Jim Palmer hints that if his pitching shoulder doesn't feel better in the next 10 days, he may have to retire. And the Baltimore Orioles, as exasperated with Palmer as they've been in their 20 seasons together indicate that they may not beg him to stay.

Palmer has annoyed and even infuriated the Orioles on many occasions, but he has never made them madder than he did Thursday when, just a couple of hours before game time, he reported he was unfit to pitch. Since then, Palmer, who has started only five games and pitched 34 innings this season, has returned to Baltimore for tests on his right shoulder and the Orioles have steamed.

"We have to find out where we stand with Palmer. He says he has calcium deposits under his shoulder blade . . . but every pitcher has calcium buildup and the more you pitch, the more calcium," said Pitching Coach Ray Miller today. "If we can't count on him, then we'll have to get somebody else . . . We can't function with things going like they have so far."

Monday, on the team bus to Yankee Stadium, Palmer said, "I may know in a couple of days if I have to retire." In the Orioles' world, such remarks by Palmer are met with a shrug. However, in light of subsequent developments, plus the fact that sources say that Palmer has brought up the subject of midseason retirement with the Orioles' staff, the pitcher's fears are given more credence.

Asked on Friday evening if retirement is an imminent possibility, Palmer said, "I don't know . . . everything's up in the air. I'll know more in a couple of days after more tests are done." Asked what his shoulder felt like, Palmer said, pointedly, "It feels like what I had last September after Earl (Weaver) left me in to throw 137 pitches." In his last start (on June 25), Palmer was left in, against his wishes, to throw 138 pitches (and allow seven earned runs) against the Yankees.

"We can't have managers and coaches doing their planning based on what's best for one guy rather than what's best for the team," said Miller. "The (Palmer) start before that, Jimmy had a shutout going and took himself out in the sixth inning and left (manager) Joe (Altobelli) high and dry. The bullpen was worn out and (after 89 pitches) Palmer just said he couldn't pitch any more (after 5 1/3 innings because in part, he said, of a hangnail). Luckily, (Tim) Stoddard came in did a good job."

Altobelli, who had a long meeting with Palmer Thursday, simply looks to the heavens, in the best Weaver manner, when the Palmer subject comes up.

"I can't make anything of it," says Altobelli of the whole situation. As to whether Palmer might retire, Altobelli said, rather airily, "That I wouldn't know . . . We'll see how he throws on July 12th. That's his next start. Then will be the time to make some decisions."

Palmer, coming off a 15-5 season in which he was second in the Cy Young voting, had a fine spring training until his final tuneup. He was shelled by a college team, complained of lower back pain and scratched himself from an opening day start; Dennis Martinez, forced to pitch with twice as much rest as he wanted, lost, after looking sharp all spring, and began a dismal 4-11 season.

Palmer pitched in the club's seventh and 13th games, allowing no earned runs in 13 innings and looking as excellent as he had in '82. Before his third start, in Oakland, Palmer complained of a sore neck, caused in part, he suspected, by the lack of foam rubber pillows in the Oakland Hyatt, Palmer said he had told the hotel of the problem the previous season, but it hadn't been solved. Palmer was knocked out in Oakland.

Before his next start, in Seattle, Palmer said he couldn't pitch; the Orioles put him on the 21-day disabled list. While on the DL, and consulting several doctors, Palmer also chose to see a chiropractor. A faulty "adjustment" led, Palmer said he believes, to tendinitis in his right bicep, which lengthened his stay on the DL to seven weeks, from April 26th to June 15th.

Palmer delayed his return several times, causing late changes in the Orioles rotation and aggravating Altobelli and Miller. When Palmer declared himself ready, the team was in a winning streak and didn't need him. Palmer went to the bullpen. But, in his first start, he pulled himself out in the sixth inning. In his next start, Altobelli left him in for 138 pitches; Palmer ducked reporters after the game and has not spoken for the record about the incident; he has made it plain throughout the team that he was unhappy and has publicly questioned some of Altobelli's moves involving other Orioles since then.

Often when the Orioles have needed Palmer most this season--particularly with Mike Flanagan out for 10 weeks with knee surgery--Palmer has declared himself unavailable.

At Thursday's meeting with Altobelli, Palmer--according to him, Altobelli and Miller--professed his enormous disappointment at his least useful season since 1967. "He told Joe he really felt awful about being so useless all year when we really needed him and hurting the team," said Miller. "I'm sure Jimmy really feels that way. He's just such a perfectionist that sometimes it seems like he can't bring himself to pitch unless everything is perfect and he can pitch exactly the way he thinks Jim Palmer should."

Then Miller shook his head. That isn't the premise on which major league teams conduct business, especially as regards 37-year-old pitchers.