Heroic MLB umpire Steve Palermo loses cancer battle at 67

You may not know the name of too many umpires in Major League Baseball — at least you shouldn’t — but one should be known for his story away from the diamond.

His name is Steve Palermo.

Palermo died on Sunday after losing a fight against cancer at age 67 but it was his battles after a night in 1991 that changed his life.

It was July 7, 1991, in Dallas when he was shot and partially paralyzed from the waist down after trying to help three robbery victims by chasing down the assailants. The incident ended his MLB career that had begun back in 1976 but he later worked for MLB as a special assistant to the chairman of the Executive Council and then later as MLB’s umpire supervisor.

“Steve Palermo was a great umpire, a gifted communicator and a widely respected baseball official, known in our sport for his leadership and courage,” said MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred. “He had an exceptional impact on both his fellow Major League Umpires and baseball fans, who benefited from his ability to explain the rules of our game. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Steve’s wife, Debbie, the World Umpires Association and his many friends and admirers throughout the game.”

Palermo’s story landed him on the cover of the July 6, 1992, issue of Sports Illustrated, and that’s joined by only a handful of baseball cards made through the years. He can be found in the 1988, 1989 and 1990 T&M Sports MLB Umpires releases and, most notably, on a base card in 2004 Bowman Heritage. 

It’s in that Topps release where he and other umpires are featured on base cards with six parallels (Black and White, Mahogany and printing plates) but most importantly two certified autographs. His Signs of Authority auto and its Red parallel (/55) are his only certified sigs — and he’s had no MLB cards of any kind since that time.

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