Steve Palermo was a native of Worcester, Mass. who attended Norwich and two other institutions of higher education before finding his true calling at Major League Baseball’s highly competitive umpiring school in Florida. He first discovered a love of umpiring when he umpired for local amateur leagues to pick up some extra cash during high school and college. After completing the MLB training, he started his career in the minor leagues and landed a full-time job with the American League in 1977.
Palermo was an American League umpire for nearly 15 years. He worked many notable games, including the 1983 World Series, the 1986 All-Star Game, four American League Championship Series, and Dave Righetti’s Fourth of July no-hitter for the Yankees in 1983. Because he worked for the American League, the Massachusetts native sometimes umpired games between his family’s beloved Red Sox and the rival Yankees, and took plenty of flak for his calls against the Red Sox.
Palermo’s umpiring career came to a sudden end when tragedy struck in July of 1991. After umpiring a game between the California Angels and the Texas Rangers, he and some friends went out to dinner at a restaurant in Dallas. Palermo and a few others rushed out into the parking lot when they realized that two waitresses were being attacked by robbers. Palermo chased one of the assailants on foot while another fled by car, only to return and shoot at Palermo and his friends.
Palermo immediately fell to the pavement as a bullet struck his kidney and spinal cord. Doctors believed he would never walk again. It took months of rehabilitation, but Palermo was able to regain the use of his legs with the aid of crutches and then a cane. In October 1991, just three months after the shooting, he threw the first pitch at Game 1 of the World Series in Minneapolis.
His umpiring career was over, but his passion for baseball never flagged. In the 1990s he worked as a network analyst as well as a special assistant to the chairman of the Major League Executive Council, studying the problematic length of MLB games. In 2000, he was hired as an MLB umpire supervisor, a role he would continue for the rest of his life. He also served as honorary commissioner for the White House Tee Ball Initiative, a program under President George W. Bush for children with disabilities.
Steve Palermo died of lung cancer in 2017 at the age of 67. His bravery and fierce dedication to the sport of baseball were eulogized across the country.