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A fixture on the mound and in the booth, Palmer to become a permanent part of Camden Yards on Saturday

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Four years into his major league career, Jim Palmer had gone from being a 19-year-old phenom to a World Series hero who outpitched Sandy Koufax before his 21st birthday to a sore-armed 23-year old trying to figure out a suddenly clouded future.

Sidelined after tearing his rotator cuff, Palmer took classes at Towson State.

He earned his license to sell insurance.

He even planned to stay active in baseball if he couldn't pitch again.

"I thought I was going to become a coach," Palmer recalled. "At that point, aside from my parents, the people who influenced me the most were my coaches."

Having pitched only 49 innings in 1967 and then missing the entire 1968 season after undergoing surgery, things seemed to be getting worse for Palmer. After getting lit up for 10 runs on 14 hits over five innings in an instructional league game in Florida, Palmer was ordered by the Orioles front office to go to Puerto Rico to work with pitching coach George Bamberger.

But first Palmer drove back to Baltimore to drop off his car.

"I went to a Bullets game and a friend of mine who worked for Lilly Pharmaceutical told me I should take Indocin, an anti-inflammant, three times a day," Palmer said Thursday. "I started doing that. I had done the rehab, lifting heavy weights. I probably did it wrong. I went down to Puerto Rico and threw on the sideline. I went from 80 miles an hour to 95 miles an hour. The rest is history."

That history — including 268 victories in a 19-year career, highlighted by eight seasons with 20 wins or more, three Cy Young Awards and induction into the Hall of Fame in 1990 — will be celebrated again Saturday.

Palmer, now 66 and still working as one of the team's television analysts, will be honored with a sculpture in his likeness beyond center field at Camden Yards at a 2:15 p.m. ceremony. He will join fellow Hall of Famers Earl Weaver and Frank Robinson, who were honored earlier. Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr. and Brooks Robinson will have similar ceremonies later in the season.

"People think that when you win a Cy Young or an MVP or get into the Hall of Fame, those are individual awards, but they're not," said Palmer, who recently acknowledged selling many of his personal mementos to help pay for the lifelong care needed for an autistic stepson. "Adam Jones was saying that you don't get anywhere without somebody else. I think the same thing applies to me.

"To me, Saturday is all about what people helped me do. It's really symbolic of my parents, my friends, my teammates, the person who scouted me, people like George Bamberger, Cal Ripken Sr., my first minor league manager, they all played a part."

Palmer said his success was, in many ways, attributable to the other Orioles pitchers — from his first roommate, fellow Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, to a rotation that included Dave McNally, Pat Dobson and Mike Cuellar In 1971, Palmer, McNally, Cuellar and Dobson became the first set of four teammates in 51 years to each win at least 20 games in a season.

"There's safety in numbers," Palmer said. "If you don't do it on Monday, they do it on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I think the statue is symbolic of all of them. I think people forget how good they were."

Those who followed Palmer attribute much of their success to him.

"To come up into that situation and have someone who has won 20 games [eight times in nine years], three Cy Young Awards, to have someone like that was unbelievable," former Orioles pitcher Scott McGregor said Friday. "He would teach us, he would talk to us, he didn't teach us to throw like he did, he taught us to plan a game, to study, to command your fastball down in the zone. He would teach us and then he would go out and do it every fourth day. He made us what we are."

McGregor, who came up as Palmer was winning the last of his Cy Young awards in 1976, said the righthander's competitiveness was one of the reasons Palmer and Weaver had such a hate-love relationship.

"I think that's why Jim and Earl went at it so much because they both hated to lose, and both were very smart about the game and weren't afraid to second-guess each other," McGregor said. "Even in the winter time, if we played basketball games or racquetball and you ever got close to beating him, he would turn it up a notch."

Catcher Rick Dempsey, who was traded to the Orioles in 1976, said Palmer had "biggest effect" on him than any other teammate, coach or manager that he encountered during his own 24-year career.

"It was a learning process all the time, but at least I got to learn from somebody who was one of the best at doing what he did," Dempsey said Friday. "It was easy to talk with him about the approach of the other pitchers that were on our team. He had tremendous insight into the way they should orchestrate their games.

"He was a definite perfectionist about the way he went about everything — the windup, the mechanics of how to throw a baseball. He had to be the best, he had to be the guy that knew more about getting hitters out than anybody. He never wanted to give up a game to the bullpen, it was finishing all those games. You don't see that today."

Also remarkable about Palmer's career is his longstanding association with the Orioles. Palmer has been around the team for nearly half a century, the only player to be on each of the organization's six World Series teams and now a broadcaster chronicling its recent history (and misery) that now includes 14 straight losing seasons.

Unlike fellow Hall of Famer Jon Miller, whose candor led to his departure as the team's play-by-play announcer, Palmer has been allowed to speak his mind.

"As a broadcaster, it's pretty black and white," Palmer said. "Did you score more runs than the other team? Obviously, for the past 14 years the Orioles haven't done that. They have to figure out a way to do that…

"We had some pretty dominant ballclubs. I get a good sense of having been a part of that and how fortunate I was to see Frank Robinson and Brooks, to also play with Eddie Murray and see Cal start his streak, I think I was on the mound that day. I got to see all of that."

Said Dempsey: "I still enjoy listening to him. His insight into the game is very informative, even to those of us who have played the game for so long. He still sees things in games that a lot of people don't see, and the reasons why. His approach is magnificent even as a commentator. He never runs out of things to say about a baseball game. He's the best color guy I've ever heard and truly the perfectionist he's always been about the game."

Palmer does not know where his sculpture, which undoubtedly will feature his trademark high leg kick, will be located in relation to the one honoring Weaver. But keeping in the tradition of trading jibes the former diminuitive manager, whose statue is some 7-feet tall, Palmer joked, "Hopefully hovering over."

Despite a relationship that made great fodder for those following the team, Palmer said that he has long given Weaver the credit he deserves.

"When I got into the Hall of Fame, I said that the great thing about playing for Earl was that he trusted me," Palmer said. "He gave me the ball every four days. He might have told a Mike Flanagan, 'Watch what he does', which is the ultimate compliment. When I mentioned it to Earl, he said, 'I told them all that.' He knew I was prepared. I'm sure I probably annoyed him. I know he annoyed me. He allowed me to win all those games. What more can you ask?"

don.markus@baltsun.com

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