Palermo's latest call is to return to plate Oct. 1

On baseball

August 23, 1991|By Jim Henneman

It was seven weeks ago tomorrow that Steve Palermo's natural instincts put his life on the line.

After 14 years as an umpire in the American League, Palermo was used to stopping disputes. Along the way, he probably even started a few.

But this one was out of his area of expertise, and he stopped a bullet.

Coming to the aid of a waitress who was being held up as she left a Dallas restaurant, Palermo was instrumental in making a citizen's arrest. In the process he was shot.

There was some damage to the spinal column. The road back has been predictably slow. Agonizingly slow. Sometimes demoralizingly slow.

But there has been progress, and there is more to come.

Two days ago, sitting in his room at the Dallas Rehabilitation Institute Palermo made a vow.

"I'm going to walk out of here Oct. 1," he said. "That's my goal. On Oct. 1st, I want to walk to home plate with my crew for the lineups.

"I don't care where they are, I'm going to be with these guys that day," insisted Palermo.

Crew chief Richie Garcia, Mike Reilly, Larry Young and Chuck Meriwhether (his replacement) were in the room when Palermo virtually promised he would walk with them to home plate on Oct. 1. If he makes it, they will be amazed, perhaps, but not surprised.

Privately, they marvel at Palermo's progress and determination. On Monday Garcia watched him go into the swimming pool for his first aquatic exercise. Wednesday the entire crew, in town to work the Orioles-Rangers series, watched him walk an obstacle course with the aid of arm and leg braces.

"He's doing great -- he's improved 150 percent since the last time I saw him," said Garcia, who had left the restaurant less than an hour before the shooting July 6.

"I can't believe how much progress he's made," said Reilly. "When I saw him four weeks ago he only had a little bit of movement in his right thigh."

Now Palermo can maneuver that leg into almost any position. "I don't know what the story is with the left leg," said Palermo. "But . . . "

He moved his left foot to indicate progress also is being made on that side. "His spirit is really good," said Young, "and that's important. He's very determined to get back."

The walls of the hospital room are covered with messages and the hospital has been inundated with so many callers that a codeword was created to identify those to be put through. Among those who didn't make it: Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer.

In the midst of all the cards and letters on the wall facing Palermo's bed is a hand-lettered sign that reads: "Inch by inch, life's a cinch; yard by yard, life is hard."

Without question one of the very best in his profession, Palermo perhaps never realized until now how much he loved to umpire, or how much he could miss it.

He was wearing a T-Shirt that said: "Stevie Knows Re-Hab." It was created by his brother-in-law. Another one reads: "Seize The Day."

"That's what they tell me I have to do every time I go to rehab -- seize the day," said Palermo.

Right now, he is trying to make yards out of inches. He doesn't consider himself a hero, though others, including President Bush, have called him such. "My parents are heroes for teaching me to do the right thing," is how he explains his actions.

Steve Palermo is not looking back -- only forward. The date is Oct. 1.

Have you ever cheered an umpire? If not, start now.

* WHILE ON THE SUBJECT: This thing between the players and umpires association is a little ridiculous. Don't they realize they're both unions? They should -- they're always arguing with the same people.

The revelation that two (unnamed) umpires are allegedly on probation for gambling (not on baseball) is hardly something over which the two sides should trade barbs.

Richie Phillips, head of the umpires association, refers to the charges as "innocuous." Gene Orza, counsel for the players, compares the situation to a police officer being charged with brutality, insisting names should be publicized.

Do you get the impression these guys are a little off base?

* SPEAKING OF BEING OUT OF LINE: Yes sir, don't the Red Sox really have you convinced they think they have a chance to win the AL East? Through a quirk in the weather patterns in Cleveland (where a postponed game had to be moved to Fenway Park) and Boston, the Indians and Red Sox were scheduled to play doubleheaders Wednesday and yesterday.

Supposedly, it took the Red Sox players two hours to convince management that was too much for two days. As a result, the second game of yesterday's doubleheader is being held in abeyance. It will be played the day after the season ends, Oct. 7, only if it affects the division championship.

The kicker is that the game will revert back to Cleveland. With the Toronto Blue Jays currently in a trance, wouldn't you think the Red Sox would want to play the Indians as often as possible and as soon as possible.

If there is any justice the Red Sox will miss second-place money by a half-game.

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