Growing up in Baltimore in a family full of Orioles fans, I was exposed to the team on a consistent basis even before I became a fan. Those early years are a bit of a blur when it comes to the O's. A game I attended here, or a name I heard there, filter through sometimes. But I remember hearing about Jim Palmer's comeback attempt.
Palmer was simply the best pitcher the Orioles ever had, possibly the best they ever will. Three Cy Young Awards. Four Gold Gloves. Six All-Star Games. Eight 20-win seasons in a span of nine years, and 268 wins overall. (All the more impressive when you consider that he missed large chunks of five different seasons with injuries.) A career ERA of 2.86. On top of it all, he was the only Oriole to participate in all three of the team's World Championships, winning one game in each World Series (1966, 1970, 1983).
But Jim Palmer didn't quite go out on top. After starting the 1984 season 0-3 and allowing more than a run per inning, the great pitcher was released on May 17 by the O's, 22 years after they'd signed him as an amateur. He was 38 at the time.
Palmer remained in the public eye, broadcasting television games for ABC and continuing to appear in the famous Jockey underwear ads. He was a shoo-in inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1990. But the competitive fire still burned within him, and he announced his intention to rejoin the Oriole pitching staff in 1991, at the age of 45. The sports world was all abuzz when Jim reported to Spring Training wearing the #22 that the O's had retired six years earlier. It was unprecedented for a Hall of Famer to return to action. He made it as far as his first exhibition game, giving up five hits and two runs to the Red Sox in two innings of work and tearing his hamstring. This time, Palmer saw the writing on the wall and hung up his spikes for good.
Comeback attempts are always exciting, though. Even though the end result is usually a disappointment, we root for these men who were once at the top of their game and have become underdogs again through the passage of time and the cylical nature of things. We are forever hoping against hope that the extraordinary can happen - that a man past his physical prime can dominate a young man's game. Jim Palmer's amazing career doesn't leave a whole lot of room for What Could Have Been (save for this game), but you can't help but dream about the headlines if he could have won so much as one last game in Memorial Stadium, a last hurrah for both pitcher and stadium.
Heck, if Jim's up for a challenge, this year's team has a #5 slot in the rotation to fill.