Earl Weaver is smiling. Something's up.
The smallest Baltimore Oriele does not show his gums when he does not feel like it. Candor has always been his fault, temper its vehicle.
When the team in orange and black has problems. Weaver is as cordial as 165 chubby pounds of prickly heat.
"Earl has a revolving door on his dog house," shortstop Mark Belanger explained today. "Right now the house is empty."
Weaver is a peace with his Birds, although they had lost three lopsided games in a row before tonight's encounter with the New York Yankees.
Some think Weaver is in a fool's heaven. He is so accustomed to victory after 19 consecutive winning seasons that he does not know a losing ball club when he is standing in the middle of it. The good ship Baltimore is starting to take water, they say.
It is Weaver's hallmark, however, that he is almost never wrong in his estimates of his players. He is no cheerleader. If his players falls, he does not reach down to lift them. His perspective might list. instead, he watches.
Currently, two rookies whose bats have lifted the Orioles to their respectable 17-14 record are going down, gurgling in the deep waters of their first big league slump.
"Even I'll be interested to see if Eddie Murray and Billy Smith flight their way out of this or play their way out of the lineup," Weaver said.
It is this uncharacteristics managerial dispassion that gives some credibility to Weaver when he says, "I though we would be this good . . . for better. I feel we're equal with the Yankees in pitching, maybe better defensively. We have a little less hitting and speed.
"It'll be a fight between us. Boston and them all the way to September."
"Lock this man up," would be the cry if the Os had not nose into first place for two days earlier this week.
Baltimore, at least for now, seems to have more pluses than even Weaver suspected two months ago. The Orioles have prospered even while defending RBI champion Lee May has hit .208; while Ken Singleton (.330) missed nine games and Belanger floundered at .209.
All Oriole bessings start on the mound. A staff that started spring training with a half-dozen "ifs" now seems so deep that Weaver claims he cannot wait for the dogs days to bring a game every day and two on Sunday.
Three rookies - Mike Flagan. Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor - have been both sharp and versatile. The gung-ho trio is glad to start, releive (long or short) mop up pitch batting practice or fix broken bats. Rookies are like that.
Because of them Weaver has six potential starters an six relievers on a staff of nine.
"Our pitching was so good for the first 23 games it was unbelieveable. Our staff had more innings pitched than hits and walks combined." Weaver said with the relish of a true statistics addict. "No staff can go on like that. The last three days it's been biff, bam, boom,' three clobberings in a row allowing 27 runs. It had to come."
Despite nine rookies and other assorted neophytes. Weaver vows that the Birds' team batting average (.245) should go up. He adds that when other clubs are forced "to use their sixth through ninth pitchers," his team will prosper by comparison.
Baltimore's big four - Jim Palmer (5-3). Rudy May (4-4), surprising Ross Grimsley (4-2) and Flanagan - have pitched 77 per cent of the club's innings.
"That would seem like a blessing," said Weaver, "but it's actually hurt our bullpen. Dyar Miller and Tippy Martinez have not worked enough to be sharp."
No manager makes better use of exotic statistics than Weaver. Knowing Pat Kelly's history as a spring hitter. Weaver stuck with the veteran out fielder despite a 1-for-23 start. Since Kelly ignited on May 1 with two homers, he has hit .460 (23-for-50).
Conversely, Weaver quickly dropped slow-starting Lee May who was at .216 last July 6, to sixth in the batting order where his strikeouts (26 already) would kill fewer rallies.
Each day Weaver plays the "Waiting For Lee May" game. "When he gets hot, so will we," said Weaver remebering may's 44 RBI in 41 games late last season.
"I'm swinging great," joshed May to old buddy Reggie Jackson today. "It's the hitting part that's got me."
"That's all right, Mr. RBI," said Jackson, aware that May hit .346 with men on base on 246 at-bats last year, compared to .183 in 284 at bats with bases empty. "They're laughing at me, too. A rookie pitchers out in Oakland looked me in the face and said, "I know you can't be Reggie Jackson with that swing. Go sit down.'"
Weaver, with a mixture of easy to handle veterans like May, Belanger, Brooks Robinson and Palmer plus a dozen fuzzy cheeks, seems to have discovered an almost sweet nature.
He admits only on ething could spoil it in hurry. "We only have one five-game series the entire season (the current series) and it has to be with the Yankees in New York," Weaver said. "They're the wrong club for us to play five straight, 'cause they're only people who can match up all five ays in starting pitching.
"You have to fear losing five straight, and getting wierd out for the season. It could really hurt a young team's self-confidence," admitted Weaver, "And it could really hurt our attendance at home. People are just starting to say, "Well, the Orioles aren't so bad after all,"
"if we et whipped out here, they'll say, 'I told you so.'"
After 17 dates the O's have the lowest average attandance in their history 10.020.
For the sake of management's wallet and the manager's disposition. Weaver does not ask much. "Just give me two wins here," he chuckled. "Then I'll get out of town."