Palmer is forever speaker of O's house

March 18, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It's not until he's addressed topics like West Palm Beach real estate, Nolan Ryan's personal-services contract and why no one questions Frank Robinson's 49 home runs the way they wonder about Brady Anderson's 50 home runs that Jim Palmer gets really Jim Palmer-esque.

Why did he speak out on steroids and name an ex-Oriole when all he was trying to do was illustrate how baseball's credibility is out the window the way the union refuses to institute a stiffer drug-testing policy?

Palmer uses his long arms and large hands to help dramatize his favorite quote from the Russian writer Boris Pasternak:

" `In every generation there has to be some fool who will speak the truth as he sees it,' " Palmer said.

FOR THE RECORD - Quoted in a sports column in yesterday's editions, former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer incorrectly included Mike Cuellar in a list of Orioles who had died. Cuellar is still living. The Sun regrets the errors.

He then jabs himself in the chest.

"I'm the fool," he mouths.

The Dodgers have Tommy Lasorda. The Yankees have Reggie Jackson. The Orioles have Jim Palmer eagerly serving as resident Hall of Fame river of words, facts, memories, insights and opinions.

Sometimes, Palmer even likes to dole out tips to opposing pitchers and staffs, like the time he gave a few pointers to Oakland Athletics ace Barry Zito. As if he needed any tips. And as if certain Orioles managers and players wouldn't prefer that scouting tips stay in-house.

Let David Segui take issue with Palmer's incurable need to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It's not going to change Palmer.

"That's my job. Like Cal Ripken Sr. said: This game isn't about us. It's about the people who come to watch the game. Do the right thing," he said.

Yesterday, the Orioles' game against the Astros was long over. Jack Cust's walk-off homer had finally stopped bouncing across Cypress Creek Road. The sun was starting to set, but Palmer was still talking.

And talking and talking and talking.

Two guys from Victoria, British Columbia, waited until Palmer was off-camera -- finally -- after explaining what he said about Anderson.

"Hey, Mr. Palmer. We're school teachers from Canada. We teach a broadcasting class. Mind if we ask you a few questions?"

Palmer spat his sunflower seeds into the dirt.

"Go ahead, fellas," Palmer said, loping toward them, shaking hands, happy to oblige.

The teachers were polite. They asked a few quick questions and for his autograph.

"Anything else, fellas?" Palmer said.

"No, thanks, Mr. Palmer. Got to go," the school teachers say.

Why is it that Palmer has so much to say?

As one of his Orioles associates said: Ask Jim for the time, he'll tell you how to build a watch.

They kid Jim Palmer because they love Jim Palmer, even if no one has yet been able to pin down exactly how it is that "Cakes" became such a unique baseball character.

Oh, right. The pancakes. That was part of it, along with the test score that rated Palmer the prospect to be as competitive and composed as he eventually became.

"He's a five," said Dave Ritterspusch, the Orioles' former scouting director, about a psychological test that demonstrated Palmer's composure and "fair amount of self-confidence."

"Yeah, but it also said I was uncoachable. Or at least that's what Earl [Weaver] said," Palmer said.

Ritterspusch concurred: "I'm sure coachability was not one of his high traits. He might have been a little more high-maintenance."

High maintenance. Unique. But also an undeniable part of franchise history whose clout grants him special status. As another colleague said, Palmer might only work 90 games a season, but it's the same as 162 the way he talks.

And talks.

It's been a busy 24 hours since Palmer made headlines by saying Anderson enhanced his performance with steroids in 1996, when Anderson set the Orioles' single-season franchise record with 50 home runs.

Palmer did, indeed, say what many others have speculated. However, only Palmer -- like Charles Barkley, who said he was misquoted in his own autobiography -- could suggest maybe he was misquoted or taken out of context. Or, more outrageous, Palmer suggested that the radio broadcast tape might have been doctored to make it sound like he had accused Anderson.

"In a perfect world [where the players were tested for steroids], we'd know it was all about Brady and what he did. I don't know how he did what he did. The right thing is to have testing. It's not about infringing on the players' rights but to level the playing field," Palmer said.

No one except Don Fehr would dispute that argument. But here is Palmer, the perfect candidate (like Reggie Jackson last week) to stir the drink on this most serious baseball issue.

Put a gag order on Reggie, or Palmer? Who is baseball commissioner Bud Selig kidding, especially now that there's speculation Selig will invoke the "best interest of baseball" caveat to test major league players under the same system now used to test minor league players.

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