Jimmy, you're not the Palmer of old, just an old Palmer

MIKE LITTWIN

February 08, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

Jimmy, Jimmy, whaddya doing, babe?

This comeback thing, you think it's a good career move? You got underwear. You got TV. You got the sun in the morning and the moon at night. Jimmy, what do you need baseball for?

OK, I understand mid-life crisis. Come on, I've been there. We've all been there. Sure, you buy the Miata with the personalized license plates, go to the gym, buy a $200 power tie and learn

how to do the Lambada, the forbidden dance. If you've got it real bad, you climb the Tatra Mountains or go to Tibet to visit your personal guru/trainer, who tells you the secret of life and of a narrow waist.

But Jimmy, you're 45. Older than Ernie Whitt. Older even than Dewey Evans. It's not like I'm not rooting for you -- all us thirtysomething-pluses are in your corner -- but if you can still pitch like you used to, I can climb Mount Everest, and right now I'm lucky if I can get to the top of the stairs without an oxygen mask.

Jimmy, what is it? You can tell me.

Life is . . . boring? You just got married. You get to see Brooks Robinson in person. Get this: For a lot of guys your age, it's a thrill just to wake up each morning.

Jimmy, when guys get to be 45 and start thinking about playing baseball, they go to the winter fantasy camps. OK, I think, right now, you can still get Al Bumbry out. But Jimmy, Jose Canseco? You really want to take him on? I wouldn't even want to take on his wife.

Look, I don't blame you for going south for the winter. And if you want to pick up a baseball, why not, it's a free country. You want to throw a little? Hell, you're in the Hall of Fame. You can throw all you want. But, Jimmy, this is a different deal. Forget about Nolan Ryan for a minute. Nolan Ryan is a freak of nature, one in a million -- actually, one in about 5 billion. Ryan is the pitcher that time forgot, which would make a great movie. You're a great pitcher who got old. Ryan is going to turn out to be Dorian Gray -- just watch.

But you say you've found this kid pitching coach who's straightening you out. You say he told you your mechanics were awful and that you used to hold your glove wrong and that, suddenly, you're better than ever. Now, holding your glove wrong can be very dangerous if you're, say, a first baseman and you hold it high when the throw comes in low, or vice versa. It can be dangerous if you're Michael Jackson, and you put the glove on the wrong hand. But pitchers, I don't know. Did this kid ever beat Koufax? I bet he doesn't know Sandy Koufax from Sandy Duncan. Who we kidding here? Jimmy, you know more about pitching than Gen. Schwarzkopf knows about press briefings.

And, just for a minute, think what kind of position you put the Orioles in. Jim Palmer announces for the thousandth time that he's making a comeback, and they've got to pretend they're interested, even they know it's just Jimmy, who can't quite ever say, "It's over." Jimmy, go ask Yogi. So, the Orioles are saying all the right things. Frank Robinson says, gee, if anyone can do it, Jimmy can. And Larry Lucchino says that Jimmy is an Oriole great, and if he wants to pitch again, you think we're going to let him do it for the Cleveland Indians?

But, Jimmy, you're a smart guy, you must know what they're thinking. They think you need help, and not from a pitching coach, either. Secretly, a lot of folks are wondering when or if you might ever decide to grow up.

It's not necessarily all bad not to grow up. And you can say, like Campy did, that you need some little boy in you to play baseball. But, Jimmy, the only little boy you've got left is in a photo album that dad has back home. You're in the Hall of Fame. Dignity, son. Think about dignity.

Say you do come back. You can throw 82 miles an hour and the Orioles put you in the bullpen, throwing long relief. Where does it lead? You've been where it leads. You've been everywhere.

Actually, I don't think it's going to happen. Do you? I mean, the Orioles say they'll come look at you, and suddenly it's a pinched nerve here and a tight elbow there and it's the old Jimmy, except now, it's the old Jimmy. And now you're talking about next year already? Jimmy, do you think this deal is open-ended? You see anybody out there pitching who's 60? Do you think things last forever, I mean other than the mortgage payment?

Come on, Jimmy. I know. I really do. You never liked the way you retired. They tossed you out when you still thought you could pitch, and maybe you could back then, but maybe you couldn't either. And so you've never been able to say the words, "I retire." I've seen you try. You've made a hell of a try. Once I saw you get to "I ret."

But, Jimmy, this is silly, isn't it?

Isn't it?

You won 268 games and you had a career that is officially enshrined as one of the greatest of all time, and now you want to turn that career into a carnival sideshow? It's up to you, of course. For all I know, you're just trying to get a shot on "America's Funniest Home Videos."

But Jimmy, you want to do something wild, why not take up sky-diving? At least then, if you fall on your rear, you'd have the benefit of a parachute.

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