Jim Palmer celebrated his 74th birthday last Tuesday. The Hall of Fame pitcher, who’s been a longtime Orioles broadcaster, spoke last Friday from his home in Southern California about the current state of the Orioles, and his health. Palmer missed the last few weeks of the season after he was diagnosed with myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord, which he disclosed on Twitter.
This interview has been condensed for clarity and brevity.
Question: Based on the first year of the new Orioles regime, do you think, despite the record, the season was a success?
Answer: “It’s a difficult question in a sense because you have to understand the whole timing. [General manager] Mike Elias comes on, right before Thanksgiving. That would be the 16th of November. You’ve got to hire a manager. You’ve got to hire coaches. You don’t have your people in. It’s very hard to hire people.
“Right after he got the job, he called me, and said it’s very hard to find coaches. A lot of people have already been signed on. It’s a totally new environment. I’m not sure how much other than relying on [former minor league director] Brian Graham, how much you know about your minor league players.
“It’s not like someone told Mike Elias last June, so even though while you work for the Astros, spend the next three or four months getting ready to take over in November.
“There were obviously certain guys that were revelations. Hanser Alberto comes to the top. In a perfect world, you say that, OK, this guy is a perfect platoon player, maybe a National League player. He can play all over. He hit a couple of points under .400 against lefties. He doesn’t steal a lot of bases, but he can run a little bit. He’s young , so if you look at the young position players, you say, ‘OK, this kid can play a little bit.’
“What if the ball is not the same as it was? It’s a tough year to judge your team. If you look at the Orioles, they won seven more games than they won in 2018. They scored more runs than they did in 2018. Now, is that the ball? I don’t know.”
“You found out that [manager] Brandon Hyde could get these guys to play with great energy. They play hard, even though they may be outmanned. It’s easy to throw in the towel. I don’t think the Orioles ever really did that.
“I think it’s hard to quantify whether the year is a success. Everything was kind of done on the fly.”
Q: Two pitchers that are intriguing to many people are John Means and Hunter Harvey. What are your thoughts on them?
A: “John Means, what an opportunity. He took advantage of it. He’s the poster boy for what you want from the Zac Lowthers, the Keegan Akins, and down the road, DL Hall.
“He gets an opportunity because of injuries kind of like I did in 1966 when everybody got hurt. I ended up winning 15 games instead of going to Triple-A. Any time you’re on a team that wins 54 games, and you win more than you lose and have you an ERA in a year where the ball’s flying out of the ballpark a little over 3.50, you had a heck of a year.
“Hunter Harvey, you saw why he was the No. 1 draft choice. Exceptional stuff. In a perfect world, you’d like to have a guy like that start. With all the injuries and backing him off at the end, maybe the bullpen will be the best place for him.”
“To have a guy like Hunter Harvey, with that kind of stuff, he’ll learn. When you come to the big leagues for the first time, and you’ve struggled as long as he did with injuries, it’s hard to really throttle down a little bit.”
Q: I know you don’t see the minor leagues, but you just mentioned several pitchers. From what you know, do you think the Orioles have enough pitching prospects to be credible in the next couple of years?
A: “Some scouts send me their reports, from A ball all the way to Triple-A, and the guy that really stands out is Grayson Rodriguez. Most of the guys that I talk to think that he has a chance to be a No. 1 or a No. 2. I know they talk about, ‘Hey, this guy can be a No. 1 starter.’ They never talked in those terms because we had [Mike] Cuellar, [Dave] McNally and myself. We had three No. 1 guys, and they were all interchangeable.
“I was reading a couple of days ago about Keegan Akin, talking about how he walked five guys per nine innings. At least he didn’t walk 130 in 129 innings like I did in A-ball, and the next year, you’re in the big leagues.
“For a lot of the young guys, you’re going to get on the 40-man roster, which means you’re going to be in spring training, and all of a sudden, the spotlight is on you to some degree, and you get an opportunity. John Means, he just paved the road for all of these guys.”
Q: What can you tell us about your health and how you’re doing?
A: “I got shingles, and it ended up invading my spinal cord, which is called myelitis. The whole left side of my spinal cord was infected. It’s the varicella virus. It was having a party in my spinal cord. I was losing weight.
“I still feel postherpetic neuralgia, where it hurts as much today as the day I got them. The scars are kind of gone. It really gets into your nervous system.
“A couple of days before Labor Day, I took a thoracic MRI. Five days in the hospital, brain scans, back scans. I was losing weight because I was not eating.
“It was kind of a distraction to watch the games. I was losing weight. I lost 10, 12 pounds, and I never lose 10, 12 pounds. I had a leg biopsy on my birthday. We’re just trying to find out if there’s anything else but the myelitis. I got as low as 194, 195 pounds. I’m back to 202, lifting weights, working out. I feel fine. I never felt bad.”