Jim Palmer’s pitching motion was easy and fluid, with a compact delivery and a high leg kick.
Opposing batters, who initially were jockeying for position to hit against the right-hander, found out that hitting against Palmer wasn’t easy as cake. Or, Cakes, as Palmer was called, because of his habit of eating pancakes on the day he pitched.
Palmer’s work on the mound was nothing short of artistic. His 268-152 record and three Cy Young Awards helped the Baltimore Orioles to six American League pennants and three World Series titles. He’s the only pitcher with a World Series victory in three different decades, and amazingly, he never allowed a grand slam during his career.
In 19 seasons, Palmer had an ERA under 3.00 10 times, including a 2.09 mark in 1975 that was achieved thanks to an A.L. leading 10 shutouts. He won 186 games during the 1970s — the most of any major-league pitcher that decade.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1990, has been a successful broadcaster, and earned plenty of fame as a spokesman for Jockey underwear.
To commemorate the eight times he won 20 or more games, here’s a look of eight cool, old Jim Palmer baseball cards.
1966 Topps rookie card — The 1966 Topps set featured three rookie cards of future Hall of Fame pitchers — Ferguson Jenkins and Don Sutton shared their cards with other players, but Palmer (card No. 126) had a card to himself.
Palmer was 19 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 17, 1965, at Fenway Park, entering the game in relief of another Hall of Famer, Robin Roberts. He struck out the first batter he faced, as Tony Conigliaro was caught looking. He would strike out 2,211 more batters in his career.
In 1966, he became the youngest pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout in the World Series, beating Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers 6-0 in Game 2.
A total of 2,265 cards of this rookie card have been submitted to PSA, but none have been graded a 10.
There are 60 PSA-9s in existence. Of the 420 in the SGC database, only one graded as high as 96, with five at 92.
It’s an easy card for collectors to find on eBay, with prices for crease-free examples ranging from $50 up to around $300 for a graded ‘8’.
1966 Topps Venezuelan — Basically the same card (No. 126) as the Topps regular set, this is much harder to find in high-grade. One reason was that the cards were printed on darker cardboard and had little or no gloss. Another was that collectors in South America tended to mount ca rds in scrapbooks or albums, damaging the card backs in the process.
There are only three SGC registered versions of this card, with the highest grade being a 60. PSA does not fare much better, with 25 registered cards. There is, however, one PSA-7 card. The lower grade examples more commonly found really aren’t that expensive with a few currently available on eBay.
1974 Topps Puzzle Proof — This was one of Topps’ oddball test issues during the mid-1970s, and the 40-piece jigsaw puzzle created a color photo that measured 4 ¾ by 7 ½ inches. Centering was a key issue for this set, and it’s extremely difficult to find a high-graded version because, after all, it was a puzzle. Collectors would fit the pieces and then take them apart, and damage was inevitable.
The proof is a much nicer (and more scarce) issue since it is simply a photo without the jigsaw pieces, printed on double thick stock. We’d go so far as to say this one of Palmer’s coolest Topps issues. However, it’s likely that fewer than a dozen proofs exist.
You can usually buy the final product–a 1974 Topps Palmer Puzzle, rare in its own right–for around $100-$125.
1977 Venezuelan Sticker — This wasn’t a card, but a thin sticker with a blank back. Palmer was sticker No. 160 in this 402-piece set. His sticker is by no means the most expensive — Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson and George Brett are the most coveted players — but you’ll pay about $100. Only six have been sent to PSA, and none of them grade above good (PSA-2).
1967 Topps — Palmer’s second Topps card was released in the product’s sixth series that year (card No. 475). It’s not a difficult card to find, and in fact, many of Palmer’s base cards are quite reasonable.
Still, only one card sent to SGC (out of 135) has come back graded 98; two graded out at 96. And, there is only one gem mint (PSA-10) out of 1,061 submitted.
1967 Topps World Series Game 2 — Again, not a difficult card to find for a reasonable price, but it is a perfect example of one of the more attractive World Series subsets put out by Topps. It really represents the moment Palmer emerged as one of the game’s top young stars. The television design, framed by a wood-grain look, features Palmer in mid-pitch during his shutout victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Orioles’ 6-0 victory put Baltimore halfway to a stunning sweep of the defending World Series champions and marked Koufax’s final pitching appearance.
That October 6, 1966, game was marked not only by Palmer’s shutout, but by Willie Davis’ three errors in one inning. Davis lost two straight fly balls in the sun at Dodger Stadium and then threw wildly after dropping the second one.
You can own a pretty nice one for under $10.
1971 Topps — This was the year Palmer was part of the Orioles’ starting rotation that produced four 20-game winners — only the second time it had happened in baseball history (the 1920 Chicago White Sox were the first). Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson combined for an 81-31 record, with McNally leading the staff with 21 wins. The Orioles went 101-57 but lost the World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games.
Palmer’s ’71 Topps card (No. 570) suffers from much of the same issues that plagued the entire set. The black backgrounds chipped easily and corners seemed to get dinged by just looking at them. The Palmer card mirrors that difficulty, with only one gem mint card in the PSA registry. There are four that grade out SGC-96.
An ungraded crease-free example is usually under $25.
Palmer missed most of the 1967 season and all of 1968 with arm troubles. He had surgery and regained his form during the ’68 season while playing winter ball and also in the Instructional League. He returned to the majors in 1969 and it became clear pretty quickly, he was back. Palmer went 16-4 and pitched a no-hitter before the season was over.
The card’s clean design is popular with collectors. Even a graded NM example is under $30 with decent ungraded singles available for under $15.
Fun fact: The Orioles actually left Palmer unprotected in the October 1968 expansion draft, but neither Kansas City nor Seattle claimed him. Imagine how Orioles history — and Palmer’s career — might have changed had he left Baltimore.
That’s an interesting thought to consider as the majors’ winningest pitcher of the 1970s turns 70.