Baltimore's Orioles wound up one brick shy of a load this season. After 161 games -- about 1,500 innings -- they and Milwaukee's Brewers were in a dead heat. Milwaukee won the 162nd game. I am told, although I remain incredulous, that there are persons who think 162 games are sufficient. But Orioles baseball is a case study of something the nation should study year-round: craftsmanship.
In the last 26 seasons, the Orioles have the best won-lost record in baseball. When you realize that 29 years ago the Orioles were the St. Louis Browns, you feel renewed faith in America as the land of upward mobility.
The builder of this dynasty is a man who once said of a pitcher, "I gave Mike Cuellar more chances than my first wife."
Earl Weaver, the source of this and other utterances of pith and moment, retired last Sunday, for the nonce. Weaver's passions are well known. (He once got tossed out of a game during the exchange of lineup cards.) But his contemplative, calculating side enabled his Orioles teams to finish first or second in 13 of 15 seasons. If Americans made automobiles the way Weaver makes teams, Tokyo would be clogged with Chevrolets.
The secret of Oriole magic is the mundane: attention to detail. Do the dull things right so the extraordinary things will not be required too often. Not that Weaver's "big bang" theory of baseball makes for dullness. He believes in three-run home runs -- "one-swing, then-trot" -- innings, because he knows that in most games the winning team scores more runs in one inning than the loser does in nine innings.
My tutor in these mysteries (Thomas Boswell, baseball writer, Washington Post) is the world's preeminent Weaverologist. He quotes the great man saying: "Smart managing is dumb. The three-run homer you trade for in the winter will always beat brains." It is the license of genius to deprecate genius. Weaver's full testament, as collated by his Boswell, includes this:
"A manager's job is to select the best players for what he wants done. A manager wins games in December. He tries not to lose them in July. You win pennants in the off-season when you build your team with trades or free agents. They're not all great players; but they can all do something."
When was the last time you encountered such lucidity from an American in high office? What Weaver is talking about -- and exemplifies better than the Supreme Court does -- is a quality hard to define, but everywhere indispensable and always recognizable. It is not intelligence, which is plentiful, but judgment, which is scarce.
However, if you thirst for a more high-tech approach, the Orioles have that, too. Ray Miller, the pitching coach, says his research reveals that "There ain't a left-hander in the world that can run a straight line. It's the gravitational pull on the axis of the Earth that gets 'em." Boswell reports that when Miller had his minor league pitchers run sprints, he lined the left-handers up on a hill to balance their gravitational field, or he put them on the right-hand side of the line. "If you don't," Miller explained, "they'll wipe out your whole line."
The question for social scientists is: Why does brawny Baltimore have such a relationship with this brainy ball club? Perhaps it is because Baltimore is just the right size and sort of American city. It is lumpy with ethnic groups. Its social fabric is not smooth worsted; it is rich, rough, complex tweed. The Orioles do for Baltimore what the space program did for America: the team is what all have in common.
Or perhaps the point is that Baltimore is a port, so people eat lots of fish, which, as Jeeves always reminded Bertram Wooster, is brain food, just the stuff for Jeeves' hero (Spinoza) and mine (Weaver). Whatever the reason, the team fits the town, as no team could fit a city the size of New York or Los Angeles.
As the Orioles' radio announcers signed off until spring, one of them gave an unself-conscious and almost un-urban pep talk that expressed the way baseball has twined its silken fetters around this city, and in doing so, has made it more of a community. He said approximately this: "I know there are lots of sad kids out there who won't feel like eating tonight. But the good Lord wanted Milwaukee to win, and there is always next year, so, kids, dry your eyes and drink your milk."
So that's what I did.