Monday, December 7, 2009

Book Review: Palmer and Weaver: Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine

Palmer and Weaver: Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine
by Jim Palmer and Jim Dale
c. 1996

I hadn't picked this book up in over ten years but after reading "Weaver on Strategy", I wanted to read this book with different eyes. In "Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine", I found that Jim Palmer's remembrances of his career actually made a nice compliment to Weaver's book.

Palmer takes you through his Hall of fame career (which, by the way is amazing. He has been in the booth so long that you sometimes forget what a dominant pitcher he was.) but spends almost as much time on Earl Weaver. The battles between these headstrong competitors were legendary and Palmer takes pains to make sure you get his side of the story.

Palmer was there for all the Orioles' World Series appearances including the wins in '66, '70 and '83 and offers a good perspective on each one. Through Jim's eyes you see the careers of Rick Dempsey, Elrod Hendricks, Mike Flanagan and the fascinating road to professional baseball of Dave Leonhard (probably the best story in the book).

But this is ultimately a book about Palmer, by Palmer and he chronicles his playing days with anecdotes and a virtual blow by blow of each season he pitched. Highlights include the near end of Palmer's career in 1968 due to fragile arm, the various World Series appearances...and his philosophical differences with Earl Weaver.

And about the Weaver stories. Palmer, at least early in the book, is merciless, painting Weaver as a tiny tyrant, a drunk, a manager who didn't understand his players one iota and laying out the case that the Baltimore pitchers he managed succeeded in spite of Earl rather than because of him. While some of the stories are quite amusing, the number of stories and the apparent viciousness leaves you with the impression that Palmer is relishing kicking a guy who can no longer have the last word.

What tempers this vitriol are the later stories in which Palmer admits that, sometimes, he was clearly wrong and that Weaver actually had handled certain situations completely appropriately. Most of these capitulations regard Palmer spouting off to the media, notably griping about his contract and his war-of-words with Oriole third baseman Doug DeCinces. Palmer gives Weaver his due, eventually, and concedes that Earl probably actually knew what he was doing. Palmer comes off as a wiser, more mature player at the end of the book and even a bit apologetic for some of his behavior. Although he won't say it explicitly, he eventually gives Earl his due as integral to the success of the team.

Surprisingly, his recounting of Weaver's farewell at Memorial Stadium and his own retirement are well-told, heartfelt and I did find myself getting a bit misty reading those passages.

How is the book overall? There are a lot of good stories. Are they as good as Palmer seems to think they are? Not always. (Although the story about Jim and Earl starring in the same Jockey underwear ad is pretty hysterical.) But it is an entertaining read for the diehard Oriole fan and did indeed make a good companion piece for the unmissable "Weaver on Strategy". After all, Palmer was the only Oriole to play for all 6 World Series teams and there's something valuable to his account of the glory days of Baltimore baseball.

The book is out of print but can be found used on and Worth a read if you can pick it up cheap.

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