Jim Palmer's disposition is as sweet once more as a baby with a bottle of warm milk.

The Baltimore Oriole thoroughbred is all smiles and poise, affability and mother wit -- the cover boy come to life to pitch in the World Series.

Now, it is not that annoying town -- Bal'mer -- the city that never understood him, that is watching. It is America. So, Palmer is happy and healthy again.

Just two months ago, Palmer was probably this city's public enemy No. 1. The right-hander decided that mid-season was a good time to take a six-week vacation because his arm, while it didn't hurt real badly, mind you, still didn't feel as Jim Palmer's arm should.

Palmer, never shy of splitting hairs, made certain that everybody in Baltimore understood that, if it were absolutely necessary, he could pitch. It's just that he, wise in the ways of the mound and the mysteries of the arm, had decided -- for the long-term good of all -- to take a lengthy rest.

"When it's most important, I want to be out there on the mound," explained Palmer. "If I pitch now, I could be disabled in September and October when I'm really needed."

Being "really needed" ranks extremely high on Palmer's list of priorities -- just below "being right."

These are glorious autumn days for Palmer -- even if it did snow on Memorial Stadium today. He is needed. He has, at least in his own eyes, been proved right. And his arm feels like Jim Palmer's arm.

No one sneers at Palmer now. No one insinuates that his vacation-length half-season of just 156 innings was Palmer's way of punishing Oriole brass for his insultingly low $260,000 annual salary.

Now, Palmer says, "My arm feels perfect. That mild tendinitis just cleared up overnight."

To Baltimore, Palmer is close to being a hero once more. He battled California's Nolan Ryan in the first game of the AL playoffs and handed over a 3-3 tie to the bullpen, and the O's won in extra innings.

Pitchers are known for their complex and mysterious minds. When you only work every fourth day and have the other three to think, there's plenty of potential for personality kinks.

At bottom, after all the foolishness is washed away, there is always a verdict on every hurler. And for Palmer, after all his controversy, his love of tumult and attention, the jury always reaches the same decision: he is a champion.

Gentleman Jim, with his 225-122 career record and his 2.66 lifetime ERA in 3,275 innings, is ready for the Pittsburgh Pirates, whom he now is scheduled to face in the second and fifth games of the Series.

His best weapon will not be his rising and deceptively sneaky fast ball, nor his multiple speed curves, nor his three-finger changeup, nor even his slider (which Manager Earl Weaver loves, and Palmer hates.) It will be Palmer's seasoned intelligence, his absolute grasp of every pertinent theory of mental pitching.

Palmer has thought long and hard about the Pirates.

"We got to see them play their last five games on national TV (two regular season, three playoff). That's important," said Palmer. "That has to be an edge -- to see their most recent games and to see them live.

"Scouting reports can mislead you. After all, they all say the same thing basically -- 'He likes the fast ball over the plate and hits the hanging curve.'

"Big deal. I don't want to know their weaknesses. I want to know their strengths. That way, I can pitch my game and dictate to them, except when what I want to throw happens to correspond to their strength. Then I want to be aware of it.

"The only time I ever pitch to a hitter's weaknesses is when they accidentally match with my strengths.

"How many fast balls can I throw up-and-in to Willie Stargell?

"Of course, that's his weakness. It's the weakness of every big guy who gets tangled up in close and likes the ball out away from him," Palmer explained.

"And do you know where he got all those homers? From pitchers repeatedly working him up-and-in, who made a mistake by a few inches and got it out over the plate.

"You have to understand what's important and what's not. For instance, I have to keep Oscar (sic) Moreno off base, 'cause once he gets to first, you got no chance of getting him out stealing. The base is as good as his.

"So, you force him to hit his double, instead of giving him a walk and a steal.I'll get ahead of him in the count and make him hit my best fast ball right down the middle of the plate on 1-2 before I'll fall behind him, 3-1, and lay in a half-speed fast ball.

"How will I pitch to Parker?" said Palmer. "By inviting him to hit a single to left field every time up and bat 1.000. He'll get fast balls on the outside corner that he shouldn't be able to pull for homers until he proves to me that he's smart enough to accept the singles I'm offering him."

Then what?

"Then I'll have to change strategy . . . and walk him."

Palmer was not joking. He has pitched most sluggers that way for years, and eaten them alive. First, they get themselves out by trying to pull Palmer's heater. Then, if they finally go to the opposite field, Palmer feeds them bad balls just off the plate and once more, lets them impatiently get themselves out, since they earn their fame with hits, not measley walks.

Of all the players in the majors, Palmer may be the most candid, the best analyst and the one who most adamantly refuses to view his own team through rose-colored glasses. If he thought the O's were overmatched, he would find a veiled way to say it. Palmer, as always, would rather appear smart and correct in retrospect than soothe his teammates' feelings.

Thus, it is interesting that Palmer keeps giving off good Oriole vibrations.

"What did I see on TV?" asks Palmer. "I saw a very aggressive Pirate ball club. It looks to me like their pitching is grossly underrated. They get five or six excellent innings out of all their starters, then have a fine bullpen.

"I can be successful against them if I keep Moreno off base and keep Parker and Stargell inside the park."

Not long ago, baseball was a combination of pain, boredom, worry and public harrassment for Palmer.

Now, once more, the game is what it has always been for Palmer -- a chance to be the master of his craft under the eyes of millions.