The unlikely comeback bid of Jim Palmer appeared to move closer to a resolution yesterday, when the Hall of Famer worked out for about a half-dozen major-league scouts and his lawyer said the pitcher's baseball future should be cleared up "within a week."
Palmer threw about 15 minutes of batting practice to one right- and one left-handed hitter at the University of Miami's Mark Light Stadium yesterday morning. Then he returned to his Key Biscayne apartment, where he treated a blister on his right thumb by soaking his pitching hand in a jar of pickle brine.
Among the teams that dispatched scouts to watch the former Baltimore Orioles great were the Orioles (who were represented by minor-league pitching coach Dick Bosman), Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos.
Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, after speaking with Bosman, said he wanted his scouts "to see Jim throw some more" before deciding whether to invite Palmer to spring training.
"With any player, it's tough to pass judgment on such a short look," Hemond said. Palmer said he plans to throw again either
tomorrow or Saturday, and Hemond indicated the Orioles probably would be represented at the workout.
In any case, Hemond said he hoped to have the matter resolved when pitchers and catchers report to the Orioles' spring-training camp in Sarasota, Fla., next Thursday.
Bosman, speaking from his home in Clearwater, Fla., offered a guarded assessment of Palmer's performance yesterday, saying: "I saw what I expected to see. He had halfway decent velocity, a halfway decent curve and he threw strikes."
Bosman estimated that the pitches fell in the range of 75 to 85 mph.
Asked if Palmer had the tools to pitch in the major leagues, Bosman said, "It's possible. He was a little rusty today, struggling a little bit with a blister."
Expos general manager David Dombrowski wouldn't comment on his scout's Palmer report, but he didn't sound as if he expected to see Palmer in his starting rotation. "We'll keep an open mind about watching him," Dombrowski said, "but the chances of him ending up here are remote. If he throws well enough, he'll end up with one of the clubs he's shown more of a preference for."
Meanwhile, Ron Shapiro, Palmer's lawyer, said he expected that his client's ball-playing future would become clear very soon. "The process [of talking to general managers] starts tonight," Shapiro said, adding, "I won't say a contract is in sight until I hear what they [GMs] say and Jim has had a chance to analyze his options."
Palmer, 45, hasn't pitched in the major leagues since May 1984, when the Orioles released him. His entire 19-year career was spent in an Orioles uniform, and his 268 career victories are the most in franchise history.
Yesterday, Palmer wasn't willing to speculate whether his comeback attempt will lead back to the major leagues, or even to discuss whether the Orioles would be his first choice. Time, he said, would decide all that.
"If it happens, it happens," Palmer said of his chances. "It's something I don't have control over. I'll just do what I've been doing and let other people make the decision."
Palmer has toyed with a comeback every year since the Orioles let him go, but his most recent bid,which began in Miami last December, clearly has been the most serious. At the start, he worked out three times a week at the University of Miami, but those workouts have been less frequent since Palmer developed a tightness in his elbow and a blister on the thumb of his pitching hand. He said yesterday's workout was his most vigorous in 28 days.
As for evaluating his performance, Palmer wasn't offering much. He said his pitching was "fine" and that, all things considered, it had been a "nice day."
About the kind of situation that he would find most attractive, Palmer said more. Playing for a team other than the Orioles is a possibility, he said, "If someone is going to give me a bona fide chance to make the ballclub."
In the right situation, one of baseball's most effective starting pitchers said that becoming a relief pitcher "would be fine."
"But I'm not sure if people would feel I would fit into that," Palmer said. "When you ask a guy who hasn't pitched in seven years to do something he's never done before, it's an unusual thing. But I'd be receptive to anything."