23 February 2006

First Book/IHOP Blogger Conference Call With HoF Pitcher Jim Palmer

Last week, I was privileged to receive an invitation to take part in a Blogger Conference Call" on Tuesday, 22 February 2006, with Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer. The call was sponsored by First Book, a non profit organization that works toward literacy for underprivileged children by providing them with new books, and they're receiving support from the International House of Pancakes. Kyle Zimmer, President and Co-Founder of First Book, hosted the call and asked some questions of her own, and there were some others there, though no list of participating blogs was provided, unfortunately.

Jim "Cakes" Palmer, who received the nickname due to his penchant for consuming pancakes before games he pitched (268 of those being victories), seemed a logical spokesman for such a venture, and Palmer will be
doing so on February 28th, which is National Pancakes Day (also Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or if you live where I do, Faustnaught Day. It's a Pennsylvania Dutchy thing. Don't ask.) If you're interested to hear the call, you can download the audio in mp3 format from First Book's web page, here. And just in case that eventually drops off their homepage, I've got a copy of it here as well.

So, if you've ever wondered what the voice of your favorite blogger sounds like, well, I can't really help you. You'll have to go to David Pinto's website and hear one of his many audio posts here to do that. But if you're interested in hearing the voice of your, say, 37th or 49th favorite blogger, you're in luck!

The whole "show" is only about 25 minutes, and mercifully, I don't speak for very much of it. I did, however, get to ask two of the four quesitons from bloggers, including the first one. This either means that

A) Almost nobody else was invited to this thing, or

2) ...almost nobody else showed up, or...

Thirdly, maybe the lines were jammed but John Perricone and Mike Carminati and Alex Belth and Aaron Gleeman and everyone else was just too awestruck to ask a question. Somehow, I doubt that.

In any case, below is a transcript of the first half or so of the call, including my first question and Jim Palmer's response. (I only transcribed half of it because it took me over an hour to do 15 minutes of audio, which ended up being four pages long, and besides, it kind of defeats the purpose of having the audio.)

If you'd rather just listen to me on the audio, and don't want to muddle through all the "pre-game ceremonies" you can find my questions at 11:00 minutes and 16:30 minutes, and Jim's (did I mention that Jim and I are on a first-name basis now?) responses immediately after each.

In all, I thought it was very interesting. If you listen to the audio, to his response to my second question, you'll learn how Jim actually got injured and managed to miss a season and a half early in his career, and it's something you'd never guess. Jim seems to have a keen grasp of the meaning of numbers in the game, though I didn't get a chance to ask his opinion on sabermetrics and such, as I had hoped.

Also, it's certainly a good cause. With a wife who's an elementary school teacher, I can appreciate the need for children to start reading and to learn the skill at an early age if they are to succeed in life, and Jim spends a lot of time talking about "success" at least in response to my question. So, without further ado...

Kyle Zimmer: Thank you all for coming. I just wanted to welcome everybody on behalf of FirstBook and make a quick statement before we get to the start of the show. FirstBook, for those of you who don’t know us yet, we are a national non-profit organization with a very simple mission: We provide brand new books to the most disadvantaged children in the country, and we’re here today to celebrate National Pancakes Day.

National Pancakes Day actually dates back to England in the 1500’s and marks the beginning of Mardi Gras. Now this year, on Tuesday, February 28th, IHOP is marking this occasion by celebrating National Pancakes Day and they’ve designated FirstBook as their principal charitable partner. So on this day IHOP will be giving away a free, short stack of pancakes to restaurant patrons and encouraging their guests to donate what they would have spent on pancakes to FirstBook.

And this is where we really need your help. FirstBook runs a very tight ship and we don’t have advertising dollars. But this kind of campaign can have tremendous power, and can really be the element that puts books directly into the hands of children. So we’re asking you, as members of the media and as bloggers in your own right, to please put this on your site, to please get the word out, so that we can fill those restaurants and fill those collection boxes so that kids in hundreds of communities around the country will have their very own first book.

Now with that, I’d like to take this amazing opportunity that I have to introduce everybody to Jim palmer, and this is certainly somebody who the phrase “needs no introduction” completely applies. Nonetheless, I was reading your biography, Jim, and I just can’t resist because some of the things I didn’t even know. At 18, Jim signed his contract with the Baltimore Orioles, and in 1966 he became the youngest player ever to pitch a World Series shutout game. Jim Palmer is also the only American League Hall of Famer to win the Cy Young Award three times, as well as four Gold Glove Awards, and there are so many more accolades and accomplishments than I could possibly list and many of the callers on the phone already know your credentials inside and out because they’re gigantic fans. We’re just here to say, “Kids need heroes like Jim Palmer”. There are kids around the country and around the world that Jim has been, and continues to be, a terrific hero for. They need heroes and they need books, and we’re here to celebrate both of those things in this call today, so, I thought, I will be quiet now and introduce and allow Jim, if you wanted to share some thoughts, and then we can go on to the Question and Answer period.

Jim Palmer: Well, thank you very much, Kyle. I think a lot of people have asked me, “Why would you be interested in something that IHOP is doing in National Pancake Day?” I guess it’s kind of an amusing story about when I first started my career. You mentioned I actually signed when I was 17 and played one year with Cal Ripken, Sr. Of course, we all know his son, Cal Ripken Jr., who broke Lou Gehrig’s record, but I played for his team in Aberdeen, South Dakota and the next year I actually played in the major leagues at age 19. That year, that following, the year you talked about when we were in our first World Series ever for the Orioles, which was 1966, we had acquired Frank Robinson, who went on to be one of the best outfielders in the history of the game, 586 home runs, won a Triple Crown in 1966. But that year I became a starting pitcher for the first time. The year before I had kind of pitched in relief and also was a spot-starter, but in 1966, at age 20, I was our youngest starter. I won, I had some success early on and then we left Anaheim to go to Kansas City, and we left early in the morning on a commercial flight to fly on the day of the game and I didn’t have a chance to really eat breakfast except on the plane…I missed my…I was eating pancakes and I was winning baseball games. When I lost that night in Kansas City, Curt Blefary, who had been Rookie of the Year, he was one of our young outfielders, said, “Well, what do you expect? You didn’t have your pancakes!” So I became really known as Jim “Pancake” Palmer. I think the first endorsement I ever did was for a small pancake company in Baltimore/Washington, Washington Pancake Company, and you know, they had a picture of me eating a stack of pancakes before I pitched in the World Series. I pitched against Sandy Koufax. It was his last game, my first World Series game. He actually pitched very well. Willie Davis dropped a couple of fly balls, we won six to nothing, and kind of the rest is history. But for the rest of my career, my nickname was “Cakes” because I used to eat pancakes so much, and you know, it’s just part of my daily ritual when I was pitching.

And of course, over the years, I think everybody’s eaten at IHOP. They’re everywhere. I think they’re in about 1300 communities and when I heard that they were doing something for literacy and I think back and I remember my early years. I don’t know if I really remember my first book. I remember my grandmother used to read me Pinocchio, because then she knew that I wouldn’t lie because my nose would start growing, but I think back, and when you’re growing up in the early ‘50s, mid- ‘50s, television certainly wasn’t as prevalent and you didn’t have DVDs and things like that. So I was a big sports fan. I grew up in New York and for some reason I idolized the Yankees. I used to run down to the end of the drive way and read the sports section of the Daily Mirror, which is now the New York Post. But I think I kind of started, I remember reading Beauty and the Beast, Black Beauty, and some of the Rudyard Kiplings, the Jungle Book, and things like that. So, at an early age, I think, my parents used to tell me to go to bed and I’d put the covers over me and get my reading light and read for another hour until I fell asleep. SO I know how important it is, as a child, to have books, to be literate, and to be able to sometimes escape and dream of certain things. For me, of course, it manifests itself in becoming a baseball player. I had a chance to play with some of the greatest players and against some of the greatest players and to play on some of the best teams in the ‘70s and the ‘80s.

Kyle Zimmer: Boy, it’s fabulous, Jim. And of course those players had the benefit of playing with you. I know that we want to get to questions quickly, and Jordan, I thought I would take the prerogative of tossing in the first question, if you don’t mind.

Jordan: Absolutely.

Kyle Zimmer: And then we’ll go on to those folks who are cued up. I think you know, there is, being involved in the Little League or team sports an all these things and reading…these are sort of the wonderful pillars of great childhood experiences, and I wondered, did you play in the Little League, and do you have any advice to parents who have kids like I do, little boys who love baseball and can’t wait for spring time to come around so they can get a hold of their bats?

Jim Palmer: Well I think, it’s interesting, you know, I grew up in New York and I was adopted and my dad was in the dress business and my mother had come from Council Bluffs, Iowa actually had a job in a little dress shop and she met my dad, but he put her youngest brother through the Juliard School of Music and he went on to play with Tommy Dorsey’s Band. So I come from a background where it was kind of really in the clothes business. My dad was a big sports fan but he passed away when I was 10 and we moved from New York to California. I ran into a man who used to sell my dad all these piece goods, he was kind of, really like an uncle, and he said, “Well, you know your dad loved baseball but he never would have expected you to have been a player.” But you when I would go to summer camp in New York, you know, I’d play all the sports. You know, of course, when you go to camp you swim and you hike and you do all those kind of things. I remember going down to watch the “big boys” play once and they needed a catcher and I said, “I’ll catch.” I was like ten years old, and of course that was the last time I ever caught because it was not something I wanted to do, but when I moved to California I played in the Golden State League and I had to make my first club. I think it’s the only club I was never felt that I wasn’t going to make. But I got into organized sports for the first time and, you know, I was just as nervous as anybody else. You know you end up in the Baseball hall of Fame, but when you’re ten years old, you’re trying to impress people and you’re not really comfortable and you don’t really know a lot of kids, but I found out that it’s a great way to sort of integrate yourself into your community. You learn the exhilaration of winning but also the disappointment of losing. Of course if you’re going to play professional sports or really do anything in life you’re going to have to encounter those things and deal with them.

So for sports, I think back, and if you’re a Hall of Fame baseball player, you didn’t get there by yourself. You had tremendous coaches and you had organizational people who went out and drafted you and you had people that worked in the front office and you had your family, whether it’s your parents or wife and children and all that that were very supportive. It all started in Little League. So I guess my advice, and it’s kind of a long answer, is basically: You know, when it’s football season I played football, when it was basketball I played basketball. I got a chance to play different sports and decide what I wanted to do. I suppose because so many of the influential people early in my life were coaches, I would have been a coach if I hadn’t been a professional baseball player.

Kyle Zimmer: Well, Jordan, shall we open it up?

[…Instructions from Operator…]

Operator: Our first question comes from Travis Nelson.

Travis Nelson: Hello, Jim?

Jim Palmer: How are you?

Travis Nelson: I’m good, how are you?

Jim Palmer: Oh, I’m excellent.

Travis Nelson: Great to talk to you. I was looking at your stats on Baseball-reference.com. You won 20 games eight times. That’s as many as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz combined. Who, in your mind, besides Roger Clemens, is the greatest pitcher you ever saw, if in fact Roger Clemens doesn’t fit that bill?

Jim Palmer: Well, I mean, Roger Clemens certainly has a lot of success. I think the one thing about baseball is, before we got into the so-called “Steroid Era”, when you’re comparing hitters or even pitchers because they had to pitch in that era, the great thing about baseball is you can compare one generation to the other. Times have changed a little bit so I think that maybe the numbers are somewhat distorted, but I think if you go back, of course when you’re a kid you’re pretty impressionable. Whitey Ford, of course, wasn’t overpowering but he played on all those great Yankee teams with one of the best earned run averages and winning percentages ever. Sandy Koufax, I talked about him and he pitched, what, I think five no-hitters. Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson…I had a chance to actually pitch against them and see them pitch in person. But, you know, Randy Johnson, I think if you think of the modern day people. In think for somebody that looks like he’s going to sell you life insurance, Greg Maddux has had the most success. I think he’s gone 15 years or 16 years winning more than 15 games until last season. Tom Glavine’s had a lot of success. Guys that are not overpowering and when I talk to young pitchers, that’s what I try to tell them. These guys throw barely 90 mph but they know how to pitch, they’re smart, they’re good hitters because they’ve played their careers in the National League. They have great change-ups, they can pitch when they don’t have their best stuff, and you know, they pay attention. They’ve always been on winning teams and they’ve been a major part of the reason the teams they’re on have won. But when you talk about dominating guys, and you talked about a guy like Clemens who’s won seven Cy Young Awards and at age 43 still had an excellent year, you’re talking about one of the great pitchers ever. You know, Roger was a guy that had arm surgery in 1984 and I think a lot of people thought that maybe his career would be short circuited, but he’s had a lot of success. I think, again, Steve Carlton was a kid I pitched against when we were both 18 in A-Ball, and he ended up winning over 320 games, and I had a chance to not only see, as a broadcaster, but also play against some of the great pitchers in the era of baseball.

Travis Nelson: Great!

OK, so I didn't have much to say after that, but my good friend Jim had plenty more to say, and you can hear the whole thing, here.

And when you're done listening, make some plans to go out next Tuesday, have some free pancakes, and help buy some books for kids who need them.

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