Only Palmer doesn't know fairy tale is over


March 12, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Since we're all agreed this is a fairy tale,let's go with the one that's applicable. A hint: There's no glass slipper in view. In fact, there's no clothing at all, not even a certain brand of underwear.

I'm referring, of course, to that well-known fable, "The Emperor Has No Clothes," with Jim Palmer in the title role.

In this version of the age-old tale, the age-old Hall of Fame pitcher takes the mound for the first time that matters in seven years and has nothing on -- the ball, that is. And everyone is afraid to say so.

The comments generally went something like this: "Not bad, not bad at all. You have to admire the guy."

His fastball? "Well . . ."

His control? "Well . . ."

His stuff? "You really have to admire the guy."

You do. It takes courage to go out there against the Boston Red Sox undressed. And if somebody sends Jim Palmer a videotape of his performance, I'm guessing he'll never have the nerve to do it again, especially if he watches Ben McDonald, too, who followed Palmer and allowed one hit over four innings. It wasn't too difficult to tell who was throwing in the past tense.

By the way, the real answers to the relevant questions are, in order: Palmer's fastball was not very fast. He didn't have any control to speak of, especially of the big, round curveball he's been using. And for stuff, the way he threw yesterday, he'd be lucky to get through two innings of an old-timers' game. Most of the outs were line drives, and only one batter actually swung at a pitch and missed.

The one guy who doesn't get it is Palmer, who admits he's having trouble being objective.

"You don't know if it's your hamstring or if it's because you're 45," he would say of his two-inning, 38-pitch, five-hit, one-walk, two-run performance.

Oh, did I forget to mention the hamstring?

Sitting in the trainer's room, Palmer had his elbow resting in ice, his Achilles' tendon wrapped in an ice pack and his hamstring wrappedin another. The hamstring, he revealed, has been bothering him for months and puts his comeback attempt in some jeopardy. Palmer has said all along his body would tell him when to quit, and he said it again yesterday over a cacophony of aches and pains.

He would say he is getting a hint. And the Red Sox provided a few others. It isn't as if he's living in some dream world. He knows he wasn't very effective yesterday, but Palmer continues to believe that, at age 45, he has a chance to get better.

"I didn't have any rhythm," he said. "Of course, I may never have it again."

If anyone was tough on Palmer yesterday, it was Palmer, but only occasionally. Listening to him talk about his comeback is like listening to a man argue with himself. In one breath he says he has virtually no chance to make the team, and in the next he says he'll never know unless he keeps trying.

What did the Red Sox say?

"He threw good for a Hall of Famer," said Wade Boggs, who will be a Hall of Famer himself some day. "I don't pull punches. I'll tell you if he [stinks]. He did not embarrass himself out there."

In two at-bats against Palmer, Boggs had two hits and looked as if he would hit about .950 against him over a season.

Mike Greenwell, who singled in one shot at Palmer, said it was fun just hitting against him.

"No one has ever faced a Hall of Famer before in a game situation," Greenwell said. "You don't know how to react. I thought he threw decently, not great but not bad for the first time out."

So it went, for the Red Sox and for the Orioles. Everyone had nice things to say, and that's because everyone respects Palmer for the wonderful pitcher he used to be.

And, hey, it's fun. There was a full house at the ballpark and all the networks were there as well as Home Team Sports, which very nearly got the Palmer innings on the air. Yes, there were enough glitches to go around. The important thing to remember is that Palmer isn't hurting anyone. The Orioles don't mind that he's there. If anyone risks injury, psychic and otherwise, it's Palmer himself.

As of yesterday, Palmer said he didn't see why the story shouldn't continue to play out, meaning HTS might get another shot.

"I never ever thought I was going to make the team," Palmer said. "That's always been a long shot. I appreciate the Orioles giving me a chance. Maybe it was a mercy invitation, I don't know. But when I went out there, I didn't exactly embarrass myself.

"I threw well in warm-ups, and my arm feels good. I don't think you can be objective about it."

He said that if the Orioles told him the experiment was over, he'd bow out gracefully. He said that if his body told him it was over, he'd bow out, although it could be painfully.

"Contrary to what people have said and written about me," Palmer said, "I don't like to give up."

If nothing else, he has proven that much.

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