In the Baltimore Orioles' camp, Jim Palmer was pointing out that 20-game winners like himself do not live on strikeouts alone. "One of the things this club needs," he said, "is somebody to catch fly balls in center field." Not an unusual demand by a pitcher.
But in the case of the Orioles, that lament by their best pitcher must serve only for openers. If the Orioles, with their long, unfilled list of basic needs, are not one of the most forlorn clubs in the American League, present appearances are deceiving.
Some very valuable members of their flock are missing. They re the Orioles permitted to migrate over the winter to other clubs that would meet their price as free agents. The Baltimore ownership wouldn't, a stand that has met with some approval by hometown fans outraged by some of the athletes' out-of-sight salary demands.
But it has left Earl Weaver's lineup so ravaged that he would deserve Manager of the Year distinction if he brings the Orioles in a respectable third behind the Yankees and Boston in the AL East.
In addition to that center fielder Paul Blair was traded to the Yankees who can catch up with a ball in flight, the Orioles also have these other fundamental needs:
Somebody who can play second base somewhat like Bobby Grich, who signed on with the Angels for a big bundle.
Somebody who can hit 27 homers and drive in 91 runs like Reggie Jackson did before he was fascinated by a $2.9 million offer from the Yankees.
Somebody to pitch like 20-game winner Wayne Garland did before he played out his option like the others and took big money from Cleveland.
And somebody to play third base like Brooks Robinson always did, before that 39-year-old's golden glove was tarnished last season by his unfortunate 211 batting average.
So the Orioles' chances of getting anywhere near the division playoffs do not seem to be good. Without Blair and Grich, without Jackson and Garland, they are in no position to challenge the Yankee team they finished 10 1/2 games behind last season, a Yankee team now bolstered by big-hitter Jackson and Don Gullet, the winning pitcher from the Reds.
In this situation, the Baltimore ownership has announced a raise in ticket prices, if only slightly.
Not all Baltimoreans are content that Jerold Hoffberger, a very wealthy man, has refused to play the new money game in baseball. Especially when he lost 20-game winner Garland to Cleveland, a poor club by Hoffberger standards, that outbid him.
One of those accusing Hoffberger of parsimony is Palmer. "There wasn't too much separating him from keeping a couple of those players, but he didn't go all the way," Palmer said. "The clubs keep saying it costs $600,000 or $700,000 to develop a regular from the farm system, but they fight paying not too much more for a certified star."
Palmer has his own salary hassle with the Orioles. He wants to renegotiate the three-year contract he signed a year before the free-agent route to open bidding came into vogue.
"They're not treating me right," Palmer said. "Sure, we are negotiating, but they are doing it on the Jimmy Carter basis - peanuts. I'll still pitch my heart out for the $180,000 a year they're paying me just as I'd pitch if my pay was a million. But they know I'm worth more on the present scale, and they're not doing anything about it."
As if to semphasize his point, Palmer took the mound in Orlando, Fla., Monday night and blanked the Minnesota Twins on two hits for six innings.
In their hearts, some of the Orioles are not quite dismal at the prospect that home-run hitter Jackson will not be with them again, after his one-year sojourn. One of these could be manager Weaver, who was forced, early in their relationship, to proclaim to Jackson who was the boss.
This was on the Orioles' first road trip when Jackson, flouting Weaver's orders about attire, boarded the team plane in a sport shirt without a tie. "No tie, no trips for you," Weaver said. "Get off and come back with a tie or stay home."
Jackson returned in the dignity of a necktie.
Palmer isn't completely sure that Jackson will be the big man the Yankees anticipate. In what could have been a tip to all the pitchers in the league, and in a statement born of his own success when Jackson was with Oakland, Palmer said, "He won't hit all those home runs if they don't throw him fast balls."