The 1980s resurgence of minor league baseball in Buffalo was as noteworthy for the characters on the flanks as the players and the game. Tom Girot transformed into “Conehead” as he hawked beers up and down the steep Rockpile steps. Earl Patterson Howze Jr., aka The Earl of Bud, turned his impromptu “Tequila” dance into an event eagerly awaited come the seventh-inning stretch.
And then there was the ubiquitous presence of Donald Palmer, “The Butcher,” a teenaged bat boy of atypically large build. He cultivated a boisterous following by attempting to corral foul balls as they rolled down the screen behind home plate and back toward the field.
Cheers cascaded when The Butcher made the play. A smattering of boos arose when he didn’t, especially if he was striving for bonus points by hamming up the attempt. The loudest reaction of all was the collective groan reserved for balls that caught up on the screen, meaning there would be no play at all. Palmer often reacted to those by flinging his glove in embellished disgust.
Chances are there would be no “Butcher” like figures in today’s world, not with the landmines of political correctness. How dare they take advantage of this lad, clearly well overweight? Why, they’ve turned him into a circus sideshow.
Truth is, Palmer, who died Monday night in his late 40s, reveled in his role as The Butcher and the degree of recognition it afforded him. How many bat boys have their own autograph line, their own rooting section? His fame may well have exceeded his physical stature. He was a show unto himself.
As Palmer told News Reporter Gene Warner in a 2012 interview: "I think some people were laughing at me, and some people were laughing with me. I think they started out laughing at me, and then when people started to get to know me, I think they realized I was a happy-go-lucky kid.”
That he was, a happy-go-lucky kid in a happy-go-lucky era of Buffalo baseball. Surely he'd encourage us to smile at the memories.