, and he shares the major league single-game strikeout record of 19. He has a career record of 159-92 and an ERA of 2.41.

Both Seaver and Palmer have been World Series heroes. Both are handsome, intelligent and articulate men who are team leaders and spokesmen. They share a scholar's curiosity about their game and probably are the two best all-round pitchers in baseball today. Certainly many of the men who bat against them think so. "Seaver's the best pitcher around," says the Cards' hard-hitting Ted Simmons. "Palmer's top in the American League in my book," says Lee Stanton, even though one of his Angel teammates is the reigning fastballer, Nolan Ryan. But last year Seaver had an 11-11 record and Palmer was 7-12. They were at the abyss.

Seaver recalled those grim times while polishing off a steak in an Atlanta restaurant last week. He looked pained. "I had had a tender shoulder in 1973," he said, "so I went to spring training last year with the idea that I was not going to hurt my arm. I didn't push myself throwing. I felt it would all be there when I needed it. When the season opened, I tried to throw hard and nothing happened. Then I tried to compensate by overstriding. The constant pounding, the strain, put my pelvic structure out of balance. The muscles in my back were pulling down. There was pain in my hip." He pressed a fork down on the table for emphasis. "My mechanics were all wrong. I couldn't get far enough out of my problem to look at it. I was scared. Throwing off balance like that, I could have easily hurt my arm."

He consulted Dr. Kenneth Riland, an osteopath who includes among his patients Vice-President Rockefeller. "I didn't believe that something like that could be cured overnight," Seaver continued. "But Dr. Riland just said, 'Your pelvic structure is out of balance,' and he began yanking here and pulling there. Suddenly the pain was gone. My last game of the season I struck out 14."

Palmer sat by a motel pool in Oakland, basking in the sun and in his own rediscovered glory. He is no stranger to adversity, having missed almost all of the '67 and '68 seasons with back and shoulder injuries. Last year he was on the disabled list from June 20 to Aug. 13. He had lost seven consecutive games when he went on the list. He had never before dropped more than three straight.

"I hurt the ulnar nerve, which runs through the elbow," he said, tracing the course of the injury on his tanned right forearm. "The pain went from my elbow to my hand. I thought it was just tendinitis at first, but my wrist was so tender I couldn't even touch it. After I was put on the list, I went to Los Angeles to see Dr. Robert Kerlan. He prescribed six weeks of rest, hot and cold water treatment and medication to reduce the inflammation. I could have had an operation to move the nerve over, but after three weeks the pain eased. We were playing so poorly, I felt I'd better make a comeback. I pitched well in my last 16 games, but I was still not certain of my arm. I had a tingling there. It's hard to live with the feeling your talents are diminishing. Your arm is what you are."

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