Jim Palmer Recalls Year Of The Pitcher

Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer discusses the 1968 baseball season — one of the last seasons to be called a "Year of the Pitcher." He also talks about whether this year is another year of dominance for pitchers.

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DON GONYEA, host:

So far in baseball this year, pitchers have been performing much better than hitters. There have been five no-hitters, the latest coming on Monday. Two of those no-hitters were perfect games, not to mention that thing in Detroit with the umpire.

Some might call this the Year of the Pitcher. It's rekindled memories of another year when pitchers were dominant, 1968. After that season the league took steps designed to help hitters.

Hall of Famer Jim Palmer was on the mound for the Baltimore Orioles in 1968.

Jim, thank you for joining us.

Mr. JIM PALMER (Hall of Fame Pitcher): Oh, you're welcome. Great to be with you.

GONYEA: So what do you remember about you and your pitching colleagues back in 1968? Were you guys that great?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: Or were hitters just that bad?

Mr. PALMER: No, I think, you know, the mound was 12 inches, and that was the year that Bob Gibson had the 112 earned run average, which is one of the more incredible numbers that I can fathom. Denny McLain, I mean, won 31 games. There were just some marvelous careers. So hitters probably felt very overwhelmed that year. And, you know, of course what they would do is try to level the playing field.

You had expansion the next year. And you also had a 10-inch mound, which doesnt make it that much different to throw a baseball, but it certainly - I understood the intent of just trying to allow the hitters to, you know, maybe have a little bit better chance of succeeding.

GONYEA: Can you talk about what it does to lower the mound? Why does that make a difference?

Mr. PALMER: Well, I think it's for a number of reasons. It's easier to throw down a slope than it is on flat ground. You're looking down at the hitter. And again, if you're trying to throw the ball, not by the hitter but through the hitter to the catcher, I think at least from a physical and an emotional and maybe even intellectual standpoint, it allows you to feel like you can do that.

GONYEA: So the mound was lowered, but what else happened in your view that brought us into that long stretch where hitters seemed to dominate the game and the homerun became king?

Mr. PALMER: Well, if you go back and almost into the, you know, two decades later where Peter Ueberroth, for a very short time, after having the Olympics in Los Angeles and doing a terrific job, became the commissioner of baseball, and what he wanted was smaller, more intimate ballparks. A lot of the venues were actually more hitter-friendly. Strike zones, pretty much from the late '80s, all the way into the - maybe 2000, it was like an 8X10 sheet of paper.

So again, it just seemed like all of a sudden they just wanted again, level that playing field. And the hitters seemed to have the upper hand.

GONYEA: Now, especially for the last 20 years or so, a lot of people say it's simple: steroids.

Mr. PALMER: Well, I think that had a lot to do with it. Players want to get an edge. And homeruns meant more salaries, and higher revenues, and a bigger share of the total revenues of baseball. So it was a time where the pitcher wished they were still back in 1968.

GONYEA: So why do you think this year we're seeing so many dominant performances by pitchers? The mound is still lower. Perhaps the steroid era is over.

Mr. PALMER: I just think that pitchers have done a terrific job. They have found what we found back in my generation, where it's not just about throwing -it's actually about pitching. And they're not throwers, they're pitchers. And it's great to see as a former pitcher, because I think the evolution is kind of going back towards where we pitched, where you played the minor leagues for a number of years, you learned how to pitch, then you came to the major leagues and being with a lot of veteran guys.

My first roommate, Robin Roberts, he taught me to pitch because he could pitch a 13-hit shutout. And I think we're getting back to where you're seeing a little bit more of that philosophy.

GONYEA: Jim Palmer, many thanks for your time.

Mr. PALMER: You're welcome. Take care.

GONYEA: Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer.

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