BALTIMORE -- The ghosts of pennant races past rattle through Memorial Stadium. Jim Palmer fetches a glove and spends 15 minutes spinning curveballs from an indoor mound. Tippy Martinez tries to get the bite back into a once-unhittable breaking pitch, and Mike Flanagan prepares for his first spring as a Toronto Blue Jay.

It's against this backdrop of old friends and memories passing through, and equipment men stacking trunks to be shipped to Miami for the Feb. 19 start of spring training, that Scott McGregor prepares for his 12th major league season.

He looks one way and sees lockers that once belonged to Al Bumbry or Ken Singleton. He blinks and sees the upstarts who are there now: John Habyan, Eric Bell, Ken Gerhart -- the new Baltimore Orioles.

"I remember when I was the kid," McGregor said. "Now, I'm the one with the gray hair. But the one thing about sports is that you start even every year no matter what your age is."

He was settled in an orange plastic chair in a warm clubhouse, and sweat covered his face after a throwing session with Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks. He wore a red Rochester Red Wings T-shirt "as a reminder of what can happen."

A huge reminder. It was a season ago that the Orioles sent him to Rochester in a move described as a chance to get him some work and back into a groove. Later, he realized it was more than that. He was suffering through a second straight losing season, and he had two years and $2.2 million remaining on a guaranteed contract. He was proud and stubborn and the Orioles knew how he would react to the long bus rides and baggy uniforms of the minor league.

"They wanted me to retire," he said. "They wanted me to walk away from the contract."

For a quiet, decent man, one who'd never claimed to be anything more than a reliable pitcher suffering through a horrible slump, last summer brought a changed view of sports and business.

In the labor hassles of 1981 and 1985, McGregor, the Orioles' player representative, preached settlement while others talked strike. He has made it no secret that officials of the Major League Baseball Players Association were so unhappy with his refusal to join the bandwagon that he was several times asked to turn over the job to someone else.

In a couple of whirlwind weeks last summer, he became, if not Samuel Gompers, at least a little jaded.

"I've seen the other side," he said. "Boy, have I seen the other side."

He says it with a smile that barely resembles a smile, but refuses to go further. His goal, he says now, is to prove that he still belongs in the major leagues, while keeping the other stuff quietly filed away.

As much as anyone, he symbolized the excellence of the Baltimore Orioles in the late '70s and early '80s, and as much as anyone he has come to symbolize their collapse.

Once upon a time, he was not only cocky and successful, but low-key, and most of all, consistent. Like the Orioles. In 11 season, he was spectacular only once (20-8 in 1980). But he was very, very good several times, winning 14 games at least five other seasons.

"Consistency was the thing I took pride in," he said. " . . . I could usually go seven or eight innings and keep us in the game."

He did it, not with power, but with finesse and smarts. He couldn't throw the ball past a Reggie Jackson, but he could hit spots and change speeds well enough that the Reggie Jacksons very seldom were able to dig in and take their best shot. He was so consistently good that when he turned 30 the Orioles thought he might pitch another decade or more.

Now, he's 34, and they apparently believe he's finished. He has had back-to-back seasons of 11-15 and 2-7 and allowed a whopping 50 homers in his last 288 innings. Last season, he didn't win a game after May 16 and spent the last four months being shuffled between the disabled list, the minor leagues and the bullpen. As the Orioles make their plans for 1988, he is not part of them.

He intends to be on the field and in uniform Feb. 19 when pitchers and catchers have their first Miami workout, but if he's still on their roster opening day it would be a major surprise. He knows that all that stood between him and the waiver wire last summer was his huge contract.

Worse, even if he regained his once magic touch, there's a question about his health. An examination last fall showed he had a "thinning" of the rotator cuff and a couple of other frayed areas. Doctors gave him a couple options. One was surgery, but he said: "The recovery time is a year or more. For me, that's probably a career-ender."

The other alternative was an exercise program to strengthen the muscle around the rotator cuff, and (he hopes) protect it from additional damage. So this winter, he cut down his public appearances, backed off his church work and for the first time in his career spent a few months lifting weights and doing stretching exercises, the very things the Orioles had asked him to start doing several years ago.

"I'm to the point of my career where I don't have any choice," he said. "I still want to pitch, and this is the only way I can continue. It was never that I didn't want to work. That's a misconception. I just never felt the need to do it. Palmer reminded me of something we used to talk about -- intangibles. The game has a lot of them, but this is one I can take care of. I've made some mistakes in not taking care of myself in the past and, hopefully, I've learned."

Clearly, people are skeptical. Ask Manager Cal Ripken Sr. to name his starting pitchers, and he mentions veterans Mike Boddicker and Mike Morgan, youngsters Bell, Habyan and Jeff Ballard and rookies Jose Mesa, Oswaldo Pereza and Jose Bautista before getting around to McGregor.

"I understand," McGregor said. "With the way I've pitched, I have to win people back again. That includes the fans, management and everyone else. All I can say is I feel real good right now. I'm letting it go as much as I can. There're some adhesions I have to stretch out, but that's to be expected when you've had that kind of trauma in there. My goals this year are the same as they've always been, and that's to be consistent. I want to get my ERA {under 4.00} and get back to finishing some games."

In an odd way, his injury might have been good news because, before it was found, the Orioles assumed he could no longer pitch. For a long time, McGregor thought that, too.

"I didn't have any pain until after the all-star break, but I was having some problems I hadn't had before," he said. "Even in spring training when I was throwing well, I'd start off strong, then in about the sixth inning I'd start getting the ball up. I would just lose everything if I stayed out there, and I thought, 'Well, that's good. I'm stretching it out and stretching it out.' I thought it was taking longer because I was getting older. But when the season started, it was still like that."

For a long time, it looked like he'd be fine. He went 7 2/3 innings in his second start, eight in his third and 6 1/3 in his fourth. In his sixth, he shut out Minnesota on three hits.

That was May 6. Ten days later, he went six innings to beat California. End of season. He pitched a total of 8 1/3 innings in his next three starts and was dropped from the rotation.

He was diagnosed as having tendinitis in his left shoulder, but even after a long rest the area still hurt.

"I got into a pattern," he said. "I'd feel real good the first inning or so, then everything would fall apart. Late in the season, I threw two innings in Boston, and the next day it hurt so badly I could hardly stand it."

He asked team doctors to look for something else, and they diagnosed the ailing rotator cuff.