(Check out our other player card posts here.)

If you had to pick one pitcher during the 1970s to deliver big-time win totals while eating up gobs of innings year after year, you couldn’t do much better than Jim Palmer.

Consider what Palmer did during the decade (1970-79):

  • Crafted a 186-103 record with a 2.58 ERA.
  • Allowed 1.142 runners per inning over the course of 2745 innings.
  • Won 20 games eight times (!).
  • Pitched 44 shutouts and logged 175 complete games.
  • Led the American League in innings pitched four times and in batters faced twice.
  • Led the AL in complete games and shutouts one time each.
  • Won three AL Cy Young awards and finished second and third one time each.

And Palmer did all this despite injury-dented years in both 1974 and 1979.

Along the way, he helped his Baltimore Orioles win five American League East division crowns, three AL pennants, and the 1970 World Series.

Add to that a handful of stellar seasons in the 1960s — including the 1966 World Series title and another pennant in 1969 — and it’s no wonder Palmer was a living legend as the 1980s dawned.

But even as the Orioles were trying — unsuccessfully — to overcome the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1979 World Series, things had already started heading south for Palmer.

 

1983 Topps Jim Palmer

 

He was limited to 22 starts during the 1979 season, and his winning record (10-6) belied an ERA (3.30) more than half a run above his career mark at the time.

Palmer rebounded with a 16-10 record in 33 starts in 1980, but his ERA ballooned to 3.98. All bets were off during the strike-shortened 1981 season, so it was hard to know what to make of Palmer’s 7-8, 2.75 ERA.

Still, with a few seasons’ worth of slide behind him, Palmer entered 1982 at age 36 with doubts swirling around him.

Was he finished, or could he put together another dose of that old Palmer magic?

Getting His ERA Under There (I just made you say underwear!)

As the Orioles battled the Milwaukee Brewers down to the wire in the AL East in 1982, Palmer managed to stay healthy enough to log 32 starts.

And he was good enough to post a 3.13 ERA on his way to a gaudy 15-5 record.

That November, Palmer finished second in the Cy Young award vote even though he clearly bested winner Pete Vukovich (of the champion Brewers) on the field.

(Dave Stieb got royally hosed in this vote thanks largely to pitching for the last-place Blue Jays.)

And, as it turned out, that would be the last great stretch of baseball we’d ever see from Jim Palmer.

The next year, he managed only 11 starts among his 14 appearances, and his ERA climbed to 4.23.

Then, in 1984, the arm was just gone. After going 0-3 with a 9.17 ERA, Palmer hung up his spikes.

Over 19 years with the O’s, Palmer racked up 268 wins against just 152 losses, and his lifetime ERA stands at a nifty 2.86.

As you might expect, Palmer was no stranger to great cardboard during his long tenure, and PSA lists 177 different cards in their Palmer master set.

And, just like Palmer’s career itself, his baseball cards got one last breath of greatness.

After Fleer and Donruss crashed Topps’ monopoly in 1981, all three card companies had trouble getting their legs under them. None of the six sets from 1981 or 1982 were landmark issues, even though there were some gems nestled among them.

In 1983, though, Topps came out swinging with a bright and crisp set that harkened back to their roots — specifically, to the picture-in-picture 1963 set.

 

1983 Topps Jim Palmer (back)

 

And there, on card #490, Palmer appears for the last time on a Topps card as a winning pitcher.

He’s in the middle of his famous leg kick, getting ready to deliver the pitch to catcher Rick Dempsey. The sun is shining bright on Palmer’s Orioles home uniform, and the Baltimore crowd is an excited blur as Cakes marches one step closer to Cooperstown.

In the inset circle to the lower right, Palmer’s famous handsome mug is finally starting to show a few lines as he gazes toward an unseen horizon.

It’s as if he already knows that 1982 will be his last real hurrah … and that his 1983 pasteboard will be his last great baseball card.

(Check out our other player card posts here.)

 

 

 

(9) Jim Palmer 1982 Topps #81 Lot

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1966 Topps # 126 Jim Palmer Rookie Orioles RC

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1968 Topps #575 Jim Palmer

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1974 Topps Set Break # 40 Jim Palmer Baltimore Orioles Baseball Card- EX

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