Palmer at bat for Weaver Ex-O's great backs manager for Hall

January 13, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Jim Palmer has been in the Hall of Fame for five years, and he has only one complaint:

It's just too quiet.

There's no one to argue with at the annual induction ceremonies. No one to kick dirt on the dais. No one cantankerous enough to let the air out of a slightly inflated pitcher.

In short, there's no Earl Weaver, and Cooperstown is in need of a curmudgeon.

So Palmer, the guy Weaver loved to hate -- and vice versa -- has begun a campaign to rectify the situation. He hopes to persuade the Hall of Fame's veterans committee to elect the fiery former Orioles manager this year, and he thinks that Weaver is the perfect guy to fill the vacuum left Monday when voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America failed to select anyone for the 1996 induction ceremony.

"When I heard that no one got in this year, I was shocked, so I called Earl and I told him that I was going to do everything I could to see that he got in," Palmer said. "I've heard it said that the people who dominate their era should be in the Hall of Fame. There was no better manager in baseball from 1969 to 1982 than Earl Weaver. He was colorful and he was a terrific manager."

Weaver led the Orioles in to the World Series in his first full season as manager and won the American League East five times in his first six years. He went on to build a string of 14 consecutive winning seasons before retiring in 1982. His only losing season came when the Orioles finished seventh in 1986 and persuaded Weaver to hang it up for good. Weaver's .583 winning percentage (1,480-1,060) is sixth among managers with at least 10 major-league seasons.

Now the guy who used to drive him to distraction is trying to push him into the Hall of Fame. How ironic is that? Palmer and Weaver feuded openly throughout the 14 seasons they spent in the Baltimore clubhouse together, though both insist that the animosity between them has been greatly exaggerated.

"We were actually very close, believe it or not," Weaver said. "It was a fantastic relationship."

Palmer's tone has become almost reverent. He credits Weaver with making him into a pitcher worthy of Hall of Fame consideration -- Palmer is 15th all-time in shutouts and 29th in wins -- and wants to return the favor.

"Earl was the best manager of his era," Palmer said, "so in a year when baseball needs a Hall of Fame inductee, who better?"

Weaver appreciates the effort, but he doesn't know whether Palmer's attempt to influence the panel will help or hurt his chances of becoming the 11th manager to enter the Hall of Fame.

"Jim called the other day, but I don't know if lobbying will help," Weaver said. "If the record is there, I guess you've got a chance. It would certainly be nice, but whatever happens, those were great years."

The veterans committee meets each year to consider players passed over by the BBWAA, as well as nonplaying personnel who are not eligible for the BBWAA ballot. Weaver has been under consideration for the past several years, and should be a solid candidate in a year in when the BBWAA failed to give any former player the required 75 percent approval necessary for induction.

"Earl has been on the ballot and has received considerable support," said Hall of Fame vice president William Guilfoile. "His name has certainly come up and I presume it will again."

The 15-member committee includes five Hall of Fame players, five baseball executives and five media representatives. They will meet March 5 in Tampa, Fla., to discuss candidates and cast their votes. Weaver must appear on 12 of the 15 ballots to earn induction.

Former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jim Bunning and color-line pioneer Larry Doby also are believed to be strong candidates. The committee can choose as many as four inductees.

It is not common for a Hall of Fame member to campaign openly for a candidate, but Hall of Fame officials say that it is not frowned upon.

"I don't specifically remember it happening before, but I wouldn't be surprised if it had," Guilfoile said. "I think [Palmer] has every right to express his thoughts to the voters. We're constantly getting mail for the veterans committee supporting this candidate or that, and we forward it to the committee. Just because he's a Hall of Famer, I don't think that should prevent him from expressing his thoughts."

Palmer contacted Hall of Fame president Edward Stack with the idea and met with no resistance. He intends to draft a letter to the 15 committee members after returning from a trip to the West Coast later this month. He already has contacted the Orioles' public relations office to see if the club would like to get involved.

"By no stretch of the imagination should Earl Weaver get in just because they need an inductee," Palmer said. "He should get in because he was the greatest manager of his time. . . . plus he was colorful. He had a way with the writers and the umpires. He would be a worthy and colorful addition.

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