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Still Perfect at 50 Jim Palmer: The Oriole legend and Hall of Famer has birthdays like the rest of us, but he never seems to age.

December 03, 1995|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

Jim Palmer told Joni he'd love to come to her party, only he had a slight scheduling problem, the problem being that he had to pitch for the Orioles the next night. Come after the game, Joni said, and he did, neither one dreaming that 11 years later, they'd be husband and wife.

Anyway, that was then. This is what living with Jim Palmer is like now: He's a neat freak. To the degree that it would drive you nuts.

If he uses a glass, he rinses it out right away. If you use a glass, he rinses it out right away. If someone in your family uses a glass you get the idea.

"He's the type of guy," says Davey Leonhard, "who gets in my car and runs his finger on the inside of my windshield and says: 'Look at this!' He can't believe I don't have a Windex bottle in my car."

Although you wonder when he has time to clean anything. Halfway through the interview, Joni Palmer shows you Jim's schedule book, which looks like something you'd find on President Clinton's desk, only the prez probably isn't quite as busy.

The months of October and November are completely blocked out. This is when you suggest to Joni Palmer, as gently as possible, that her husband just may be, well, a Type A-ish personality.

Hearing this, she shrieks with delight.

"Oh, he's a Type AAAAA!" she says. "I've never met anyone like him!"

Then she tells you what it's like to drive to Florida with this guy when they decide to eat breakfast at one of those Waffle Houses that line the highway:

"Well, they're always next to a gas station. So what happens is, he drops me off at the Waffle House while he goes and fills the car with gas. I make the order for both of us, he finishes up, pays for the gas, walks in just in time to shovel the food down. We eat the food, pay the check, walk out the door, get in the car.

"And that's how our whole life is! Everything is OK, he's gonna work out this morning, then he's gonna hit some golf balls and when he comes back, he's gonna play tennis with this one and then he's gonna wash the windows and clean this and it's always scheduled.

"His motto is carpe diem. It's Latin for "Seize the day."

Apparently this obsession with making the best use of his time is nothing new. Max Palmer, 87, who lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., recalls what his adopted son Jim was like back in high school in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"On Sunday night, before he went to bed, he'd put five slices of white bread out, line em up across the table, put a slice of bologna on each one, then put another slice of bread on top of each one.

"Then he'd put each one in a separate sandwich bag. And that was his lunch for the week."

Anyway, as the years go on, Jim Palmer is not exactly slowing down.

This summer, for his 50th birthday present, Joni Palmer convinced her husband that they should go on a cruise of the Mediterranean.

Things were going along swell until they'd been on board, oh, 24 hours, which is when it became apparent Jim Palmer was beginning to go nuts.

How much shuffleboard can a guy play, how many of those little fruit drinks with the tiny parasols can you sip, before the world starts closing in around you?

There wasn't even a bottle of Windex around to wipe down all the portholes.

Anyway, at dinner on the third night, the ship's crew presented a crystal gift to an older couple, veteran cruise-goers, to commemorate their 300th day at sea.

Everyone applauded politely. Then, seizing the moment, Jim Palmer shot his hand in the air and asked: "What do you get if you've spent three days on a cruise and it feels like 300?'

The line got a big laugh, only he wasn't kidding. This is not the sort of guy who watches life pass by from a deck chair with a blanket around his shoulders.

It's one thing to be 50 years old. You don't have to be a fanatic about it.

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