Palmer appeared in the postseason eight times and was a vital member of three World Series Champions, six AL pennant winners and seven Eastern Division titleholders. He is the only pitcher in the history of the Fall Classic with a win in each of three decades. He was also the youngest to pitch a shutout in a World Series at age 20 in 1966. He was one of the starters on the last rotation to feature four 20-game winners in a single season in 1971.
Palmer was born in New York City. Shortly after his birth, Palmer was adopted by Moe Wiesen, a garment industry executive, and his wife Polly from Harrison, New York. After his adoptive father died in 1955, the 9-year-old Jim, his mother and his sister moved to California, where he began playing in youth-league baseball. In 1956, his mother married actor Max Palmer, from whom Jim Palmer took his last name. Showing talent at the amateur level, upon graduating from Arizona's Scottsdale High School in 1963, Palmer signed a minor-league contract at the age of 18.
A high-kicking pitcher known for an exceptionally smooth delivery, Palmer picked up his first major-league win on May 16, 1965, beating the Yankees in relief at home, and hitting the first of his three career major-league home runs, a two-run shot in the fourth off Yankees starter Jim Bouton. Palmer finished the season with a 5–4 record.
In 1966, Palmer joined the starting rotation. Baltimore rolled to the pennant, behind Frank Robinson's MVP and Triple Crown season. Palmer won his final game against the Kansas City Athletics to clinch the American League pennant. In Game 2 of that World Series at Dodger Stadium, he became the youngest pitcher (20 years, 11 months) to win a complete-game, World Series shutout, defeating Sandy Koufax and the defending World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, 6-0. The underdog Orioles went on to sweep the series over a Los Angeles team that featured some formidable pitching of its own in Hall of Famers Koufax and Don Drysdale, and 17-game winner Claude Osteen. The shutout was part of a World Series record-setting 33 1⁄3 consecutive shutout innings by Orioles pitchers. The Dodgers' last run (of which they scored only two) was against Moe Drabowsky in the third inning of Game 1; the Oriole relief pitcher shut out the Dodgers the rest of the way. Palmer, Wally Bunker and Dave McNally then pitched shutouts in the next three games.
The next two seasons were frustrating for Palmer, as arm troubles shelved him. He threw just 49 innings in 1967 and was sent to minor-league rehabilitation. Finally, thanks to surgery, work in the 1968 Instructional League and in winter ball, he regained his form. He had been placed on waivers in September 1968 and was left unprotected for the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft one month later, but was neither claimed nor selected due to the extent of the injuries.
The next two years saw two more championships as the Orioles took their place among the great teams of all-time. In 1970, Cuellar went 24–8, McNally 24–9, Palmer 20–10; in 1971 the trio went 20–9, 21–5 and 20–9, respectively, with Pat Dobson going 20–8. Only one other team in MLB history, the 1920Chicago White Sox, has had four 20-game winners.
Palmer won 21 games in 1972, and went 22–9, 158, 2.40 in 1973, walking off with his first Cy Young Award. His eight 20-win seasons were interrupted in 1974 when he was downed for eight weeks with elbow problems. He finished 7–12.
Again, Palmer was at his peak in 1975, winning 23 games, throwing 10 shutouts (allowing just 44 hits in those games), and fashioning a 2.09 ERA—all tops in the American League. He completed 25 games, even saved one, and limited opposing hitters to a .216 batting average. He won his second Cy Young Award, and repeated his feat in 1976 (22–13, 2.51). During the latter year, he won the first of four consecutive Gold Glove Awards, breaking Jim Kaat's 14-year run of the award. (Kaat did win the Award that year and in 1977 while in the National League.)
Over the next six seasons he was hampered by arm fatigue and myriad minor injuries. Even so, he brought a stabilizing veteran presence to the pitching staff. In the 1983 World Series, he earned a win in relief of Mike Flanagan in Game 3. The 17 years between his first World Series win in 1966 and this win is the longest period of time between first and last pitching victories in the World Series for an individual pitcher in major league history. He also became the only pitcher in major league baseball history to have won World Series games in three decades. Also, he became the first and only player in Orioles history to appear in all six (1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1979, 1983) of their World Series appearances.
Palmer was the only Orioles player on the 1983 championship team to have previously won a World Series. He retired after being released by Baltimore during the 1984 season. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1990, his first year of eligibility.
In 1991, Palmer attempted a comeback with the Orioles. After giving up five hits and two runs in two innings of a spring training game, he retired permanently. Many pundits thought he was trying to prove that Nolan Ryan was not the only pitcher of his age that could still pitch in the Major Leagues.
While working out at the University of Miami during his comeback attempt, Palmer was approached by Hurricanes assistant coach Lazaro Collazo. Collazo reportedly told him, "You'll never get into the Hall of Fame with those mechanics." "I'm already in the Hall of Fame", Palmer replied.
Palmer has been considered one of the best pitchers in major-league history. He retired with a 268-152 win-loss record and a 2.86 ERA. He was a mainstay in the rotation during Baltimore's six pennant-winning teams in the 1960s (1966 & 1969), 1970s (1970, 1971 & 1979) and 1980s (1983). Also, he is the only pitcher in big-league history to winWorld Series games in three decades (1966, 1970–71, 1983). One of his most amazing feats is that during his 19-year major league career of 575 games (including 17 postseason games), he never surrendered a grand slam. He was sometimes sidelined by arm, shoulder and back problems, but still won 20 games in 8 different seasons (1970–1973 & 1975–1978) and in 4 other seasons went 15–10 (1966), 16–4 (1969), 16–10 (1980) and 15–5 (1982). He was one of four 20-game winners in the Orioles starting rotation in 1971, only the second rotation in major league history to include four 20-game winners. With the death of Mike Cuellar in April 2010, Palmer is the last surviving member of that group, which also included Pat Dobson and Dave McNally. Palmer won spots on 6 all-star teams, 4 gold gloves, 3 Cy Young Awards, and 2 ERA titles. He led the American League in victories three times. Palmer was a member of the defending World Champions in his last season. He is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Palmer's career earned run average (2.856) is the third lowest among starting pitchers whose careers began after the advent of the Live Ball Era in 1920, behind only Whitey Ford (2.75) and Sandy Koufax (2.75), and minuscually ahead of Andy Messersmith (2.861) and Tom Seaver (2.862). He never allowed a grand slam in his major-league career nor did he ever allow back-to-back homers. In six ALCS and six World Series, he posted an 8–3 record with 90 strikeouts, and an ERA of 2.61 and two shutouts in 17 games. His final major-league victory was noteworthy: Pitching in relief in the third game of the 1983 World Series, he worked methodically through the Phillies' celebrity-studded batting order, giving up no runs and contributing hugely to a close and crucial Oriole win. Jim Palmer has the distinction of being the only Oriole to have played in every single World Series six total in the team's history (66,69,70,71,79,83) his career began the year before the Orioles first WS appearance and his career ended in 84 after their final WS appearance.
In July 2012, while still a broadcaster for Baltimore, Palmer announced he had made the decision to put his three Cy Young trophies and two of his four Gold Glove awards up for auction. "At this point in my life, I would rather concern myself with the education of my grandchildren." Palmer also noted that his autistic teenage stepson would require special care and that "my priorities have changed." Palmer had put one his Cy Young trophies up for auction on behalf of a fundraising event for cystic fibrosis in years past, although he stated the winning bidder "had paid $39,000 for that and never ever took it. It was for the cause."
In 1996, Palmer published a less-than-flattering view of his relationship with Earl Weaver, titled 'Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine: The Twenty-Year Friendship of Hall of Fame Pitcher Jim Palmer and Orioles Manager Earl Weaver."
During the late 1970s, Palmer gained notoriety as a spokesman and underwear model for Jockey brand men's briefs. He appeared in the company's national print and television advertisements as well as on billboards at Times Square in New York City and other major cities. He donated all proceeds from the sale of his underwear poster to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. From 1992 until 1999, he was frequently seen on television throughout the United States in commercials for The Money Store, a national home equity and mortgage lender. He has periodically appeared in ads and commercials for vitamins and other health-related products. Palmer also represents Cosamin DS, a joint health supplement made by Nutramax Laboratories in Edgewood, Maryland.
He was also the spokesperson for Nationwide Motors Corp., which is a regional chain of car dealerships located in the Middle Atlantic region. He is currently a spokesman for the national "Strike Out High Cholesterol" campaign. Additionally, Palmer serves as a member of the advisory board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping former Major League, Minor League, and Negro League players through financial and medical difficulties.
A ten-year marriage to Joan H. Palmer ended in divorce in May 2000. In April 2001, he was found in contempt of court for failing to transfer $175,000 from his pension fund to his ex-wife and ordered to pay $13,500 in legal fees. As of 2008, Palmer and his wife Susan have homes in Palm Beach, Florida, and in California. In 2006, Palmer also acquired a penthouse condominium in Little Italy, Baltimore, which he uses while in Baltimore for Orioles' broadcasts. He has two daughters, Jamie and Kelly.