High-kicking Jim Palmer spent his entire career with the Baltimore Orioles, becoming the greatest pitcher in their history. Signed in 1963, he replaced the departed Milt Pappas in Baltimore’s rotation in 1966, and led the club with 15 wins. That October 6, he became the youngest pitcher (20 years, 11 months) to win a complete-game, World Series shutout, defeating Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers in Game Two. But Palmer was almost finished by arm, shoulder, and back problems; during the next two years, he pitched in the minors for 17 of his 26 games. He was left unprotected in the draft, but there were no takers.
Finally, thanks to surgery, work in the 1968 Instructional League and in winter ball, Palmer regained his form. He was still disabled for 42 days in 1969, but four days after coming off the DL, on August 13, he no-hit Oakland 8-0. He led the American League in winning percentage (.800) by going 16-4. He won the deciding game of the first AL Championship Series, but lost Game Three of the WS to the Mets.
Having overcome the wildness and arm miseries of his early career, Palmer became one of the most dependable and durable pitchers in baseball. His eight 20-win seasons were interrupted in 1974 when he was downed for eight weeks with elbow problems. Only two other AL pitchers had as many 20-win seasons as Palmer: Walter Johnson (12) and Lefty Grove (eight). He won his first ERA title (2.40) in 1973, when he went 22-9, and his second in 1975 (2.09) when he threw a league-high 10 shutouts and tied for the lead with 23 wins. His 22 victories in 1976 and 20 in 1977 were again league highs. He started more games in 1976-77, and threw more innings in 1976-78 than any other AL pitcher.
Palmer’s three Cy Young Awards were matched only by Steve Carlton (four), Tom Seaver (three), and Sandy Koufax (three). His picture-perfect delivery and all-around athleticism helped him to four Gold Gloves (1976-79). His clutch wins included the Orioles’ pennant-clinchers in 1966, 1969, 1970, and 1971. He established LCS records for strikeouts (46) and complete games (five), and tied records by pitching in six LCS and winning four games.
Meanwhile, Palmer established a much-publicized running feud with manager Earl Weaver. Their love-hate relationship seemed largely theater, and neither man could hide his admiration for the other. Palmer gained more widespread attention in 1980 when, because of his attractive physique and matinee idol looks, he became sports representative and model for Jockey Underwear.
The elder statesman of the Orioles during the 1980s, Palmer added a 16-10 mark in 1980, and a 15-5 record in 1982, good for a league-best .750 winning percentage. Used sparingly in 1983, his last ML win came in relief of Mike Flanagan in the third game of the 1983 WS; he defeated Carlton to become the first pitcher in ML history with WS wins in three different decades. On May 23, 1984, he was released by the Orioles after refusing to go on the voluntarily retired list. He retired as the Orioles’ all-time leader in wins, losses, strikeouts, games, innings, and shutouts. He went on to broadcast on both local and national TV.