Camp project Palmer welcome mat to stay out all spring, Robinson says

February 20, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Frank Robinson isn't particularly interested in the conditions surrounding Jim Palmer's invitation to the Orioles' spring training camp.

Neither is he concerned that it will have a negative effect on others, especially the young pitchers, or that the situation might create a circus atmosphere.

All Robinson knows is that he expects Palmer to be here -- and that the Hall of Fame pitcher will have the entire spring training camp to prove whether his comeback is stranger than fiction, or pure folly.

There has been a basic perception that Robinson was against the invitation, a notion even suggested by Palmer. But if Robinson is upset by the development, he's done a remarkable job of swallowing the company line without indigestion.

"I've heard that," admitted Robinson. "I even heard it from Roland [general manager Roland Hemond], who said Jim had asked if he felt I was against it.

"I don't know why he [Palmer] would feel that way. I certainly haven't said anything. If he really felt I was against it, I would think he'd pick up the phone and call me. I'm all for it, if he feels he's able to do it.

"If he wants to try this, after what he's done and what he's meant to this organization, then it's only right for him to do it with us."

Sometime today Palmer is expected to accept what attorney Ron Shapiro called a "proposal" from the Orioles. Basically it is a spring training invitation, made palatable by WMAR-TV's willingness to hold Palmer's Orioles announcing job as long as necessary.

"WMAR has agreed to wait in line," said Shapiro, "and that was very positive."

Palmer had said he would need more of a guarantee than a spring training invitation because of his television career. Apparently WMAR's assurance, though Palmer's deal there for 1991 hasn't been spelled out, constituted enough of a guarantee.

Asked what made the Orioles' proposal different from the kind Palmer had said he wouldn't accept, Shapiro said: "I can't say what is or isn't in there [the proposal]."

The only remaining negotiations apparently centered on the terms of Palmer's contract, should he win a job with the Orioles. However, the only guarantees seem to be those offered by WMAR.

Palmer was in Chicago yesterday and unavailable for comment, and is scheduled to be in Atlanta today. But he flew back to Baltimore yesterday to talk with Shapiro, who said "things were beginning to shape up" and a decision would be made "within the next 24 hours."

Technicalities aside, Robinson insisted he had no problem with Palmer, 45, attempting a comeback with the Orioles, and treated the matter as a done deal. He also said Palmer would not disrupt his camp, would have a positive effect on young pitchers, would not be judged until he completed spring training -- and would get preferential treatment if the manager deemed it warranted.

"I think there are things that we can do to control a possible circus atmosphere," said Robinson. "I don't think Jim wants that and I think it's something we can take steps to handle."

As far as the Orioles' young pitchers being threatened or intimidated, Robinson expressed no concern. "I think they can only benefit from him being around," said Robinson. "Just watching him, talking to him -- I hope they pick his brain."

In addition, Robinson said the only timetable for Palmer would be the duration of spring training. "It wouldn't be fair to say we've got to find out in two weeks, or three weeks," said Robinson. "The only way for him to find out if he can do it is to go through the entire spring training."

Asked if the only way the comeback would be called off would be if Palmer himself decided it wasn't feasible, Robinson said: "That's the only way.

"Otherwise we'll look at him all the way through spring training and then make a decision. We might not even make it until we get back to Washington [for exhibition games April 6 and 7] -- although he might not want to pitch in those games," quipped Robinson, referring to the short fences in RFK Stadium's makeshift baseball configuration.

As for how he would treat a teammate from 25 years ago, and a fellow Hall of Famer, Robinson said he would have no problem extending special treatment. "First of all, Jim won't want it," said Robinson. "But anytime I feel like it's warranted, yes, I'll give it to him. He deserves it."

From those who have watched him throw the last two weeks, there is not a great deal of sentiment that Palmer can become the first baseball Hall of Famer to return to the big leagues. Scouts have said he is throwing at "about average" major-league velocity, and there is much doubt about his resiliency of his arm after a seven-year layoff.

And if it's a guarantee Palmer wants, Robinson is willing to give him a full spring training camp to prove his point -- and his worth.

"I'll sit down and talk to him," said Robinson, "and ask him what he thinks he's capable of doing early, what he's looking for, what he expects to be able to do.

"Then I'll tell him what I think. I'll say, 'Hey, don't push yourself too fast.' Then we'll make a decision when we break camp."

Frank Robinson insists he will not rain on Jim Palmer's "Field Of Dreams" at least until the end of spring training. And as guarantees go, that's about as good as they come under the circumstances.

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