Jim Palmer MLB Career and Early Life


Hall of Famer Jim Palmer spent 19 years pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, winning the most games of any pitcher in the 1970s and also setting the Orioles record for most wins. He’s also well known for his life after baseball, where he had success as a broadcaster.

Palmer reached the big leagues in 1965 on an Orioles pitching staff so good that he only made emergency starts and pitched in mop-up duty. In 1966, he joined a starting rotation that included Dave McNally, Wally Bunker, and Steve Barber.

Over the course of his career, Palmer won 268 games with a winning percentage just shy of 64 percent. He had a lifetime ERA of 2.86 and also pitched 211 complete games. He also won three Cy Young awards and became the youngest pitcher in baseball history to throw a complete game shutout in the World Series.

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Jim Palmer’s Early Life

James Alvin Palmer was born Oct. 15, 1945, in New York City. The son of Irish immigrants, Palmer’s mother gave him up for adoption. A wealthy garment industry executive , Moe Wiesen, and his wife, dress shop owner Polly Kiger Wiesen, adopted Palmer when he was only two days old.

Palmer grew up in a home on Park Avenue with servants. A butler taught Palmer how to throw a baseball at Central Park. Later, the family relocated to Westchester County, However, Wiesen died of a heart attack when Palmer was just nine years old, and Polly moved the family to Beverly Hills, California. She eventually remarried to an actor, Max Palmer, who became Palmer’s adoptive father. Palmer played youth baseball in California with the Beverly Hills Yankees.

But young Palmer wasn’t yet done with changes. The next move came when Palmer was a teen, with the family moving to Scottsdale, Arizona. There, Palmer played high school baseball, football and basketball and graduated with a 3.4 grade point average. He also played American Legion Baseball.

Jim Palmer’s Minor League Career

Palmer had offers to play at the University of California Los Angeles, University of Southern California, Stanford University and Arizona State University. He ended up attending none of them.

On the advice of a coach from Arizona State, Palmer decided to play summer ball for a team in Winner, South Dakota. As fate would have it, the team got good enough to make it all the way to the league finals. And in attendance was Baltimore Orioles scout Harry Dalton. Palmer so impressed Dalton that the team ended up signing Palmer for $50,000.

Palmer played one minor league season in Aberdeen, South Dakota, at a Single-A affiliate managed by Cal Ripken Sr. Palmer finished with an 11-3 record, a 2.51 ERA and threw a no-hitter. That was more than enough to convince the Orioles to bring him up to the big club in 1965.

Jim Palmer’s Major League Career

Palmer earned his first win against the New York Yankees on May 16, 1965. But he spent most of the season as a fill-in starter and reliever, making just six starts and finishing with a 5-4 record. But in 1966, the Orioles promoted him to the starting rotation.

Palmer had a storybook season. He went 15-10 and struck out 147 batters. He won the game against the Kansas City Athletics that clinched the pennant for the Orioles. In Game 2 of the World Series, he pitched a complete game shutout against the Los Angeles Dodgers, becoming the youngest player in baseball history to do it. What’s more, his opponent that day was the legendary Sandy Koufax.

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The Orioles went on to win the series. Palmer also pitched on Baltimore’s 1970 and 1983 championship teams, making him the only pitcher to play for championship teams in three different decades.

Palmer is now considered the best pitcher of the 1970s – he won 20 games or more in all but one season between 1970 and 1978. He won three Cy Young awards in 1973, 1975 and 1976. He also fielded his position well, earning Gold Glove Awards in four consecutive years (1976-1979). Much like you can’t think about the 1970s without considering the rock band Kiss, “Star Wars” and disco, you can’t think about 1970s baseball without considering Jim Palmer.

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Another amazing thing about Palmer: He never gave up a grand slam or back-to-back homeruns.

After retirement following the 1984 season (a comeback bid in 1991 fell short after he pulled a hamstring in spring training), Palmer became known to a whole new generation as a broadcaster. He worked for many years at ABC and ESPN. He now does Orioles broadcasts for MASN.

He’s also appeared many times over the years as a model and spokesman, perhaps most famously for Jockey Underwear.

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