"I want to see the man with his clothes on," 25-year-old Carole Fazio said. "I always admired him in his underwear."
Fazio stood Thursday in the lingerie department of Bullock's Sherman Oaks store, waiting to meet Jim Palmer, the former pitcher-turned-pitchman for Jockey brand underwear. At 39, Palmer no longer plays ball, but he continues to strip down to his skivvies in ads that have made him the man against whom other jockey-shorted men are silently measured.
As 200 fans trooped past, a fully clad Palmer smiled and signed posters of himself in blue-and-white-striped bikini briefs for the women, and photos showing him in his Baltimore Orioles uniform for the substantial minority of men.
Fazio, who was vacationing in Los Angeles from Rochester, N.Y., got both an autograph and her picture taken with the blue-eyed poster guy, even though she prefers Calvin Klein underwear to the androgynous line of underwear "for her" that Palmer was promoting.
Likes Women to Look Feminine
Palmer acknowledges that he himself isn't crazy about the current "here-dear-wear-mine" undershirted, jockey-shorted look in lingerie. "I like women to look feminine," he said.
Jim Rosenthal of San Marino wanted a poster for his 13-year-old daughter, Jodi. "That's Jim Rosenthal, not to be confused with Jim Palmer," he told a reporter. "I'm tall and gorgeous," added the 47-year-old Bullock's executive, who is compact and has a good personality.
A sliver under 6-foot-4, Palmer still is able to jimmy himself into size 30 bikinis for photo sessions. Although his appeal is clearly visceral, as evidenced by the phone numbers inevitably slipped to him in the autograph lines, he eschews the sex-symbol label. "I think I'd have great difficulty trying to live up to that," he said.
"It's nice that people think I look good in the underwear. It's very complimentary. But what does it have to do with reality?"
Reality for Palmer is finding worthwhile things to do since he retired last year, a rich man, from baseball. At 20, Palmer pitched a shutout for the Orioles in the 1966 World Series. At 38, he left the game, not because he thought he could no longer throw, but because he was released by the Orioles and would have had to play for another team.
Palmer is divorced--"It had nothing to do with underwear," he said--but continues to live near his ex-wife and two teen-age daughters in Baltimore. After all the years on the road, he said, his daughters are his first priority. "For me to win a few more baseball games meant I would have to go to another city, and I never wanted to relate to my children that way," he said.
Although he still believes in his arm, Palmer recalls that the last few years on the mound were very different from the first. "When I was 23 or 24, I could have something else on my mind, and I was just so physically overpowering, it didn't matter," he said. "When you're 38, you have to have tunnel vision. You have to be able to focus your concentration."
Palmer says he misses pitching and the camaraderie of baseball. But he is obviously no ruined Boy of Summer, replaying mental tapes of his World Series victories.
Today, he does color commentary for ABC baseball telecasts, hustling to out-perform his model and rival, Tony Kubek, the former Yankee at NBC. He also is narrator of the PBS series "The Sporting Life," already being touted for an Emmy. And, almost a given for the admirably preserved, he's written a soon-to-be-published exercise book.
And, of course, he continues to strip down, and sign autographs, for Jockey. In the hundreds of public appearances he has made in the name of underwear, he has never had a nasty moment, never had a crowd get out of hand, he says.
Unlike some who take it off, Palmer continues to wear his dignity. "It's the American enterprise system. You do a job and get paid for it," he said, smiling with nonprovocative charm at yet another fan with who-knows-what poster-generated fantasy unreeling in her mind.