FOR THE BETTER part of this calendar year, more than a few residents of the Washington area have been captivated by a spellbinding flock of birds native to Baltimore and last seen on a flight into fantasy that had even the hardest-nosed baseball realists almost believing. In the town to which they belong, of course, the Orioles have always enjoyed a following; but suddenly last week, the promoters' claim of "Oriole magic" took on a truth that permeated this city as well.

No need to recapitulate the story, or the way the balloon deflated so painfully before 50,000 people who kept on grasping straws -- from those brooms they waved as they chanted "Sweep! Sweep!" in hopes of a fourth consecutive victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. The escapism had been superb, thanks to the genie who made it happen and who in the dusk of the evening was disappearing into a dugout: Earl Weaver, the manager of the magic, who had announced before the season started that his days of orchestration would come to an end this month.

They did--and the old "wait-till-next-year" comment won't do. This was the year, that was a team, and there went a master entertainer and strategist who brought drama and fun to the national pastime.