Why Jim Palmer wasn't afraid to walk someone with the bases loaded

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1965, Jim Palmer recorded his first major league victory.

Jim Palmer was 19 — long, lean, loose and wildly athletic, a remarkably confident kid who threw high fastballs until someone hit one. And for nearly 20 years, not many hitters did.

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Palmer is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, one of eight pitchers in the history of the game to win at least 268 games with at least a .638 winning percentage. Palmer won three Cy Young Awards and finished second twice. He won 20 games eight times in a nine-year span. He won a World Series game in three decades. In the greatest stretch in Orioles history — 1966 to 1983 — the only one there for all of it was Jim Palmer, the common denominator. He was the leader of one of the best pitching staffs of all time, the 1971 Orioles, who had four 20-game winners. And he was brash enough to stand up to Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver.

“The only thing you know about pitching,” Palmer told Weaver, “is that you couldn’t hit it.” Palmer could hit. On the day he won his first major league game, he hit a home run off Jim Bouton. Palmer also won four Gold Gloves. And he could run. He was the leading scorer every winter for the Orioles’ basketball team. He excelled at tennis, golf, most anything.

His career is filled with amazing numbers, but none more than this: In 3,948 innings, he never allowed a grand slam. I asked him about the closest he came to giving up a grand slam and, 30 years later, he took me through that inning, pitch by pitch, in Cleveland in 1977. Rico Carty hit a ball over the center-field fence, but Al Bumbry reached over and pulled it back.

Palmer told me that he occasionally would unintentionally intentionally walk a hitter with the bases loaded, not so he could protect his slam-less career but because he knew he could get the next guy out and figured walking in a run was a much smarter move. So I found the 12 batters he walked with the bases loaded. A few years ago, I went to Palmer and told him that I have a list that related to his career, and he had to figure it out. I got maybe three names into the list of 12.

Carlos May … a couple of others, and Palmer looked at me.

“Oh,” he said, “those are the guys I walked with the bases loaded.”

Other baseball notes from May 16

  • In 1986, Oakland’s Tony Phillips hit for the cycle at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. That was one of only 15 triples hit in that ballpark all season. In 1985, only 11 triples were hit there, proving that it was harder to hit a triple at Memorial Stadium than it was at Pimlico Race Course.

  • In 1953, pitcher Rick Rhoden was born. On June 11, 1988, I covered the Orioles-Yankees game at Yankee Stadium in which Yankees manager Billy Martin started Rhoden as the DH, the first pitcher to start a game at a position other than pitcher since the rule was adopted in 1973. Rhoden hit seventh in the order, ahead of shortstop Rafael Santana and catcher Joel Skinner. Rhoden hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning.

  • In 1959, pitcher Bob Patterson was born. He was a good left-handed reliever for many years, but he was also very handy and resourceful. He would, among things, restring his teammates’ gloves while he sat in the bullpen. “Saturday,” said Pirates coach Rich Donnelly, “he’s coming over to reupholster my couch.”

  • In 1970, Rico Carty’s 31-game hitting streak ended. He was a great hitter but not a trusting guy. “He used to carry his wallet in his back pocket when he played,” said Dusty Baker, a onetime teammate. “Sometimes he would carry loose change in his uniform pocket. When he rounded third and headed home, it sounded like Santa Claus was trying to score.”

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