Jan. 2, 1967 – Nov. 22, 2016
Donald R. “Butch” Palmer, the burly Buffalo Bisons batboy known as “The Butcher” who became a ballpark favorite during the team’s final years in War Memorial Stadium, died unexpectedly Tuesday in his home in the city’s Riverside neighborhood. He was 49.
Among personalities like dancing beer vendor Earl J. “Earl of Bud” Howze Jr. and mascot Buster Bison who entertained fans in the 1980s, the teenaged Mr. Palmer, who tipped the scales at about 350 pounds, was perhaps the foremost.
A feature story in The Buffalo News in 1984 noted that he “has gone from chump to celebrity in the five years he’s been shagging foul balls off the screen behind home plate. Not that he always catches them. According to his luck, he gets cheered and booed as much as any player.”
“He became larger than life,” said Mike Billoni, who was general manager of the Bisons then. “He was unequivocally the most publicized and recognized batboy in the history of organized baseball. He was part of (play-by-play announcers) Duke McGuire and Pete Weber’s call of the game.”
Known as “Butch” before he joined the Bisons, he was dubbed “The Butcher” by McGuire.
Rain delays often prompted one of his crowd-pleasing antics. Billoni recalled that after the ground crew spread a protective covering over the infield, Mr. Palmer “would do a bellyflop onto the tarp and come up soaking wet and muddy.”
In the late 1980s, he was honored with his own baseball card, with his photo and a biography which termed him “a folk hero.”
He retired from the Bisons in 1991.
He also worked for the Buffalo Sabres as stick man for the visiting teams and was employed by the City of Buffalo, first as a rink guard and in recent years as a recycling worker for the Streets Department.
He and his father, Encil “Porky,” a retired Sabres trainer, owned and operated a hockey store, Butch & Porky’s Pro Shop, in Depew.
He survived a heart attack at the age of 34 and competed for many summers as a stock car racer at Holland NASCAR Motorsports Complex despite losing part of his right foot in 2011 due of complications from diabetes.
Born in Buffalo, he attended Grover Cleveland High School.
In addition to his father, survivors include his wife of 26 years, the former Suzanne Dombrowski; a son, Robert Ray; and nieces and nephews.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in Assumption Catholic Church, 435 Amherst St.