These are the days when the final autumn paintings of Baltimore's temperamental purist Jim Palmer should be hung in the 33rd Street gallery and hailed.
Instesd, Palmer has been called a player who begs off under pressure" by two of his most respected teammates.
The Walters Gallery, just a few blocks from here, holds few works more polished and pleasing than those that decorate the walls of his Memorial Palmer's 13 years in his Memorial Stadium studio.
Perhaps more than any pitcher of his time, Palmer has treated his work as an art-a life's task of consuming interest that he was determined to master down to the tiniest brush stroke.
Yet when Palmer beat the Detroit Tiggers, 6-1, last night on a four-hitter to become the first American League pitcher since Lefty Grove in 1935 to win 20 games eight times, the hometown crowd mixed tepid cheers with boos.
The crowd of 13,036 moaned when John Wookenfuss' bases-loaded two-run pitch-hit single in the ninth beat the 'O's, 4-3, in the opener of this twinighter. And it howled for Doug DeCinces' nightcap homer.
But for Palmer-weaving his effortless spell after getting a quick 5-0 lead-there were hours of silence.
Palmer's obsessive perfectionism was rewarded again last night with a totally controlled still life of a game. Aside from Steve Kemp's solo homer, the Tigers hit 15 harmless pops' and flies, and Palmer added his name to an exclusive list of 20th Century mosters with eight 20s: Christy Mathewson, Warren Spain, Walter Johnson, Grover Alexander and Grvoe.
Yet Palmer's stern passion for correctness, his loathing of sloppiness on a baseball field, has blown up in his face this week.
On Tuesday, Oriole outfielder Pat Kelly dropped a fly ball. One pitch later, Palmer removed himself from a 1-0 game, pleading a tender elbow and blasting his outfielders loudly as he stalked up the tunnel to the shower.
"I guess I've tried to impose my standards on other people. I just get very frustrated. Maybe I expect too much. . .too much from myself. I was mad. I'm emotional. I just get upset. Mark Belanger has told me for years to relax, not to get so involved."
The close of this season should be a triumphal procession for the three-time Cy Young winner with the face of pre-Raphaelite radiance. At 32, the statictics are finally demanding that Palmer be placed among the great pitchers of this century-probably among the top dozen.
Fourth in career ERA (2.52) among 3,000-inning pitchers, he is sixth in winning percentage (.647) among modern 200-games winners.
But instead of praise, Palmer is getting bar-room psychoanalysis. "The people of Baltimore don't like me," says Palmer, like a mystified child who has tried to please.
"Trade him before he goes over the hill," answer many Baltimore fans.
Eccentridity may be excused in the presence of genius, but Palmer is pushing hard against baseball's accepted limits of idiosyncrasy. For the past two years, Palmer has made-little effort to control quirks and phobias.
Palmer has freely criticized his management, his manager and his teammates on several occasions.
"Because of his talent, Jim plays by a different set of rules," said one Oriole earlier this season. He can be candid . . . but it doesn't win him friends."
Palmer has always insisted on multiple medical inspections for every twinge. This season he has broken new ground by having a doctor's exam both pitching, then afterward, in the a.m. hours.
Against a Boston batter early this month, Palmer asked the home plate ump for seven new balls so he could find one that felt comfy.
"I won't pitch with square balls," says Palmer.
"I only have six balls in my pouch," said the ump. "It would be fair to assume Jim finally accepted one that he'd already thrown back."
To fans, Palmer is glamor personified. To players, Palmer is a flake.
"I've got to move the outfielders 10 steps to the left so when Palmer moves them back five steps to the right, they'll end up in the right place," sats Earl Weaver, who has looked at Palmer for years like a bemused old-fashioned father who has never quite figured out his favorite, gifted son.
For Palmer, baseball is not, has never been, a team game. He pitches to please himself only. When his constant griping, when the O's outfield proves unworthy of its immaculate moundsman, Palmer looks at his smudged and ruined master-piece and often he loses interest.
"He stops competing," said catcher Rick Dempsey last year.
Of most players, that is the ultimate criticism. But Palmer, who aspires to permanent glory-a higher thing than victory-that flaw almost seems beside the point.