In his first outing Palmer gave up five hits and no runs over five innings against Cleveland and got his 264th career win. His most critical moment came in the second, with runners on second and third and two out, when Ron Hassey hit a screamer toward the leftfield wall. Lowenstein, staggering straight back in the wet outfield grass, caught up with it for the third out. It was a heart-in-mouth situation, but a glance at Palmer showed him walking nonchalantly toward the dugout, head down. He was crossing the line as the catch was made. Later he maintained he'd been worried and was on his way to back up third base, but a cynic could see that more likely he was positioning himself to be amazed if Lowenstein failed.
After the game Palmer met briefly with reporters. Briefly, because he was dressed in smart white underwear and a red T shirt. He looked tanned, handsome and glowing. Six feet away from the tight throng around him, Altobelli sat alone and unregarded, contentedly munching a sandwich.
In his second start Palmer allowed no earned runs in eight innings, though Tim Stoddard got the win in the 14th. But on April 26, pitching with a stiff neck, he lost to Oakland, giving up four runs in 3⅔ innings. Four days later he scratched himself from a start, and after his back was examined in Boston by one of the orthopedists he consults, it was agreed that Palmer would go on the disabled list in the hope that his 37-year-old musculature might come around.
Altobelli looked on the bright side. About Palmer's Oakland performance he said, "He really could have got knocked around in there, the way he felt"—though Altobelli only learned the way Palmer felt after the game began—"but he didn't and that shows you something. I think Jimmy will come back and gain momentum." What he means is that it's too early in the season to take the chance of alienating Palmer, or anybody else on the team. Altobelli was fired from the Giants before the end of the '79 season because he lost control of a club that was losing. He was something of a disciplinarian then, and when he banned drinking on the team plane, some unhappy players drank anyway and had some loud things to say. After more second-guessing by his players and the press, the Giants' owner felt Altobelli had to go. On the Orioles' charter flight west last month, most everyone was in high spirits, literally, while Altobelli sat up front with his headphones, laughing silently at a comedy recording.
Says Peters, "When we decided on Joe we thought that his having been fired was a plus. We thought he might have learned something from that experience about handling players. Our players know that he's got emotions and a temper—he's got a bomb in there just like everyone else. But I expect he'll do things differently."
Altobelli doesn't have much to say about his San Francisco days except "I got into trouble there once because I was quoted as saying that I didn't want my players to be too gay. They told me that was the wrong word to use. Anyway, I don't want happy players, I want good, aggressive players. If frustration makes them better, well, I'll take it." But is he having fun now? "I never have fun," he says. "But I enjoy it. I believe in being content, but not happy. Happy leads to not caring very much."