Port Charlotte, Fla. — Baseball Hall of Famer and Orioles great Jim Palmer was told he was adopted when he was 7 years old, but it wasn’t until he turned 72 that he got any answers about the mystery of his birth.
Thanks to his wife, Susan, who sent away a DNA test to Ancestry.com and refused to stop digging after that, Palmer found out he is “94 percent” Irish and has a new set of cousins he never knew existed.
From that research and his new cousins, he has discovered the identity of his birth parents and is making up for lost time with his newly extended family.
“After the baseball season, we were going to stay in California for a month and then Susan had to take care of an estate for her father in Beaumont, Texas,” Palmer said. “We had the whole month where she goes, ‘You know what? Do you care if I look for your genealogy and your family?’ ”
Palmer, who won three World Series while spending his entire 19-year major league career with the Orioles, said there had been many occasions over the years when he had been asked whether he cared if he found his biological parents. He even appeared on Sally Jessy Raphael’s daytime show with other well-known personalities who were adopted and took one big thing away from that experience.
“You know, the whole theme of the show was, ‘it’s not about your biological parents, it’s about your real parents,’ ” Palmer said. “Whether it’s biological or your foster parent or adoptive parent or whatever … and I never really knew I was adopted until my grandmother, my mom’s mom who lived with us in Rye [N.Y.] … I just remember on Saturday morning, she just said, ‘You know, you’re adopted.’ ”
He said he was about 7 years old at the time and doesn’t remember it being a particularly traumatic piece of news.
“It was never an issue,” he said. “I don’t think my parents tried to hide it, but it didn’t matter.”
Palmer was still young when he lost his adoptive father, but bonded so well with his stepfather, Max Palmer, that he chose at 12 years old to take his last name.
“I lucked out,” Palmer said. “I won the lottery when it came to my adoptive parents and a stepfather in Max Palmer. So, all the time when you’re playing, people go, ‘Would you like to know [about your biological parents]?’ … But it just never presented itself.
“So, Susan asked me and I said, ‘Why don’t you do that,’ and [the DNA results] came back and I was 94 percent Irish, and then she started reaching out.”
Palmer jokes about how hard she worked after that to connect him to his “new” relatives.
“We would know by now if there was any Russian collusion if Susan worked for Robert Mueller,” Palmer said. “She was on a mission to find out who my real parents were.”
She traced relatives as far away as Ireland, but found first cousin Pat Moroney who had lived just outside New York City. And as luck would have it, Moroney had been a big Palmer fan and went to Yankee Stadium to see him pitch many times without ever knowing they were related.
Palmer contacted him six weeks ago, and got together with him and another newly found cousin, Helen Slattery, who have helped him get to know his deceased parents. Palmer said he saw a photograph of his mother for the first time Saturday.
So, after all this time, how emotional of an experience was that?
“Susan says I don’t get excited about anything,” Palmer said. “I played for Cal [Ripken] Sr. It’s not that you’re not emotional. It’s not that you’re not engaged. I was taught at 18 never to wear your emotions on your sleeve.”
He’s still getting used to the reality of it all, but said that he has really enjoyed getting to know Moroney and Slattery.
“I imagine that, as this progresses, I’ll meet more and more relatives and learn more about where I came from,” he said.