SHOULD Jim Palmer achieve the comeback he talks of attempting, it could have serious repercussions. Members of the Baseball Writers Association, the group that bestowed the honor, probably wouldn't rescind his place in the Hall of Fame. But it could be embarrassing.
It also may work a hardship on the Hall of Fame. Every time Palmer pitched, it would necessitate updating his record on the bronze plaque displayed in the Hall of Fame wing at Cooperstown, N.Y., adding up to considerable expense.
To put a piece of tape over the numbers and change them temporarily with a marking pencil would detract from the dignity and the permanency intended in such a hallowed hall of honors. When the Palmer story was transmitted yesterday by the Associated Press, dateline Denver, some editors on newspaper copy desks around the country asked for a repeat.
They couldn't believe what they were reading. It smacked of fantasy. Was he kidding himself or doing it to us? But then Palmer's quotes were transmitted again, providing verification to the earlier dispatch. This reporter was a one-time batterymate of Palmer during one of baseball's prolonged strike actions.
Would he dare come back without his one-time catcher? Palmer is 45 and we're about a year or so older. Perhaps he could make a package deal with the Orioles. It sounded, this report of Palmer's return to the major leagues, as if maybe he had been running around outside in his Jockey shorts and was suffering from a serious case of the chilblains that led to delirium.
"I'm going to start throwing three days a week next week in Baltimore," he said. "I'll know what I can do in about three weeks. I can always be a broadcaster and I just signed a new three-year deal with Jockey, but nobody has ever come back after being inducted in the Hall of Fame."
That, indeed, would be different. Last year, you'll remember, Palmer said he wanted to pitch after he was enshrined at the Hall of Fame ceremony. He actually wanted to suit up for the next day's major-league exhibition, which featured the Orioles and Montreal Expos. The Hall of Fame, wanting to be the perfect host, didn't make a public statement to discourage Palmer but when he decided not to go through with the plan there was no attempt to talk him back into it. The Hall of Fame was relieved.
It didn't want to risk the Hall of Fame installation being upstaged by a "golden oldie" putting on a uniform and playing. They didn't perceive of it as an "old timers' game." What they hoped for was an enthusiastic and stirring acceptance speech, which Palmer, along with fellow enshrinee Joe Morgan, provided.
"My arm is much better than the last year I pitched ," Jim went on to tell reporters in Denver. "I won't know until I try. At my peak, I was throwing 95 miles per hour, but I was 15-5 when I was throwing only 85, 86 mph. I think I could be throwing that hard again in about a week." Yes, but could he sustain it?
Any chance he might be a mere reliever for the Orioles or any club signing him? This was put to rest by Palmer himself. "I'm a starter," he emphasized. After Palmer made his wishes known, it touched off the possibility that other former major-league pitchers in the area, such as Rex Barney, Dick Hall, Lou Sleater, Pete Taylor, Gordon Mueller, Russ Niller, Lou Grasmick, Johnny Wittig, Ray Flanigan, Joe Cascarella and John Miller may try similar stunts.
Age would be no factor. As for Palmer's Hall of Fame plaque, it reads as follows:
High-kicking, smooth-throwing symbol of Baltimore's six championship teams of the 1960s, '70s, '80s. Impressive numbers include 268 wins with .638 pct., eight 20-win seasons, 2.68 era and no grand slams allowed over entire 19-year career. Intensity was trademark of three-time Cy Young winner, who combined strength, intelligence, competitiveness and consistency to become Orioles' all-time winningest hurler.
From perusing the above, it's easy to see how having to update Palmer's numbers every time he pitched, and won or lost, would present serious statistical logistics for the Hall of Fame. Bronze doesn't erase that easily.