SARASOTA, Fla. -- Jim Palmer is still the longest shot in Florida, but three people closely connected to him during the height of his career won't write off his historic comeback attempt.
And there is one thing they all say.
"If anybody can do it, he's the one," said former manager Earl Weaver and ex-pitching coaches George Bamberger and Ray Miller.
None of the three was here yesterday for Palmer's unimpressive but inconclusive two-inning performance in an intrasquad game. But all are keeping track of the Hall of Famer's effort.
"There's no question he stopped pitching too soon," said Weaver, whose first retirement preceded Palmer's release by 20 months. "If I had still been there I would have fought it.
"But I probably would have had another big fight with Jim in the process, because I would have asked him to use his slider and see what happened," said Weaver. "He had one of the best [sliders] I've ever seen, but he was afraid to use it for fear it would hurt his arm. We probably would've fought over that."
Nevertheless, Weaver thinks that the slider, if Palmer will use the pitch, could be a deciding factor in his comeback. "If he's able to use it, it could be the difference in his being able to pull this off. But that's going to be up to him."
If Palmer is to be successful, Bamberger says there will be two major factors. "In the 40 years I've been in baseball, there's no doubt he has the best work habits I've ever seen," said the pitching coach who once correctly predicted the Orioles would have four 20-game winners.
s "The other thing is his intelligence on the mound. That's something else in his favor. But, let's face it, what he's trying to do is going to be awfully tough. It's tough enough to lay off for one year.
"I hope he makes it, I really do," Bamberger said. "But I just hope he gives himself enough time. Jim has a lot of pride and I know he won't embarrass himself, but this will take time if he's going to do it.
"I saw some film clips of him on television the other day, and except for one slight change in his delivery he looks exactly the same to me," said Bamberger. "He's breaking [separating] his hands a little quicker than he used to when he makes that high leg kick. Other than that nothing is any different."
It doesn't surprise Miller that Palmer came into training camp for the first time in seven years and resumed all the drills as though he'd never been away.
"He was so great at his position," said Miller, "that it seemed like he could do things like cover first base or field bunts without disturbing a blade of grass. There was nobody else close to him.
"I don't know whether he can do it or not -- and I hope he's not just doing it for the money -- but there's very little about the guy that would surprise me."
While others speculate about Palmer's motives in his comeback attempt, Bamberger has little doubt what prompted him. "I'm sure he feels he's better at his age than some of the guys who are still in the big leagues," said Bamberger. "And he might be right.
"I read where he is throwing the ball in the 85-87 [mph] range and that's about where he was the last few years he pitched. I would think the toughest thing for him at first would be control. If he's able to position himself on the mound and throw the ball where he wants, especially the curveball, that will be a key.
"He's the best pitcher I've ever been associated with," said Bamberger, "and it's not an easy road. If he's going to make it, he has to give himself time."
Time, of course, is a luxury Palmer doesn't have beyond spring training. He has said he won't waste anybody's time if he becomes convinced he can't make the club. "But believe it or not, I feel better now than I did two months, or two weeks ago," rTC he said after giving up four hits -- including a wind-blown home run -- two walks and two runs in a two-inning intrasquad stint yesterday. "I honestly think my stuff will get better."
Whether it does or not, Weaver thinks Palmer has to give himself a full shot. "I'm happy he's giving himself the chance," said Weaver. "I know he left too soon, and I think he knows it, too."
Even if he doesn't make the team, Weaver thinks Palmer's presence will have an effect on the Orioles' staff. "He is perfectly conditioned physically," said Weaver. "If those young guys try to run with him while he's getting in shape, if they try to keep up with him, the Orioles will have the best conditioned pitching staff they've ever had."
Palmer says he's in a no-lose situation, because the worst thing that can happen is that he'll learn more about the Orioles and the organization to help him in the broadcast career that is currently in limbo.
The big plus that manager Frank Robinson was hoping for is already evident. Two nights ago Palmer and former teammate Mike Flanagan ran into Ben McDonald and Bob Milacki at a restaurant -- and the four had dinner together.
"Ben told me today [yesterday] that it was amazing the stories he heard," said minor-league pitching instructor Tom Brown.
"I would like to think that Milacki and McDonald got something out of that hour-and-a-half dinner," said Palmer. "That's the way it always was with the Orioles, the young and the old -- there was always a continuation. That's what old guys do, they tell stories.
"I hope that Mike, or maybe both of us, can make this team because those guys [young pitchers] need somebody to talk to."
And while some might doubt his sincerity, or his chances of pulling off this most unlikely of comeback attempts, Weaver, Bamberger and Miller probably best understand.
Call it pride, ego or whatever you want -- that's what spurred this comeback attempt. It's what motivates a 45-year-old to be in better shape than many players 20 years younger.