What do women say about Jim Palmer, the star Balitimore Orioles pitcher turned national sex symbol thanks to his Jockey underwear ads?
"Looks good in a uniform."
"Looks better in nothing."
"This is all a result of the '79 World Series. My husband had it on televison, and I said, 'My God, who's that?'"
You could have heard more, much more, from a long line at Woodward & Lothrop yesterday that wandered past the Pierre Cardins, past the on-sale bathrobes and almost, approprately enough, into the men's underwear department. bPalmer, who has centerfold blue eyes and a dimple in his chin, was signing posters of himself in European-cut briefs and beautifully tanned goose bumps.
In Kansas City, 900 women showed up for a similar poster-signing. In Milwaukee, they chanted "Take it off!" when he removed his sport coat.But in Washington, perhaps because this is civilized capital, the poster-signing proceeded with impressive decorum.
In other words, a woman who said "I want him, I want him," did so quietly.
"Isn't he married?" wondered another. And from a third, who asked for a poster of Palmer in psychedelic briefs rather than yellow ones:
"Can I have the other poster instead?"
"What?" said Palmer. "You don't like me in yellow?"
Can Jim Palmer find happiness as a sex symbol?
"It doesn't bother my ego at all that I'm maybe more famous for doing the underwear ads than pitching," he said. "Number one, I feel good about my body. If I were 25 pounds overweight, I wouldn't have done it. Although when I first saw it, I said, 'That's not me, that's the lighting.'"
The lighting aims for Michelangelo's David, sculpting out muscles that seem more Greek marble than Cy Young award-winner. In person, eating a bacon cheeseburger in a camel blazer at Woodies' restaurant, Palmer looks lean and terminally all-American.
"It's that sensual, animalistc . . . No. It's my wholesome quality," he said. "I'm serious. All the mothers love me."
What is Jim Palmer really like?"
"Some people want to say I have a narcissistic outlook, and that's fine," Palmer said. "I mean, what did Robert Redford say -- I never go by a mirror I don't look in?"
So how many mirrors does Palmer look in?
"Oh," he said, "about every other one."
Palmer, considered one of the dozen greatest pitchers in baseball history, was adopted by a rich Park Avenue family who moved to Arizona. He claims he was the shy boy at the Scottsdale, Ariz., high school who was scared to talk to the girl behind him in biology. He lettered in football, made all-star in baseball and basketball, and then married Susan, his high-school sweetheart, at 18. He signed with the Orioles instead of taking basketball scholarship at UCLA, and at 20, won 15 games and pitched a shutout in the World Series.
At 35, he lives in a cedar and stone, 25-foot-ceilinged townhouse in Brooklandville, Md. He reads "Dr. Zhivago" on airplanes and is considered a smart, quiet eccentric. Always a perfectionist, he gardens with the same precision with which he throws a curve ball -- or doesn't throw a curve ball, as has happened frequently during a career marked by complaints, worries and minor injuries.
The Jockey ads started four years ago, when Palmer was featured in a group shot with people like Pete Rose and Steve Garvey. He stood out as tall and smooth, and according to a research survey, supremely marketable. This year he became Jockey's sole model and spokesman. He won't say how much he makes, but he will say that when the president of Jockey told him "I don't even know how much we're paying you," he found himself replying: "Good."
What do the men say about Jim Palmer?
Most of them, who usually don't even notice how other men look, find him handsome -- disconcertingly so.
Then there's Earl Weaver. The Orioles manager usually has a lot to say to Palmer, and loudly. The two are famous for going after each other like father and son. Or snarling carnivores.
"No, he doesn't resent me because I'm a sex symbol, he resents me because I'm 6-4 and he's 5-8," Palmer said. "And I want you to know that when Earl Weaver walks out to take out a pitcher, he always walks to the highest point of the mound. Because that's where he'll be the tallest."
The other Orioles have often felt free to rip into Palmer, particularly when he says publicly, as he did during spring training in 1977, that "the Orioles stink."
But the men at Woodies yesterday were fans. Or husbands of fans, picking up autographed posters to take home to their wives. For instance:
"Yesterday morning I was drinking coffee and all of a sudden, I hear this shriek. And I say, 'Good God, what happened?' And my wife said, 'Jim Palmer's going to be at Woodies! You gotta get a poster!"
"We went down to spring training two years ago. He's a real personable fellow, so I called him over and we started talking. And then my wife says: 'Jim, I just want you to know that I've got a picture of you in your underwear over my pillow.'"