The last time Joe Morgan faced Jim Palmer in an American League game, he swung at and missed a 3-0 pitch before drawing a walk. He was embarrassed enough by that swing to seek out Palmer the next day to apologize.
Sunday the two men will stand side by side at Cooperstown to join Baseball's Hall of Fame, marking the final high point in careers that were parallel, but infrequently intertwined. Morgan hit an All-Star Game homer off Palmer and faced the Baltimore Oriole pitcher on other occasions, but he recalled that last at-bat most vividly during a telephone conference call.
"That last at-bat was against a guy who was struggling, but I swung at a 3-0 pitch because I thought maybe I could get a hit," said Morgan, a second baseman on Cincinnati's Big Red Machine in the 1970s. "I was struggling, too, but it was the kind of thing I never would have done five years before. You don't kick a guy when he's down. When I did that, I decided it was time for me to quit."
Palmer recalled the night and the apology, too, admitting that it helped him realize that the end was near, as well.
But on Sunday both men will be honored for their ringing achievements in careers that saw both set standards of excellence at their positions. Broadcaster Byrum Saam and writer Jerome Holtzman also will be inducted.
"The most important thing about being elected to the Hall of Fame," Palmer said, "is that the players there set goals for others to shoot at. Joe Morgan set standards for infielders. Players know if they can do what he did they have a chance to be in the Hall of Fame. When I was pitching, I looked at the Sandy Koufaxes, Don Drysdales, Early Wynns and Robin Robertses. They set the goals for me."
Morgan says that he "wonders if I belong in there with Ty Cobb, Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and all the other great ballplayers" and that he considers the ceremony "a very special weekend."
"I was fortunate to grow up in the East Bay and see the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League as a young boy. My father taught me the game from the stands. In high school, the Giants came to San Francisco and I could see Mays, whom I still consider the greatest player there ever was. Seeing players like that fueled me to try to be a major leaguer."
Both men are now broadcasters. Morgan works San Francisco games and is part of the ESPN Sunday night crew. Palmer announces in Baltimore and works ESPN Friday night games. Both also have worked network games. So each remains close to baseball and some of the game's current problems.
"I'm concerned that statistics are becoming overly important in evaluating a player's worth to his ballclub," Morgan said of the modern game. "What a player does to help his team win should be more important. A player may beat out a bunt with a runner on second base and two outs; that shows as a base hit, but it isn't helping the club win."
Palmer is concerned about the number of young players rushed to the top level because of a thinning of talent.
"Kids are spending as little as a year to 18 months in the minors," he said. "They don't get fundamentally sound as a result. In fact, some of them don't even know what they have to do to get better. I was fortunate to be on a team with a great blend of veterans who could help teach."