Joe Altobelli learned the meaning of what inheriting Earl Weaver's job was really about earlier this season when Jim Palmer, who had already been disabled for two months, approached him and said, "Joe, you know what hurts worst?"

At this point Palmer already had been partially or completely incapacitated by pains in the lower and upper back, the shoulder, the bicep and the fingernail, not to mention a feather (rather than foam rubber) pillow in a motel room that fritzed his delivery.

"It's my forehead," said Palmer, "from wearing my cap during the games."

Sources made this anecdote public, as well as private, currency today when the Orioles, some of whom heard the exchange and have been telling it to each other since, learned that Palmer has been put on the 21-day disabled list, retroactive to June 30, and won't be available until July 21st.

Just an hour after learning this bad news, the Orioles went out in Tiger Stadium before 26,703 witnesses and got routed, 10-1, by the Tigers as Palmer's replacement in the rotation--Mike Boddicker--was knocked out in less than three innings.

"With Palmer, nobody ever knows when it's real, or how much is real. And that goes for the guys on the ballclub, too," said Ken Singleton, explaining why the latest disabling of Palmer has such a confusing effect on the Orioles.

"Maybe Flanagan was right," said Singleton, tartly, after the Orioles had lost on a three-hitter to Juan Berenguer (career record 7-18) and Doug Bair. "Maybe Mike will be back before Palmer." Since Flanagan, out with knee surgery, is due back in a month, his flip prediction ("I'm beat Jimmy back") could, in a sense, be correct.

"We've tried every approach with him, every approach and nothing has worked," said Altobelli, who has somehow kept his team within a game of first place despite a half-season of pitching problems.

"After the All-Star break, we'll probably have to bring up Allan Ramirez or another pitcher to start a couple of games. Now that means we've got two rookies (Ramirez and Boddicker), plus a 21-year-old (Storm Davis) and a guy having an off-year (Dennis Martinez) in our (five-man) rotation. You're really talking about our work being cut out for us, if that has to happen.

"Maybe the answer could be a deal."

Palmer, who will have more tests on his right shoulder on Tuesday, also wants to negotiate a new contract since his runs out this year. "It seems like he wants to be paid for what he did in the past," said an Oriole official this afternoon.

Certainly the second-place Orioles cannot take heart from their mound work this day. Detroit broke open this game with four runs in the third inning as six straight Tigers reached base against Boddicker. Homers by Detroit's Larry Herndon (second inning) and Baltimore's Jim Dwyer (third inning) had made the score 1-1 entering that inning. With one out, Lou Whitaker singled and Enos Cabell doubled him home with a hit and run grounder over the third base bag for a 2-1 Tiger lead. At that point, Boddicker got the Tigers' big sluggers--Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish--to hit a weak popup to center and a routine one-hopper to the first baseman.

The popup fell untouched and the grounder went between Murray's knees for a pair of "doubles," the latter scoring two runs and breaking open the game. Even Murray said, "It should have been an error." An RBI single by Glenn Wilson knocked out Boddicker, who is now 4-4 with 29 runs allowed in 54 innings.

Detroit scored five in the eighth after Tom Brookens' two-out grounder at Rich Dauer took a sudden 12-foot hop over the second baseman's head to score a run and keep the inning going. Snakebitten Tim Stoddard (his ERA now 6.10) gave up a sliced chalk double and a walk, then saw all his runner's score as pinch hitter John Wockenfuss greeted rookie Dan Morogiello with a grand slam home run.

Even Wockenfuss (14 career homers vs. Baltimore) appologized for his feeble poke, saying, "It was just a fly ball that got up in the (strong) wind and blew over the fence (by two feet)."

It's the pitcher who isn't here who is on Oriole minds. "The feeling about Jimmy going on the DL is a little sour, I believe," said Sammy Stewart, who worked 3 1/3 shutout innings. "He could still give us a good five innings. We need an older pitcher in the rotation . . . Heck, we even need Palmer here talkin' to us."

"If Palmer wants to take a hike after five innings, it doesn't bother me. He's earned it with all the innings he's worked," said Tippy Martinez. "It wouldn't bother me whenever he took himself out, no matter what the situation or the score."

One person unconcerned about Baltimore's problems is Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson. "I don't worry about Baltimore, 'cause in September, they're gonna be in the race, Palmer or not.

"I understand a perfectionist like Jimmy wantin' to feel just right, but I've been on the other side, too," said Anderson. "When pitchers start skippin' turns on you, you go kinda crazy. When you roll the ball into a guy's corner, you don't want him to roll it back."