Usually described as a family feud, the long-standing give-and-take betweenHall of Famers Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer became very public and very uglyThursday night when the former Orioles manager said he was "embarrassed andhumiliated" by Palmer's jabs during a charity roast of Weaver in Baltimore.
Weaver ended the proceedings with a combative two-minute reply thatreferred to Palmer as an "idiot" then angrily approached the former pitcherbefore being led away.
The Headliners Banquet was sponsored by the Sports Boosters of Maryland tobenefit several children's charities. A record crowd at Martin's Westestimated at 1,100 paid $75 per seat to attend the dinner, a silent auction,the recognition of Delino DeShields as last season's Most Valuable Oriole andto hear seven former players rib and remember the beloved ex-Orioles skipper.
Participants said Weaver became increasingly tired and irritable as theevent wore on and even interrupted other speakers from his seat when hethought their "tributes" dragged.
Weaver's patience finally broke after Palmer, the night's final speaker,administered his verbal daggers.
"It was all in good taste, I believe," Weaver told WBAL radio yesterdayafternoon. "I got roasted pretty good. As far as the situation with JimPalmer, that was humiliation. That wasn't roasting. To go there and behumiliated in front of my wife, my daughter, my family and my close friends... to me, that seemed a little too much."
The incident contrasted an evening that included testimonials andwell-received humor from other former players including Tom Shopay, ElrodHendricks, Mike Flanagan, Eddie Murray and Doug DeCinces. Few in the crowd hadleft, awaiting Weaver's response.
"I feel sorry about all those people who stayed late," said Jay Harris,executive director of the Sports Boosters of Maryland. "They wanted to hearEarl and his retaliation to Flanagan, Elrod and to Palmer. When he got upthere and said what he said, we were stunned. The fact that it's being writtenabout is bad. You're writing that two Hall of Famers had a big fight inpublic. I feel sorry for Jim. I feel sorry for Earl. I feel sorry for thepeople who were there."
"I just had this feeling it was building," said Channel 2 sportscaster andemcee Scott Garceau, who sat beside Weaver during Palmer's roast. "In my mind,I was thinking, `Back off, Jim, back off.' But I think what he did was prettystandard for a roast. ... I don't think Palmer's intention was to embarrassEarl."
When Weaver began responding to Palmer from his seat at the dais, Garceaureminded Weaver he would have his chance to reply.
Garceau's introduction of Weaver brought the crowd to its feet but,according to witnesses, Weaver couldn't contain himself.
Weaver referred to Palmer as "some idiot" who "got up and insulted mebeyond insultation." The crowd initially laughed, thinking it part of theprogram. However, laughter ceased when Weaver went on to call Palmer "anegotist" who often had little stomach for pitching with discomfort.
"He let us down many a time and now he's making fun of me. I don'tappreciate it," said Weaver.
Weaver thanked those in the audience then added, "I don't appreciate someidiot who comes up to make fun of somebody because of his size or because ofhis physical abilities. I don't think I'll ever forgive the man for sayingwhat he said here tonight. I really don't like it. As far as I'm concerned, asnice as this evening has been and as much as I've enjoyed it, he's ruined itfor me. Thank you."
At that, Garceau took the microphone, announced that some keys had beenfound and dismissed a gathering that held its final applause.
Witnesses said Weaver approached Palmer with a further reprimand beforebeing led away by former Orioles first baseman Lee May and Hendricks, hisformer catcher and now Orioles bullpen coach. Palmer, described by a witnessas "befuddled," remained in the hall to sign autographs.
"This shall pass. It was sort of reminiscent from 30 years ago. It wasn'tfunny," said Hendricks. "If it was anybody but Palmer, it would have beenfine. But Palmer can get under his skin any time he wants. ... I think herealized he may have taken it too far."
Many of those who attended called WBAL talk host Steve Melewski with theiropinions last night. Flanagan said he also received input. "I probably had 25calls and it's been almost dead down the middle," Flanagan said. "Half blameEarl for not having enough patience. After all, it's a roast. Half blame Jim,saying he's taking shots at an old man. It's amazing how people who were theresaw it in different ways. I've been doing banquets for 25 years and I've neverseen anything like that."
Reached at his daughter's Baltimore home yesterday, Weaver told WBAL, "Asfar as I'm concerned, I told you it's over. When I said I would never forgivehim, I will forgive him. That was said at the time. Again, I felt I had to saysomething to defend myself."
Weaver and Palmer have played these roles for years but never so publiclyand with such toxicity. The two occasional golf partners even engaged in ahumorous sparring match at the 1999 FanFest.
During Thursday's roast, however, Palmer referred to Weaver'salcohol-related driving infractions. "A lot of the state troopers ... inMaryland have been happy since Earl moved to Florida," he said.
Sitting next to Weaver, Flanagan and Garceau noticed a slow burn. "Jim'smade Earl that mad before," said Flanagan. "This time, Earl didn't run withit."
"It was very unfortunate because these two men have such great respect foreach other," Hendricks said. "They may say some negative things about eachother, but they ultimately say each one is a class guy. ... When somebody saidsomething negative about Palmer, Earl jumped them. And Palmer would alwaysdefend Earl no matter what happened the day before."