With three World Series rings, three Cy Young Awards and six All-Star selections, an exemplary record as a spokesperson for charities and corporations, and a long tenure as a TV analyst, Jim Palmer is an authority on what it takes to succeed on and off the field. Nine Innings to Success takes readers inside the clubhouse, broadcast booth and corporate world to tell the story of a one-of-a-kind career that serves as a how-to guide on succeeding in the workplace.
We live in a beauty-obsessed world, and I heard references to my matinee-idol looks for my entire career. Baseball historian Bill James once said of me, "Jim Palmer was the ultimate pretty-boy athlete. Unnaturally handsome with clear blue eyes and a square, smiling face, he was also highly intelligent and articulate." At some point my looks threatened to become as much of a conversation topic as my fastball. An early Cal Ripken Jr. scouting report produced by the Pittsburgh Pirates referred to Cal as "Jim Palmer handsome." Forget about winning 268 games and three Cy Young awards, in many people's eyes I was just a pretty face. Again, that carries certain advantages. According to a University of Texas study, a handsome man stands to earn 13 percent more during his career than a less attractive peer. With that in mind, let's remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I believe that people who exude confidence and present themselves well have a greater likelihood of being successful.
Would I have had the opportunity to appear in underwear commercials if I didn't look good in briefs? Probably not. But my history with Jockey was built more on loyalty than looks. I got my start with the Kenosha, Wisconsin-based company in 1977, the first year I took part in a print ad campaign that gave the American public a glimpse at what I and seven other athletes, including Pete Rose and Steve Carlton, looked like in our underwear. In 1976 Jockey did an ad campaign with a different group of athletes that advised men to look their best while wearing their least. The tagline for the '77 campaign, "Take Away Their Uniforms and Who Are They," wasn't posed as a question because the answer was plain to see. They put me in the skimpiest briefs of all at the New York City shoot.
I earned $3,500 for that first ad and I think Jockey felt like it got its money's worth. The cost of my Amtrak ticket from Baltimore to New York was $35. And I stayed only one night at the Hilton in midtown Manhattan. Pete, on the other hand, missed a flight from Atlanta, forcing Jockey to spend $5,000 to charter a plane for him. I think that severely damaged Pete's relationship with the company, though the way he looked in his underwear may have also contributed to the end of his modeling days. Thank God he could hit.
In 1978 I was the only athlete from the previous year's shoot who got invited to endorse Jockey again. This time it was with three other athletes: Lydell Mitchell of the Baltimore Colts, Marques Johnson of the Milwaukee Bucks, and Shep Messing, a goaltender for the Oakland Stompers soccer team. That ad had a real classic 1970s look. The photographer took a burst of images, creating a strobe effect that showed me in various stages of my pitching motion. To get the action shot just right, I threw a baseball into a blanket about 50 times.
All of the Jockey ads were ahead of their time -- groundbreaking -- even. Bill Herrmann, the company's vice president of sales, calculated that women made 75 percent of men's underwear purchases. So in an attempt to appeal to the majority of the underwear-buying public without alienating the underwear-wearing public, he devised a plan to target each group at a personal and emotional level. When Jockey decided to go with a single face for the campaign, Herrmann set out to find the athlete who he thought men found most relatable and women found easiest on the eyes.
In today's world Jockey probably would have conducted an online poll to determine which athlete would earn the right to star in future campaigns. Back then, companies relied on old-fashioned market research to decide who would most ably represent their products. They narrowed the field of candidates down to two: me and Steve Garvey of the Dodgers. They took us around to shopping malls and counted the number of people who showed up. And they conducted popularity tests to see who scored highest. Finally, they had us both do a photo shoot with famed photographer Harold Krieger at his New York studio. Krieger was a real pro who had shot covers for Life and Look magazines. When Jockey's executives analyzed all the information, they decided I was the right man for the job. Krieger's photos became the basis for several more ads.
A lot of people over the years have asked me what it was like being a sex symbol. I start by telling them that without Harold Krieger, I might not have reached that status. When I saw the photos he took, I hardly recognized myself. That's not me being self-deprecating. It's a true statement about the magic of lighting and studio photography.
As the face of Jockey, I branched out into television ads. I found that exciting because it had been years since I had shot a commercial. In the early 1970s, I appeared in a commercial for Brylcream, a popular hair care product of the era ("a little dab will do ya") that was shot over a two-day period in Miami -- one day at a ballpark and the other on a boat sailing across Biscayne Bay. Check it out on YouTube if you'd like.
During the 1980s I did about 20 to 25 store appearances a year for Jockey across the country. Each of those days consisted of radio or television appearances in the morning, autograph sessions at the stores in the afternoon, and meetings with buyers later in the day. Jockey hit on a really winning formula. Husbands and wives would show up together to the store appearances. Women bought Jockey because they liked the ads. At the same time, their husbands didn't feel threatened by the man in the ad. In fact they felt completely comfortable telling me how much their wives enjoyed seeing me in my underwear. I don't think they would have said that to a regular model, but they had no qualms about sharing that with a baseball player who was moonlighting as a model.
On a visit to New York, I ran into Bill Farley, the head of Union Underwear -- then the largest underwear company in the world. Bill told me that despite his company having a much larger market share than Jockey, everyone seemed to think Jockey was king. It meant a lot to me to see a little company with local ownership become such a major name and competitor in the industry.
My teammates got a kick out of my side project. They had seen me in my skivvies hundreds of times and couldn't understand what the fuss was all about. Scott McGregor tells a story of how a woman in an Orioles cap excitedly approached him in the Memorial Stadium parking lot during the 1977 season. Wow, Scotty thought, I haven't been with the club long, but I already have fans.
"Oh, my friends won't believe I met you," the woman gushed. "Can I please have your autograph, Mr. Palmer?"
"Mr. Palmer? Do I look like a model?" Scotty said laughing.
In my work for Jockey, I applied the same level of preparation as I did on the baseball field. I drew from my experiences and learned from them. And I worked hard to represent the company to the best of my ability. I showed up on time, never missed a store appearance, and kept myself in shape. It's not a coincidence that I spent as many years pitching Jockey underwear as I did pitching baseballs for the Orioles. Both were companies I respected. It's amazing to think that a $35 train ticket from Baltimore to New York turned into a 20-year affiliation with Jockey.
-- Excerpted by permission from Nine Innings To Success by Jim Palmer with Alan Maimon. Copyright (c) 2016. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Jim Palmer on Twitter @Jim22Palmer. Follow Alan Maimon on Twitter @alanmaimon.
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