Steve Palermo, heroic umpire, dead at 67

Steve Palermo was already respected on the field before becoming a hero off of it. (AP)

Major League Baseball lost a legend with the death of former umpire Steve Palermo. MLB confirmed his death with a statement from commissioner Rob Manfred on Sunday.

“Steve Palermo was a great umpire, a gifted communicator and a widely respected baseball official, known in our sport for his leadership and courage,” Manfred said via an MLB release. “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.”

While Palermo commanded respect on the field and worked his way into much of the game’s recent history, one of his most important acts came far away from the ballpark. In July of 1991, Palermo ran to help two waitresses who were being mugged when he was shot in the back, nearly costing him his life.

Steve Palermo (R), pictured in 2006. (AP)

Palermo wasn’t expected to walk again. Instead, with the use of a cane, Palermo not only walked but was able to rejoin Major League Baseball in 1994 as a special assistant before becoming umpire supervisor for the league in 2000.

The Worcester, Mass. native spent his summers as an umpire in the American League from 1977 until the shooting in 1991. Along the way he helped call four American League Championship Series and one no-hitter.

Palermo later retired to Kansas City where he still made his presence felt in baseball. The Kansas City Royals made sure Palermo was a part of their All-Star Game ceremonies at Kauffman Stadium in 2012.

“The one thing that I’ve proved or learned is that the human spirit and drive and determination, you can’t ever sell that short.” Palermo told MLB.com in 2013. “Had I known then what I know now about how much damage was done to my spinal cord, I probably would’ve said, ‘I’m fighting an uphill battle here that just can’t be won. I might as well stay in this wheelchair. But sometimes I think that’s what drove me, was that, ‘OK, you put this challenge out there for me. You stuck this carrot out on the stick and now I’m going to try to run it down.'”

Steve Palermo was 67 years old.

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Blake Schuster is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at blakeschuster@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!