This has been an occasionally delightful, often prickly, sometimes stormy season for the Baltimore Orioles' Jim Palmer and his manager, Earl Weaver.
But then they all are. The elegant, gentlemanly Cy Young Award pitcher and the brilliant, testy, acid-tongued manager are baseball's odd couple.TWhen they meet on the Memorial Stadium mound in the humid, strained late in nings, the air quality index immediately becomes uncomfortable.
They carry with them nearly a decade of squabbles and reconciliations, misunderstandings and mended fences. Theirs is one of baseballs's richest and most complex personal relationships between two highly intelligent, proud, successful and almst entirely antithetical personalities.
Whenever their temperaments colide, it is like Grant and Lee at Appomatox. except that when Weaver arrives Palmer relinquishes the ball with considerably less grace than Lee finally handed over his sword.
In fact, Weaver and Palmer - the Orioles' fascinting civil warriors - resemble that historical pair.
Weaver runs his tiny army a good deal in the fashion of U.S. Grant - long on invective, short on mollycoddling. Many a general manager would like to order a case of what ever it is that Weaver drinks, even if it does lead to an early a.m. phone call saying that a certain manager has been kicking the door of a state troopers car.
While the Weaver persona is built on colorful, salty language, cabinets of statistical charts and an unfailing instinct for needling and infuriating opponents, Palmer is the opposite of a feisty street fighter.
Cool and stately on the mound, handsome, civilized and given to subjunctive clauses in his conversation, Palmer is the romantic Robert E. Lee of pitchers. Though he was raised on Park Avenue and is college-educated, Palmer, in recent years, has taken a stand for many a rebel cause.
Palmer feels that a man who has everything - wealth, fame, family, glamour - should at least be able to tell the truth. Dissembling, to make the baseball gears work smoothly, comes as hard to Palmer as it has always come easily for Weaver.
And that is when the sparks fly. It is Palmer's subtle, candid tongue and Weaver's sharp, incisive one that have made the Palmer-Weaver marriage a marvel of mutual irritation and respect.
"They've had their little war for years," said Bird shortstop Mark Belanger, who has been privy to hundreds of mount SALT talks. "Palmer, as he has gotten older has aired his opinion on a lot things. And Earl," Belanger stopped to laugh, "Earl'll tell you any damn thing he wants to, anytime he wants to, and to anybody. He doesn't care who you are, and that certainly includes Jim.
"He'll chew you out in private or in front of the whole team. But he expects you to forget, just like he forgets."
"Earl has probably had more fights (arguments) with his players than any manager in baseball,' said Baltimore's Tony Muser. "But the next day the air is clear."
"Earl tells you what's on his mind and lets you open your mouth, too," said Belanger. "Though I've always answered him with respectt."
The young Palmer, sensitive, plagued by arm and back miseries - some of which teammates thought were located in Palmer's brain - was easily hurt by Weaver's blunt approach. For years the mature Palmer has taken Weaver to task, once in a national magazine, for his throw-' emin-and see-if-they-swim methods with green players.
The odd couple has had almost yearly set-tos, usually about Palmer's mysterious injuries.
"The Chinese tell time by 'The Year of the Dragon,' 'The Year of the Horse," said Weaver mischievously this week, knowing that he and Palmer have just come out of one of their icy periods that lasted most of May and June while Palmer had an inexplicable 3-7 slump.
"I tell time by 'The Year of the Ulna Nerve,' 'The Year of th Shoulder,' 'The Year of the Elbow," continued Weaver with a grin. "Now that ulna nerve," said Weaver, recalling Palmer's all time unfathomable injury, "that was a strange one . . . " trailing off before he gets himself in trouble again.
Palmer seems incapable of going through a season without at least two major crises. He has won 20 games in seasons when he was on the 15-day disabled list, and once went 16-4 despite a 42-day absence.
The streaky Palmer seems always to be either on an untouchable skein or moping around the clubhouse as though ready to jump into his private abyss. Last year hewas 6-7 on June 10, then found his Palmer method for '76 and was 16-6 thereafter.
This has been the 'Year of the Lost Control' and the 'Missing Slider.' Weaver knew matters were too good to be true when Palmer started 5-1 with a 0.67 earned run average.
Sure enough, pitcher Fred Holdsworth ran into Palmer in the outfield jogging before a game and suddenly Palmer's picture-perfect delivery was on the fritz again. Or at least that is how Palmer explained his subsequent bad outings. Weaver never knows for certain what is cause and what is effect.
Palmer, who can remember how he pitched to a batter five years ago, continued to insist on trying to throw perfect pitches to perfect spots.
The righthander with the lowest career ERA (2.61) in the American League since Walter Johnson retired 50 years ago constantly fell behind mediocre hitters, gave up walks and generally finessed himself into a corner.
"Palmer still has his great stuff. Maybe he oughta just throw strikes until he gets his pinpoint control back," second-guessed Weaver.
In the dugout many a Palmer inning ended with a public, arm-waving debate over pitching strategy with melow pitching coach George Bamberger serving as mediator.
This season's low point came when Boston hit nine home runs off Palmer in two starts. Afterward, his pride hurt, Palmer said he had told Weaver in both games that he was tired before the late-inning onslaught of homers occurred. "If I had been taken out when I said I was tired," observed Palmer. "I wouldn't have given up the majority of those nine."
"He told me he was tired, but he didn't say to take him out," countered Weaver, playing the ancient game.
"They know how to give each other air," said Belanger of that typical Palmer-Weaver joustings. "You set it up so you have a (verbal) way out and the other person does too."
Now, the emergency is past. Palmer has rediscovered his slider, a pitch some say he misplaced in the whrilpool or under an old pile of socks. Weaver is relieved after watching Palmer pitch back-to-back seven-hitters. "When he's healthy," said the manager with the third highest winning percentage in history, "He's the best."
Palmer Weaver and the Orioles are on one of those frequent second honeymoons that so regularly coincide with a healthy, happy and hot Palmer.
"I think Jim and I are exactly the same kind of people," Weaver said this week, raising a previously unconsidered possibility. "We say what we feel. We get it out in the open and live with it. He's no person to hold a grudge and I don't think I am either. I think we understand each other."