Palmer continues run of dominance with third AL Cy Young Award
Throughout the 1970s, there was no debating that Jim Palmer was among baseball’s best.
The Baltimore Orioles right-hander put together a remarkable run of success, throwing more innings and recording more wins in the decade than any other American League pitcher.
And on Nov. 10, 1976, Palmer was clearly in rare company, when he captured his third AL Cy Young Award. He became the first AL pitcher and just the third pitcher overall to win at least three Cy Young Awards, joining Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver.
Palmer was also the third pitcher to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards, as he had captured the 1975 award a year earlier after going 23-11 with a 2.09 ERA.
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The 31-year-old ran away with the 1976 honor, receiving 19 first-place votes following a season in which he posted a 2.51 ERA, threw 315.0 innings and finished tied for the most wins in the major leagues with 22. He beat out runner-up Mark Fidrych of the Tigers, while Angels lefty Frank Tanana finished third.
“Of course I’m excited,” Palmer told the Baltimore Sun.
But his enthusiasm about the honor was clouded somewhat by an event that was capturing the baseball world at the time: the advent of free agency.
Just six days earlier, free agency had commenced with the Nov. 4 Re-entry Draft, in which teams could draft bargaining rights for players in order to have the right to bid for them in free agency.
Palmer’s former teammate Reggie Jackson, who the Orioles had acquired from the Athletics prior to the 1976 season, had been selected with the first overall pick in the re-entry draft, and would sign with the New York Yankees later that offseason.
“That’s what overshadows the award for me,” Palmer said. “I hate to dwell on negative thoughts, but no matter how well you pitch, it’s tough to win unless you have the material behind you. I am optimistic that, hopefully, we’ll still have a good ball club. But the outlook for the future of the Orioles is somewhat questionable.”
Amid the excitement around the game regarding free agency, Palmer expressed that he had little desire to play anywhere other than Baltimore.
“I have been happy here and there has been a lot of harmony in this organization,” Palmer said. “I have been treated fairly. The people here are nice. You’ve got the mountains, the beach and Chesapeake Bay, great golf courses, and Baltimore is one of the few cities in the east where you can drive 15 minutes and be in the country. Maybe you don’t make as many commercials here, but there is more to life than that.”
And stay he would: Palmer, who signed with the Orioles as an amateur free agent in 1963, spent his entire 19-year MLB career in Baltimore.
The Orioles didn’t reach the postseason in 1976 – but it was a rare blip in a run of excellence for Baltimore. Over Palmer’s 19 seasons in Baltimore, the club captured six AL pennants and three World Series titles.
Though the 1976 honor was Palmer’s final Cy Young Award, he remained in the running for years to come, ultimately finishing in the top five in the voting for the honor eight times.
He closed out his career with a 2.86 ERA, 268 career wins, six All-Star selections and eight 20-win seasons. Palmer was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1990.
Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum