Palermo makes the call: He'll umpire again

May 20, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

KANSAS CITY, MO — KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Until taking a gunshot in the spine last summer, Steve Palermo was dedicated to umpiring. Now he's dedicated to umpiring again.

Palermo, 41, works in physical therapy toward resuming his American League career. His legs were paralyzed initially, but now he can walk with crutches.

Although he has no idea when he'll be able to umpire again, Palermo a resident of the Kansas City area was his typically lively self at Royals Stadium during Saturday night's Detroit Tigers-Royals game. He sat in the crowd and talked about his life since he was shot while pursuing robbers in Dallas early on the morning of July 7:

Q. On a 0-10 scale zero was getting shot, 10 is umpiring again what number are you at now?

A. About a 4. I'm a tough critic of myself; I think I should have been back yesterday. About 75 to 80 percent in my right leg has come back both motor and sensory about 30 to 35 percent in my left leg. That's where the bullet did the most damage.

Q. Do both legs have to be 100 percent to umpire?

A. I'm going to find out. When I can do the things I was capable of doing before if one is at 90 percent and the other is at 65 percent then, fine, I'll live with that.

Q. How long are you willing to work at this so you can return?

A. Forever. The doctors tell me I'm progressing, that I haven't leveled off where there's no progress. These seats here tonight are comfortable, but they're uncomfortable.

Q. As positive as you are, there must be times you get down about this.

A. Not for long. Debbie (his wife) will see me go off in my corner with a frown, and she'll come and say, "Hey, the fight is just starting."

Q. You've never considered not coming back?

A. No.

Q. If you only made it back for one game, would that be as satisfying as if you came back for 20 years?

A. No, I want the whole candy store. I don't just want a piece of candy. I don't want them just to put me at third or second base for one game and be an example for other people to overcome their handicaps.

Q. You said you get angry. Do you get bitter?

A. Bitterness is a real strong emotion that will consume you. It absorbs too much energy from what you have to do. I don't get bitter at the guy that shot me.

Q. How often do you replay this whole thing in your mind?

A. Sometimes five or six times a day. Sometimes I'll leave it alone for a day. It's affected my life the way it has, so I replay it in my mind a lot.

Q. You've never once said to yourself, "I shouldn't have done it"?

A. No. Look at what those people did in Los Angeles to go help that truck driver. ... We're just civilized people who think there's got to be a better way than going out with carelessness and recklessness and abandon and taking for granted that you can take whatever you want.

Q. Is there any one way in which your faith (Catholicism) helped you the most?

A. I haven't asked Him for help. Not yet. He's got enough things to worry about.

There's a reason for everything in this world, and Debbie and I believe God has certain designs on what you do. Maybe he's using me as a messenger. He hasn't sent me the letter with the outline of what I'm supposed to be doing (laughs), but this will look good on my resume when I get up there.

Q. In all of this, what was the low point?

A. The day it happened, knowing I couldn't go on the field that night. That, and the night (Oct. 5) that I walked out to the plate, the first time I'd been on the field since it happened.

That took a lot from me. Debbie and I were planning how I should come on the field. I wanted to walk out of the dugout like I always do, and Debbie said, "These dugout steps are too steep." We were looking at the steps, and then I stared at home plate. I thought of one word: "Time." Give me time.

Q. What has your wife meant in this?

A. Everything. No doubt I wouldn't have been able to get through the low moments without her. She's not a phony optimist. She's a realistic optimist.

I don't know who she's been talking to, but there's no doubt in her mind that things are going to come back.

Q. You said you talked to (Detroit Lions player) Mike Utley (recently) in Denver at the Craig Institute. Can you relate that conversation?

A. We just kicked around how it felt, asking each other what was coming back, probing each other to know when you get a new twinge, is it something real or deceptive?

He's got an attitude like mine. He's not going to give this up. You can see it in his eyes.

Q. Anything else you'd like to add?

A. A lot of people in Michigan sent a lot of nice cards and letters, and I just want to thank them.

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