Remembering Heroic MLB Umpiring Supervisor: Steve Palermo (1949-2017)

Stephen Michael Palermo was born October 9, 1949 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Palermo attended Worcester State College and enrolled in the Umpire Development Program in 1972. It took him only five years to get to the major league level. He was one of the first A.L. Umpires to not use the large outside chest protector that the N.L. umps had stopped using years before. A.L. umps hired prior to 1977 were grand fathered in & were not required to use the inside chest protectors.

Palermo was the third base umpire who signaled “fair ball” when Bucky Dent hit his famous HR during the 1978 A.L. East playoff game at Fenway Park. His father a Red Sox fan told him why couldn't you call it foul. Palermo said because it was like 20 feet fair. His dad, a true fan, responded "so".

He would go on to umpire in the 1980, 1982 & 1989 ALCS, as well as the 1981 ALDS. He covered first base for the 1986 All Star Game held at the Houston Astrodome. His only World Series was in 1983 when the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in five games. That same season he worked behind the plate for Dave Righetti’s no hitter in New York. In 1991 the Sporting News ranked him Number one for overall performance of an umpire.

Tragedy: In July of 1991, Palermo was eating dinner at an Egyptian Restaurant in Dallas,with friends after a Texas Rangers game. He & five other men went to help two waitresses who were getting mugged & beaten in the parking lot. He & another man chased one of the suspects trying to apprehend him. The other suspects who had driven away came back & fired into the scuffle. A bullet hit Palermo going right through him.

Quotes: “It hit me, belt high, and tore a path through my body. And then instantly, I was paralyzed. I just kind of melted into the pavement. I knew right away that oh boy, this is serious.”

He suffered a gunshot wound to his spinal cord which paralyzed him instantly from the waist down. He was told he would never walk again. After three months of determination & rehab was able to walk with a cane & leg brace. He was honored by MLB & threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the 1991 World Series.

Honors: In 1994, he won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. In 2003, he began serving as the Honorary Chairman of Assurant Employee Benefits' WillReturn Council. The Award is given to individuals who overcome disabilities.

In 2005 he served as honorary commissioner for the Tee Ball game at the White House in which children with physical disabilities participated.

In 2000, Palermo was hired as an MLB supervisor of umpires, working in that position until his death. Palermo served as a liaison between MLB & the Major League umpires as well. 

He also worked as a motivational speaker, telling how he overcame his disabilities. 

He & his wife Debbie lived in the beautiful suburb of Overland Park, Kansas just outside Kansas City, Missouri.

Passing: Palermo passed away from lung cancer on May 15th, 2017, he was 67.


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