Usually described as a family feud, the long-standing give-and-take between Hall of Famers Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer became very public and very ugly Thursday night when the former Orioles manager said he was "embarrassed and humiliated" by Palmer's jabs during a charity roast of Weaver in Baltimore.
Weaver ended the proceedings with a combative two-minute reply that referred to Palmer as an "idiot" then angrily approached the former pitcher before being led away.
The Headliners Banquet was sponsored by the Sports Boosters of Maryland to benefit several children's charities. A record crowd at Martin's West estimated 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 and to hear seven former players rib and remember the beloved ex-Orioles skipper.
Participants said Weaver became increasingly tired and irritable as the event wore on and even interrupted other speakers from his seat when he thought 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 yesterday afternoon. "I got roasted pretty good. As far as the situation with Jim Palmer, that was humiliation. That wasn't roasting. To go there and be humiliated 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 and well-received humor from other former players including Tom Shopay, Elrod Hendricks, Mike Flanagan, Eddie Murray and Doug DeCinces. Few in the crowd had left, 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 hear Earl and his retaliation to Flanagan, Elrod and to Palmer. When he got up there and said what he said, we were stunned. The fact that it's being written about is bad. You're writing that two Hall of Famers had a big fight in public. I feel sorry for Jim. I feel sorry for Earl. I feel sorry for the people who were there."
"I just had this feeling it was building," said Channel 2 sportscaster and emcee 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 pretty standard for a roast. ... I don't think Palmer's intention was to embarrass Earl."
When Weaver began responding to Palmer from his seat at the dais, Garceau reminded 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 me beyond insultation." The crowd initially laughed, thinking it part of the program. However, laughter ceased when Weaver went on to call Palmer "an egotist" 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't appreciate it," said Weaver.
Weaver thanked those in the audience then added, "I don't appreciate some idiot who comes up to make fun of somebody because of his size or because of his physical abilities. I don't think I'll ever forgive the man for saying what he said here tonight. I really don't like it. As far as I'm concerned, as nice as this evening has been and as much as I've enjoyed it, he's ruined it for me. Thank you."
At that, Garceau took the microphone, announced that some keys had been found and dismissed a gathering that held its final applause.
Witnesses said Weaver approached Palmer with a further reprimand before being led away by former Orioles first baseman Lee May and Hendricks, his former catcher and now Orioles bullpen coach. Palmer, described by a witness as "befuddled," remained in the hall to sign autographs.
"This shall pass. It was sort of reminiscent from 30 years ago. It wasn't funny," said Hendricks. "If it was anybody but Palmer, it would have been fine. But Palmer can get under his skin any time he wants. ... I think he realized he may have taken it too far."
Many of those who attended called WBAL talk host Steve Melewski with their opinions last night. Flanagan said he also received input. "I probably had 25 calls and it's been almost dead down the middle," Flanagan said. "Half blame Earl 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 there saw it in different ways. I've been doing banquets for 25 years and I've never seen anything like that."
Reached at his daughter's Baltimore home yesterday, Weaver told WBAL, "As far as I'm concerned, I told you it's over. When I said I would never forgive him, I will forgive him. That was said at the time. Again, I felt I had to say something to defend myself."
Weaver and Palmer have played these roles for years but never so publicly and with such toxicity. The two occasional golf partners even engaged in a humorous sparring match at the 1999 FanFest.
During Thursday's roast, however, Palmer referred to Weaver's alcohol-related driving infractions. "A lot of the state troopers ... in Maryland have been happy since Earl moved to Florida," he said.
Sitting next to Weaver, Flanagan and Garceau noticed a slow burn. "Jim's made Earl that mad before," said Flanagan. "This time, Earl didn't run with it."
"It was very unfortunate because these two men have such great respect for each other," Hendricks said. "They may say some negative things about each other, but they ultimately say each one is a class guy. ... When somebody said something negative about Palmer, Earl jumped them. And Palmer would always defend Earl no matter what happened the day before."