SABR

Mike Palm

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Mike Palm is one of the relatively few Red Sox players to have been born in the city of Boston. Richard Paul Palm’s date of birth was February 13, 1925. After moving to a suburb, he picked up his nickname in high school, where Belmont High’s baseball coach was Myron “Mike” Palm, a former Penn State athlete who started calling his prospect “Mike.”

It was in infancy that “our” Mike’s family left the Jamaica Plain section of Boston for Watertown, and it was in junior high school in Watertown that he first became a ballplayer -- under the tutelage of junior high school coach Bob Daughters. The same Bob Daughters who had made the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox, ever so briefly, for one game in 1937. “He encouraged me and made a pitcher out of me,” Mike recalled in mid-2007. “I had a pretty good arm. That was the start of it. He was new in the school system. He’d just gotten through with the Red Sox. He was a heck of a guy. We all loved him as kids.”

Mike’s father had been a pitcher, too. Paul Palm had pitched semipro ball in the Brockton League, an industrial league in eastern Massachusetts. Paul was a printing instructor at Wentworth Institute. His wife was a schoolteacher, who taught elementary school until the three children -- two girls and a boy -- were born. Mike says his father was pretty good (“I used to carry his clippings around”), but he didn’t learn that much from him. “In those days, dads didn’t have a lot of time to spend with his kids because they were working so hard. I was always interested in sports, though. Not that I played a lot growing up, because we went down to Nantucket for the summer and there wasn’t much baseball down there.” But his dad did give him a start, and then he met up with Coach Daughters.

The boy who grew to become a 6’3 1/2” right-hander was a real fan, who took in a number of games as a kid. His grandfather took young Mike to both Braves Field and Fenway Park, and Mike saw Babe Ruth hit one of his last home runs, in Ruth’s brief time with the Braves in 1935.

Palm was signed by the Red Sox while still in high school. The family moved to Belmont after Palm finished ninth grade. Often striking out as many as 18 batters a game, he earned an invitation to one of the school prospects tryouts that Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy used to host at Fenway Park. ”I worked out with them and showed them what I had and they signed me while I was in high school,” Palm recalls. The scouts credited with his signing are a very impressive trio: Hugh Duffy, Neil Mahoney, and Herb Pennock. It was 1943. There was no bonus money involved. Assigned to Allentown in the Inter-State League after graduation and awaiting induction into the Army, he saw only a couple of weeks of duty -- a total of one inning in two appearances. He walked four batters and let in two runs. He went off to war with a professional ERA of 18.00.

During World War II, Palm spent 2 1/2 years in the Army Air Corps serving first at an airport in Casablanca and then in India for six months after the Japanese surrender, forgoing baseball for both 1944 and 1945. He worked doing manual labor, but wound up inspecting the baggage of soldiers transiting through Casablanca on their way home from different fronts. His job was to relieve them of field glasses, pistols, ammunition, and other prohibited items. “It was sort of a dirty job,” he regrets, but Pfc. Palm was glad to be part of the process that brought soldiers home. And it worked out well in one regard: “I got out in time for spring training.”

Mike spent the next two years in the Piedmont League pitching for Class-B Roanoke, the first year for Eddie Popowski and the second for Mike Higgins. In 1946, he was 13-8 with a 2.56 ERA in 179 innings of work. The next year, he threw 197 innings and posted a 14-8 record but his ERA climbed to 3.65.

Beginning with Birmingham in 1948, he posted an identical record (14-8) at Double A, but had improved considerably. He was leading the Southern League in ERA (2.20), both as a starter and a reliever, when he got a midseason call to report to the big-league club in Boston. Birmingham, he remembers, was in a “hitter’s league” with a lively ball, so his ERA meant even more.

His first appearance came on July 11, 1948, in Philadelphia. The Red Sox had won the day’s first game, 9-8, in 10 innings when Dom DiMaggio doubled home Billy Goodman and they held the lead. In the second game, DiMaggio homered as he had in the first game and Johnny Pesky hit a three-run homer, but the Athletics racked up a six-run inning off Mickey Harris and that did in the Red Sox. Wearing uniform number 20, Palm relieved Harris with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, and surrendered three hits before closing out the inning. In the seventh, Mel Parnell took over relief duties. The game ended after 7 1/2 innings because of Philadelphia’s Sunday curfew law. Mike’s memories remain vivid: “I was a little wild, you know -- nervous as hell…in a big league uniform.” He roomed with Boo Ferriss on the road and stayed with his family in Belmont while the Red Sox were at home.

Palm’s second game was a week later, in Boston, on the 18th -- again it was a doubleheader, this time against the visiting St. Louis Browns. Boo started for Boston but gave up seven hits in his 2 2/3 innings of work. The Red Sox were behind 4-0. Mike Palm completed the third inning and pitched the fourth, allowing just one hit -- though he walked three batters. At the plate, the Red Sox came alive and scored six times in the bottom of the fourth. With a 6-4 lead, McCarthy brought in Earl Johnson to pitch. He scattered three hits in five innings of work, letting in just one more run. The six additional runs the Red Sox scored in the sixth proved pure gravy. Johnson was awarded the win, even though Palm had left with the lead.

The last time Palm pitched in the major leagues was in yet another twin bill, a day/night doubleheader against the White Sox at Fenway Park on July 20. Boston won the afternoon game, 3-1. In the night game, Ferriss again fared poorly, hammered for six hits in 1 2/3 innings. The White Sox scored five runs in the second, and Palm was once more brought in to close the inning. He allowed two hits and walked two in 1 1/3 innings, giving up one run in the top of the third, but once the Red Sox had scored five runs in the bottom of the third and made it a close game, he gave way to Earl Johnson. Palm was again hitless at the plate. Chicago scored three more runs, but the Red Sox scored once in the eighth and three runs in the bottom of the ninth to take the game, 10-9.

He didn’t pitch again for Boston, other than throw a little batting practice to Ted Williams. “Maybe they didn’t like what they saw, or whatever. They were right in the middle of a pennant fight.” As it happens, Mike was shipped back to Birmingham to take part in another battle for the pennant. “They sent me back to Birmingham. We finished the year and won the Dixie Series down there. I won four games in the (league) playoffs. Then we beat Fort Worth for the title. We were big heroes in Birmingham that year. They paraded us through town and showered us with gifts and everything. It was pretty nice.”

Though Mike didn’t know it at the time, his major league career was over. He’d thrown a total of three innings in three games, walking five and striking out only one. Giving up six hits and two earned runs, he had an ERA of an even 6.00. At the plate, Palm had three at-bats, striking out once and never getting a major-league hit. “I remember Dom DiMaggio telling me, ‘You should take a pitch or two.’ I was up there swinging at the first pitch, and probably shouldn’t have been. I wasn’t any shakes as a hitter. I remember in Birmingham I got three hits one night. I think they sent that pitcher down the next day!” As it happens, he never fielded a ball in the majors, either, so he does not have either a batting average or a fielding average.

In early 1949, Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy cited Palm as a prospect but he saw little playing time in spring training and spent two subpar years with Triple-A Louisville in the American Association. Palm posted records of 9-8 (4.47) in 1949 and 3-7 (6.57) in 1950. In 1949, in Louisville, he married his wife, Marie, from Belmont -- Anita Marie Denish. Midway during the 1950 season, he was demoted to Double A (1-3, 7.10 ERA.) After the 1950 season, Palm was traded to the White Sox for Bill Evans, effectively sold to Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League. He pitched in three games, a total of five innings, giving up five earned runs. ”I quit out there. I went out of there with my wife and we had a little baby, and she was pregnant with the second one. I spent five years at it. I figured I wasn’t going to be in the Hall of Fame. It was time to go to work.”

Fortunately, he had other options awaiting him. “I thought it was time to get out. I had a job to come to. I ended up selling printing ink. My father was associated with the same company that hired me, and I spent 25 years with that company. I was around the Boston office. I used to cover the state of Maine for the company and the South Shore and North Shore. We ended up with eight kids, just about one a year over ten years.” With eight children, did any of them try baseball? “They took up golf, really. They were pretty good in baseball but the golf bug bit them. They were caddies over here in Hadley and so they went the golf route.”

Mike’s wife passed away suddenly in 1991. He is retired and living with one of his daughters on the South Shore. Both daughters are homemakers. One son is a pipefitter, another is a housepainter, and three work in various aspects of the printing trade. Another son, who had worked in sales, died in the early 21st century. Mike watches games on television, and remains a Red Sox fan, but doesn’t head into games. He’s on the Red Sox alumni mailing list, but doesn’t take any active role in alumni events.

Note

This biography originally appeared in the book Spahn, Sain, and Teddy Ballgame: Boston's (almost) Perfect Baseball Summer of 1948, edited by Bill Nowlin and published by Rounder Books in 2008.

Sources

Interviews with Mike Palm done October 14, 2000, July 15, 2007, and August 16. 2007, by Bill Nowlin.

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