For all the years that they did battle in the clubhouse or the sports pages or on the dais of some charity roast, Jim Palmer knew how Earl Weaver really felt about him. That's why he had to hold back tears Saturday when he related his favorite memory of the Earl of Baltimore — a memory made more poignant because it also involved his late teammate Mike Flanagan.
It was way back, on one of those balmy spring training days in Miami, when the Orioles were always one of the best teams in baseball and Palmer was their pitching ace. Flanagan, still figuring things out in his early 20s, was sitting on the bench next to Weaver. Palmer had just finished pitching five innings and was doing his sprints in the outfield.
"You see that guy out there," Weaver said.
"You mean Palmer," Flanagan replied.
"Just do what he does and you'll be fine."
Sage advice, but that's only half the story. Palmer ran into Weaver at one of the Hall of Fame induction weekends in Cooperstown, N.Y. a few years ago and recounted that anecdote, which Flanagan had shared with him during their many seasons together.
"I told Earl the story," Palmer said. "I told him, 'One of the biggest compliments you ever paid me was what you told Mike Flanagan.' He said, 'I didn't just tell Mike Flanagan. I told everybody.'"
Palmer's voice cracked at that point, and he brought his impromptu FanFest media session to an end, but not before it was clear how deep the emotions flowed beneath the fractious public relationship between the greatest pitcher in Orioles history and the franchise's greatest manager, who died late Friday night at 82.
The friction certainly was real. Weaver was a hard-nosed guy who was never afraid to say what he was thinking. Palmer was just as stubborn, and he seemed to enjoy getting under his manager's skin, needling about his height (he was 5-foot-7) and his unsuccessful playing career.
"The only thing Weaver knows about a curveball," Palmer once famously said, "is that he couldn't hit one."
Weaver had his say, too, to Palmer and just about every umpire who ever made a call he didn't like or disagreed on a rules interpretation. He was ejected 94 times over the course of his 17-year major league managerial career. His tantrums on the field were legendary, and they sometimes overshadowed his extraordinary managerial acumen.
"Earl was a black and white manager," Palmer said. "He kind of told you what your job description was…he'd tell you 'This is what you needed to do.' If you couldn't do it, he'd get somebody else. I know that's kind of tough love, but I don't think anybody would describe Earl — other than his wife Marianne — as a warm and fuzzy guy.
"But my relationship was that he gave me the ball every fourth day, we won, I won a lot of games and played on a lot of great teams that he managed and we both ended up in the Hall of Fame. "
That love-hate relationship would continue long after they both shed their Orioles uniforms, sometimes bubbling up in real acrimony, but it was mostly just a long-running act of which fans never seemed to tire. They knew their legacies would always be intertwined and they seemed comfortable with that.
If there is a bright side to the loss of such a beloved character, it is that Weaver got to spend a lot of time during the Orioles' surprising 2012 season soaking up the love of his former players and the Orioles faithful during the legends celebration series. He was there to see Brooks and Frank and Cal and Jim and Eddie — all of whom played under him — immortalized in bronze, and they were there to see their crusty Hall of Fame manager almost break down at the thought of being permanently honored on the center field plaza at Camden Yards.
"Each time I came back I was amazed how the fans remembered the past," Weaver said that day. "…It was great to be remembered. It was always great to be asked for your autograph. You couldn't help but wonder how these people all remembered, and right now, right over there (looking at the statue) I'm going to be remembered."
Weaver's No. 4 hung above the main stage at the Baltimore Convention Center on Saturday as a huge crowd of Orioles fans came to celebrate a 2012 season that made them remember the great old days when "The Earl" ruled Baltmore baseball.
"When I look at an Oriole now," said manager Buck Showalter, "it's going to be missing a feather without Earl around."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.