MIAMI, FEB. 23 -- The last time Jim Palmer was at spring training with the Baltimore Orioles, life was a bore. The roster was all but set, the championship rings had been ordered and most of the suspense had to do with the best tans, lowest golf scores and finding the best stone crabs.
As Earl Weaver once told his team, "It stinks, boys, so let's get our work in and make our tee times."
Times have changed. Since Palmer was here in 1984, the Orioles have had two general managers, three field managers and four pitching coaches. They've had finishes of fifth, fourth, seventh and sixth. And of the players he once called teammates, only Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr., Jim Dwyer and Scott McGregor remain.
For his part, Palmer is more famous as a television commentator and a spokesman for Jockey than for the 268 games he won during 19 seasons with the Orioles. He's reminded of that each time he drives down I-95 and sees the billboard featuring him in a Jockey ad.
"Great poster," he said, "if you like looking 50 years old."
He's only a few months past 42, and for the first time since Palmer was released by the Orioles in 1984, he rejoined the team this morning.
Looking tanned and slim, and just back from a Colorado ski vacation in Aspen and Vail, he slipped into the Miami Stadium clubhouse early and put on the uniform with jersey No. 22. He's serving this spring as a part-time pitching instructor at the request of Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams.
Although he'd been asked before, Palmer said he accepted this time because, "I just want the Orioles to do better. The bottom line is that I live in Baltimore and I played for the Orioles, and I get tired of reading about how badly they're doing."
He won't say it, but it's no secret he wasn't welcomed before. Although Williams and Palmer are close, Palmer and former Orioles general manager Hank Peters were not, so even though Williams occasionally asked Palmer to help with the pitchers, Palmer apparently didn't feel comfortable accepting.
What he has to offer appears to be the basic things. When he joined the Orioles in 1965, he said veteran pitchers such as Harvey Haddix took him under their wings. He said they told him about watching games and watching hitters, that a pitcher could learn more from that than from all the scouting reports combined.
"Maybe it's more philosophical than mechanical," he said. "Who knows? I do know that for the Orioles to be better, the games have to be close in the late innings, and the way they get close is to make the pitching better. The pitching has been so bad the last couple of years that I'm sure these guys don't even feel like they're part of the team. What they have to do is get their pride back. You do that by getting the ERAs into the low fours."
Ironically, some of the things Palmer believed in are new chapters in the Orioles handbook. For the first time, pitchers were put on a strenuous offseason program, and for the first time, pitchers and hitters will be given an in-season weight-training schedule, both things Palmer stressed during the final decade of his career.
"There are so many variables in the game," Palmer said, "but those are variables you can control with hard work. That should have been done here years ago."
But his basic message will be a simple one: Throw strikes.
"These guys know it, too," Palmer said. "They've seen the way a hitter stands in when the count is 3-1 and when the count is 0-2 or 1-2. When it's 3-1, he's up there taking that big home run swing because he knows the pitcher has to make a pitch in the strike zone. But when a pitcher is throwing his pitch, he's defensive. Maybe he's taking a half-swing.
"I almost never started a hitter off with a breaking pitch because I couldn't get it over for a strike. You throw what you can for a strike, and you've got the advantage. The advantage is always with the pitcher because he knows what he's going to throw. Why can Jeff Ballard throw strikes in Rochester, but not here? Maybe it's just a matter of philosophy and of giving the hitter too much credit. I don't know. That's one of the things we're going to talk about."
Orioles pitching coach Herm Starrette, a former teammate, welcomed him, saying, "I've known him 100 years. If he doesn't know about pitching, no one does. We're going to work together, and I'm going to do what I can to make him feel a part of things."
So did Ballard, who spoke briefly with Palmer during today's workout. "When a guy has won as many games as he has, you're going to listen," he said. "The funny thing about pitching is that six guys can tell you the same thing six different ways, and with one of them, it'll click."
Palmer is also going to be doing play-by-play on exhibition games for Home Team Sports . . . A Hagerstown, Md., tailor, Linda Weaver, has constructed a dummy baseball player made of canvas and foam at the request of Manager Cal Ripken Sr. and Starrette. It's being driven here from Hagerstown, and when it arrives, will be used in the bullpen to give pitchers an idea of the strike zone when they warm up. The Orioles also hope it will help pitchers throw inside . . . The dummy will wear Orioles jersey No. 2, which was last worn by infielder Alan Wiggins . . . Bobby Tolan has been hired to manage the Orioles' new summer rookie team in Erie, Pa. . . . Dominican pitcher Jose Mesa obtained his visa today and will attend his first workout Wednesday.