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Stephen Michael Palermo (born October 9, 1949 in Worcester, Massachusetts) is a former umpire in Major League Baseball who worked in the American League from 1977 to 1991. His field career ended when he was shot in the back following his intervention in an altercation outside Campisi's, a Dallas Italian restaurant. He wore uniform number 14 when the American League began using uniform numbers for its umpires in 1980, and the number was never reassigned to another AL umpire until after the AL and NL umpire staffs were unified by MLB in 2000.
He studied education at Norwich University, Leicester Junior College and Worcester State College before attending the Umpire Development Program in 1972. From the time he began his major league career after five years in the minor leagues, Palermo was widely regarded as one of the best umpires in the game.
His career as an umpire includes the 1983 World Series, three American League Championship Series (1980, 1982, and 1989), the 1981 American League Division Series and the 1986 All-Star Game. In August 1991, The Sporting News ranked Palermo "Number 1" among American League umpires for overall performance.
Palermo was one of the first American League umpires to never use the outside chest protector. Starting in 1977, all new AL umpires had to adopt the inside chest protector, which had been used in the National League for decades under the guidance of Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem. AL umpires on staff prior to 1977 were grandfathered and could continue to use the outside protector. Among those umpires with Palermo in the AL Class of '77 were Durwood Merrill and Vic Voltaggio.
His career highlights also include umpiring two of the most famous games in New York Yankees history. In 1978, he worked the Yankees' one-game playoff against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park to determine the AL's Eastern Division winner. Palermo, serving as the third base umpire, signaled "fair ball" when Bucky Dent hit the game-winning home run. On July 4, 1983, Palermo worked behind the plate for Dave Righetti's no-hitter against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
1991 shooting and recovery
On July 7, 1991, he and several friends, including fellow umpire Rich Garcia, were dining after a Texas Rangers game when they were alerted that two waitresses were being mugged in the parking lot. In an attempt to apprehend the assailants, he suffered a bullet wound to his spinal cord, resulting in instant paralysis from the waist down. It seemed that Palermo's umpiring career might have ended as doctors told Palermo and his wife, Debbie, that he would probably never walk again. Through rehabilitation and a lot of determination, however, Palermo managed to recover, walking with the use of one small leg brace and a cane. He subsequently threw the ceremonial first pitch in Game 1 of the 1991 World Series, only three months after suffering his injury.
In 1994, he won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
In 2003, Palermo began serving as the Honorary Chairman of Assurant Employee Benefits' WillReturn Council. The Council annually presents the Shining Star of Perseverance Award to individuals who overcome disabilities. Palermo is also an honorary inductee into the Perseverance Hall of Fame.
Palermo served as honorary commissioner for the Tee Ball game at the White House on July 24, 2005, in which children with physical disabilities participated; the game was part of President George W. Bush's White House Tee Ball Initiative.
He currently serves as a major league supervisor of umpires, and also works as a motivational speaker. He was briefly an announcer for the New York Yankees, working pre-game shows on the MSG Network. At the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City, Palermo accompanied the umpiring crew to the plate for special recognition.