- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

I see that our old friend Jim Palmer, Baltimore Orioles legend and president for life of the Earl Weaver Non-Admiration Society, is suing a Palm Beach, Fla., ophthalmologist for damaging the vision in his left eye during cataract surgery.

This is truly amazing.

Not whether the doctor, Tom Coffman, was at fault. That’s for the court to decide.

I mean the fact that Jim Palmer has cataracts.

Jim Palmer. The eternally youthful Jim Palmer who was born in 1945 but looks like he was born in 1985? The hunk who used to pose for ads in his skivvies after he traded jockstraps for Jockeys?

Yes, that Jim Palmer. The one who should have been in the original cast of “Friends”? The one who still looks as if he could leave the Orioles broadcast booth, stroll out to the mound and do a heck of a lot better than Eric DuBose, Erik Bedard and the rest of the O’s, pardon the expression, starting pitchers?

Suddenly I feel a lot older, too. Wasn’t it just last week, or the week before, that Pancakes Palmer, four days shy of his 21st birthday, was standing the Dodgers on their collective ear in the 1966 World Series? And wasn’t it just a decade or so ago that he was winning 20 games eight times?

Next thing you know, somebody is going to tell me Dick Clark is 74, Cher is 58 and John Edwards is 50.

According to Palmer’s lawsuit, Coffman caused his retina to become detached following cataract surgery in 2001, then failed to diagnose the condition promptly. Palmer still suffers from glare and reduced vision in the eye, the suit claims.

Hmm, reduced vision. That could explain a lot of things. For instance, when Melvin Mora recently made a backhand stab of a grounder inside the third-base line and threw out the runner by a step, I thought I heard Comcast commentator Palmer refer to him as “another Brooks Robinson.”

And when Miguel Tejada raced into short left field to snatch a Texas Leaguer with his back to the plate, I could have sworn Jim called him “the Orioles’ best shortstop ever.”

If the problem continues, the next time Sidney Ponson wins a game I expect Palmer to describe the Aruban knight “as the best right-handed pitcher in Orioles history.”

Well, no — Palmer’s ego would prevent that from happening.

It’s sort of like the time Washington sportswriter Shirley Povich asked Walter Johnson whether Bob Feller threw harder than Walter had. The way Povich told the story, Johnson’s modesty collided with his honesty, but finally the Big Train quietly said, “No, Shirley, he doesn’t.”

I don’t know how long Palmer has had vision difficulties, but that could be one of the reasons why he and Weaver never saw eye to eye — besides the fact that Jim was 6-foot-3 and Earl about 4-foot-9.

Palmer got off one of the best lines ever during the days when he was fussin’ and feudin’ constantly with his dictatorial manager: “The only thing Earl knows about good pitching is that he couldn’t hit it.”

I think Weaver had a pretty clever retort, too, but we can’t print it in a family newspaper.

Which brings to mind, as long as we’re telling stories, the sad occasion when Joe Kuhel was fired as manager of the Washington Senators after a last-place finish in 1949 and reportedly said, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers.” Some people on the scene thought Joe said something a little more aromatic than feathers, but this has never been verified.

The saddest part about Palmer’s eye condition is that he will have to put aside any thoughts of a second comeback. He tried one in 1991, you will recall, at another time when the Orioles were desperate for pitching. Jim didn’t make it through spring training then, but now that he’s had 13 more years of rest …

He could have taken a crack at Satchel Paige, who pitched an inning for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965, when his “official” age was 59 but his real age might have been closer to 70. (Unfortunately, no one ever tried to ascertain Satch’s real birthdate by counting the rings on his trunk.)

Paige’s appearance was a gimmick, but I still think Palmer could have strengthened the Orioles’ rotation. Then again, so could have good ol’ wishy-washy Charlie Brown.

Palmer’s lawyer, in discussing the lawsuit, told the Associated Press that because of his errant vision, “the problem is always affecting his broadcasting as he is always misreading the numbers on the scoreboard.”

That must be why I thought I heard Jimbo say the other night that the Orioles looked like a potential pennant winner. But no — nobody’s eyesight could be that bad.

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