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Stephen Michael Palermo (October 9, 1949 – May 14, 2017) was an 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.
Early life and education
Steve Palermo was born on October 9, 1949 in Worcester, Massachusetts. He studied education at Norwich University, Leicester Junior College and Worcester State College. While in school, he worked as a baseball umpire. Barney Deary, who headed Major League Baseball's Umpire Development Program, discovered Palermo working a Little League all-star game. As a result, Palermo entered the league's development program where he trained for five years.
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. His first game as an umpire was the Toronto Blue Jays first ever game on April 7, 1977 at Exhibition Stadium. Palermo was the third base umpire for that game.
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-changing 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. Palermo's umpiring career ended, and doctors told Palermo and his wife, Debbie, that he would probably never walk again. Through rehabilitation and determination, 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.
Bud Selig hired Palermo as a special assistant in 1994 and, in 2000, elevated him as a supervisor of umpiring for the league. From 1995 to 1997, Palermo worked part-time as an analyst for Yankees games on MSG Network.
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 was also an honorary inductee into the Perseverance Hall of Fame.
In 1994, he won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
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.
- Sandomir, Richard (2017-05-17). "Steve Palermo, Umpire Whose Career Was Ended by a Bullet, Dies at 67". New York Times.
- Sandomir, Richard (2017-05-15). "Steve Palermo, Umpire Whose Career Was Ended by a Bullet, Dies at 67". New York Times.
- WillReturn Council