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Original Issue

Steve Palermo, Umpire JULY 6, 1992

When a bullet struck his vertebrae and left him paralyzed 10 years
ago, umpire Steve Palermo vowed that he would not only walk again
but also one day crouch behind home plate. Palermo is walking
now, as well as serving as a supervisor of umpires for the major
leagues. When discussing his second promise, however, the
normally garrulous Palermo falls silent before acknowledging that
he probably won't be able to keep it. "I'd like to be back out on
the field, even to work the plate for just one game," he says,
"but I'm not going to cheat the game or the profession. My
condition hasn't improved in three or four years, so barring a
scientific breakthrough, this might be as good as it gets."

Palermo was 26 years old when he entered the big leagues in 1977,
and he quickly earned a reputation as a gifted ball-and-strike
umpire. He called Dave Righetti's no-hitter in 1983, as well as
the final game of the World Series later that year. At about 1
a.m. on July 7, 1991, a few hours after working third base at an
Angels-Rangers game, Palermo was dining with friends at a Dallas
restaurant. When he heard that two waitresses were being attacked
outside, he and five other men rushed to their aid. Palermo was
shot in the back, and the bullet frayed the bundle of nerves at
the base of his spine. After six weeks of treatment he began to
regain the use of his legs, and for the next seven years he
underwent physical therapy on an almost daily basis. Today he
walks with a cane, and the pain in his back, hips, hamstrings and
calves never goes away. "If I can get up, go play golf, do things
with my wife, go to a movie, go out to dinner, that's a super
day," says Palermo, 52, who's planning to build a new house near
his current residence in Overland Park, Kans.

Since 1994 one of Palermo's duties for baseball has been to find
ways to pick up the pace of games. Last season his six-year-old
recommendation that umpires call strikes about five inches above
the waist, as opposed to at the belt, was adopted. He also scouts
the minors for umpiring prospects.

So many times people have asked him if he regrets running out of
that restaurant. His answer is always the same: It's never a
mistake to help someone in trouble. Palermo believes the real
hero in the family is his wife, Debbie, who was a 28-year-old
bride of five months when he was shot. "Behind closed doors you
don't know how many tears have been shed, but there's a time when
you pull yourself up and say, 'O.K., here's what we're going to
do,'" says Palermo. "I am a survivor."

--Hali Helfgott

COLOR PHOTO: BUCK MILLER (COVER) A decade after suffering a spinal cord injury, Palermo is back in baseball, but not behind the plate.

COLOR PHOTO: ELI REICHMAN [See caption above]