Steve Palermo umpired his last major-league game in 1991, but he continued to make an impact in baseball and in life until his death, which was announced by Major League Baseball on Sunday.
Palermo, who made Kansas City his home, died of cancer. He was 67.
“Just a class guy,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He’s somebody we’re going to really, really miss.”
But Palermo’s story will live on.
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He never thought of himself as a hero, but his selflessness in a moment’s notice on a July day nearly three decades ago that ended his on-field career was an act of courage and heroism.
On July, 7, 1991, Palermo was shot in the back while coming to the aid of a robbery victim in the parking lot of a Dallas restaurant.
Two waitresses were being mugged across the street. Palermo and two friends rushed out the door. Two muggers took off in a car. Palermo and another guy chased the third mugger down on foot and had him on the ground. Then the car came back. Gunfire blasted out, and five shots were fired.
One bullet missed. Palermo’s friend took three, including one in the jaw, and he fully recovered.
One bullet sliced into Palermo’s waist, bounced off a kidney and went through his abdomen, breaking bone and pushing into the spinal cord. It missed killing him by 1 millimeter.
Doctors told Palermo he wouldn’t walk again. His umpiring career was over, but Palermo recovered, walking with the use of a cane.
The days of calling balls and strikes were over, but a new life opened up for Palermo and he inspired others.
He remained in baseball in several capacities, starting with tossing out the first pitch of Game 1 of the 1991 World Series.
Palermo was hired by baseball as a special assistant to the chairman of the Major League Executive Council in 1994.
In 2000, he became an umpire supervisor for Major League Baseball, serving as a liaison between the umpires and the commissioner.
Palermo served as honorary commissioner at the White House Tee Ball Initiative, a program launched by President George W. Bush for children with disabilities.
He was recognized at the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City, his adopted hometown, and walked out with the umpiring crew for the presentation of the lineups.
“I was determined to get back as much of my health as possible,” Palermo told The Star before the All-Star Game. “That’s important. To be determined and have determination. If I can inspire (some people) with that, then great.”
Palermo spent many evenings attending games at Kauffman Stadium, although he had not been to the press box this season. He often would sit quietly on the second of two rows among media members, observing the game and his friends working the plate and bases, and was always helpful interpreting rules.
He also worked with the Royals on umpiring issues, Yost said.
“He was a huge resource for us here on umpiring, and we would see him all the time,” Yost said.
Yost and Royals legend George Brett played when Palermo worked in the American League, starting in 1976.
Palermo was as a full-time member of the AL staff from 1977 to 1991. He worked the 1983 World Series, the 1986 All-Star Game and four American League Championship Series.
“I remember when he came up,” Brett said. “It didn’t take him long to become one of the finest umpires in the game.”
Yost, who was a catcher, said he could communicate with Palermo, which isn’t always the case between players and umpires.
“As a catcher, some umpires are horrible to work in front of because they don't want to talk,” Yost said. “Steve was always really good about being able to talk and discuss pitches. If you thought it was a strike, he would always engage.”
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called Palermo “a great umpire, a gifted communicator and a widely respected baseball official known in our sport for his leadership and courage.”