Palmer returns are in, but it's still too close to call


February 22, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

We sit at home anxiously, expectantly, helplessly. We turn on our TV sets for updates, hoping that, finally, he will have made up his mind.

Is Jim Palmer coming back, or isn't he?

Is he re-retiring before he unretires, or, to put it another way, is the guy nuts? Will Palmer make history by becoming the first Hall of Famer to be invited to spring-training camp and then not show up? And what does Sugar Ray Leonard, the reigning indecision champion, have to say about it?

So many questions, and only one Jim Palmer.

The question is no longer: Can he pitch? That's the old question, now replaced by: Will he pitch?

This is Jim Palmer as Hamlet, the role he was born to play. You think Mel Gibson was good, Palmer is better.

Do you get the feeling that Palmer doesn't know quite what he wants? Here's a quote that came in early yesterday from Atlanta, where Palmer had this to say on his future: "I've spent two months doing something, and it will be real difficult not to do it."

Palmer was in Atlanta pitching underwear, and this is where he has it all over Nolan Ryan. When pitching underwear, he's still the Cy Young Award winner, uh, hands down.

To recap: Palmer kept saying he wanted to make a comeback. Everyone chuckled. He kept saying it anyway. He started working out, trained by an unpaid assistant college pitching coach. Everyone chuckled some more. He kept pitching. He asked teams to take a look. They looked, and one, the Baltimore Orioles, invited him to camp. He said he couldn't come to camp unless he was assured he could keep his day job as a TV announcer. The TV station said he could.



Palmer said he'd think about it.

Maybe there was some confusion about the invitation. Maybe Palmer was afraid it was black-tie, and he had nothing to wear.

He called up Roland Hemond, the Orioles GM, and said he was worried he'd be a distraction and maybe he shouldn't come.

Hemond said it was OK. Frank Robinson said it was OK. Everyone said they'd love to have him.

Palmer, unconvinced, said he had written a note, presumably a note of resignation from a job he never had. But then he said: "I've spent two months doing something, and it will be real difficult not to do it."

By yesterday afternoon, the Orioles' pitchers and catchers were reporting to camp in droves. Would Palmer join them?

I have it on good authority that Palmer spent much of the day debating with himself, while humming the Lovin' Spoonful tune, "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" He spent the day equivocating -- the good angel on the left shoulder, the bad angel on the right shoulder, which had, now that you mention it, just the slightest numbness.

Good Angel: "Jim, you're in the Hall of Fame. You've got a great tan already. What do you need spring training for?"

Bad Angel: "Cakes, there's fame, there's fortune, there's groupies, there's free visits to the orthopedist."

Personally, I've been hoping that Palmer would show up, and I'm rooting for him to make it. What a great story. A Palmer comeback would give so many people hope that it's never too late to chase a dream.

Besides, Bjorn Borg says he's coming back. Mark Spitz says he's coming back. Why not Palmer? If he wants it, he should try to grab it while he can.

As it turns out, the only thing that has been standing between Palmer and a comeback try is Palmer himself. He has done the work, he has the invitation and now all he has to do is pull the trigger. There are veteran Palmer observers, however, who have been predicting he'd come down with a pinched nerve in his finger.

Late last night, Palmer said he was coming to camp, that he was going to give it a try, that he was prepared to make a commitment. At least that's what he said last night. I wonder what he'll say next. Here are some possible Palmer responses, depending on when you reach him: no, yes, no, maybe, no, no, yes, maybe, maybe, no, yes.

Or, conversely: yes, no, maybe, maybe, yes, no, no, maybe, no, yes, no.

The real question is how this problem without apparent resolution will ever be resolved. One possibility is that, unable to take the pressure anymore, Palmer will some day soon slip out of town, saying he needs more time to think and leaving his number in case anyone wants to get in touch.

You call up the number, and here's what you get on the answering machine:

"Hi, this is Jim Palmer. At the beep, you can either leave a message or not leave a message. It's completely up to you. Don't try to put it on me because I can't decide."

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