What baseball managers do most is talk. It is their coin. And the one who does it best is probably Earl Weaver.
When the Baltimore skipper begins a dugout monologue, his Oriole players cock their ears to overhear what they irreverently call "Earl's Pearls."
"You tell 'em, Chairman Earl," crows old Pat Kelly.
"Eavesdropping on Weaver is one of the great pleasures of the big leagues," says the pitching coach, Ray Miller, laughing.
What better way to greet the Oriole season, which starts with today's 2 p.m. home-opener against Chicago (a crowd of 40,000 is expected for Weaver's shot at his 1,000th major league victory, than to sit back and listen to perhaps the game's best manager as he discourses on his sport.
Herewith, Weaver's reflections after 20 years in the monors and 11 in the majors: the thoughts of Chairman Earl.
"The team bus waits for no man," intones Weaver, 48, his temper mellowed, his quick-study eyes darting behind bifocals as he sits down in the front window seat. No one is permitted next to him.
"All right, let's get going. Shoot those questions," he needles, sucking down black coffee and grinning like a naughty kid.
"First of all, baseball's at its peak. Not in the monors, where you had 53 leagues in the '40s. But the majors are booming.
"I get sick of hearing about 'the poor owners.' Baseball owners today are happier than pigs in slop. They're making money handover foot.
"The ones who have spent millions of dollars for free agents, the ones who are crying the loudest about salaries . . . those owners are the happiest kids on the block. They know they are getting the biggest steal going.
"Look at New York, Milwaukee and California. The Brewers went out and bought themselves an instant contender and they drew 1.6 million fans last year Bud Selig bought Larry Hisle and Sal Bando and he's like a kid on Christmas morning. The more he spends, the more profit he makes.
"But I'll tell you what I see down the road. Our (collective bargaining) contract runs out at the end of this year and the owners are going to try to reverse the process of free-agentry.
"Well, Marvin (Miller) isn't going to ask the players to take any steps backward. You can believe that, and the owners better face it. Baseball has prospered so much from free agents - more publicity, better attendance - that neither side should be hard-nosed.
"The owners moan that some franchises will fail or move. Well, the fanchise that goes under is the franchise that would go under, anyway. The cities that can't support baseball, won't. Hell, franchises have been failing my whole life. What's neew about that? Baseball goes on."
Is there a message in there for Baltimore? Weaver rolls his eyes and makes a face that says, "Could be."
"Poor teams have a better chance now, not a worse one," continues Weaver. "I grew up in St. Louis and watched the owners chase the Browns out of town (to Baltimore).
"The good teams had a crushing monopoly on talent.Where could the Browns go for quality players? In the past, a bad team was locked at the bottom. Those damn four-year building programs always seem to extend to 40 years. Look at the Browns, the Phillies, the Senators, the Cubs . . .
"Now a pooer team, again I think of Milwaukee, can buy two or three star players, and become a legitimate contender. And that means profits.
"Now even we (the Orioles) are spending," says Weaver, referring to free-agent Steve Stone and the expensive multiyear contracts of several players.
The Orioles last winter signed catcher Rick Dempsey to a five-year, $750,000 contract, but two springs ago, they wouldn't meet Reggie Jackson's demand for $1 million for four years.
"Was that what Reggie asked for?" says Weaver in disbelief. "I forgot." Then he shakes his head at how times change.
"Well, nobody knew how salaries would change back then," he says, defending management. "We offered Reggie three-quarters of the world, by the standards of that time. But the Yankees offered him the whole world.
"Of course, everything looks different in hindsight. Give us Reggie and not them and New York ain't gonna be goin' for no third straight world title this year.
"The Orioles have always been an exception, it seems. We've kept coming up with (minor-league) players year after year for 20 seasons. We have been the talent producers of all baseball. How else could we have won more games than any team for the last 21 years?
"Most people don't know it, but George Steinbrenner has been building his minor league system. Steinbrenner's doing everything right . . . all his ideas are perfect. You can't have too many scouts or too many instructors. You can't spend too much money on player development.
"But that doesn't tell you how the Yankees will work out. Will their judgment be as good as ours has always been? The system's one thing. Evaluation's another.
"It's not that hard to compete with the Yankee money. They can only put eight guys on the field at once and one Jim Palmer can nullify them all . . . eh . . . leths leave Ron Guidry out of this," Weaver says with a laugh, seeing his argument taking a nasty, unexpected turn on him.
"When our four starting pitchers walk out there, the other team - no matter who it is - is an underdog almost every day. You look at the daily gambling odds over 162 and see how many times the Orioles are underdogs on any given day. Almost never . . . make a bet on the Orioles every year. The reason is starting pitching."
True to form, Weaver the umpire baiter, loves to reverse expectation. He's on the side of the striking arbiters.
"Umpires are underpaid and overworked - seven days a week for seven straight months. A top ump should make $75,000 a year. But you gotta stop hirin' 'em for life like they were the Supreme Court. Pay 'em more and fire 'em more.
"The salary structure should go up, but pay should be on a merit, not seniority, system. In general, I'm not dissatisfied with umpiring. But when was the last bad one fired or sent back to the minors?"
Weaver does not pity the hard life of umps as much as he sympathizes with the lot of managers.
"A baseball manager has no chance. If 30,000 people are in the stands, 15,000 will always think you're a moron.
"A manager wins games in December. He tries not to lose them in July. You win pennants in the offerseason when you build your team with trades and free-agent signings. What good is the hit-and-run in August if the bum strikes out?
"You can't be smart. The three-run homers you trade for in the winter will always beat brains.
"The guy who says, 'I love the challenge of managing,' is one step from being out of a job. I don't welcome any challenge. I'd rather have nine guys, named Robinson. Even when you've built a team you think can win every game, you still lose enough that way."
Weaver is a master strategist, right? Wrong.
"How the hell can you start a game with a strategy until you see the two pitchers?Who knows if it's going to be 2-1 or 9-8 until the game starts. Even with a Palmer, it takes at least two innings to get a feeling. . . and then you get fooled. They can't get a smell off your guy, then, biff-bamboom, he's in the shower."
Nevertheless, Weaver has had a life-long passion for "inside" baseball.
"From age 8 to 15, I watched 100 games a season - Browns and Cardinals. Ran from school with my Knot-hole-Gang card and saw the last six innings.
"Here I am, 12 years old, second guessing Billy Southworth, who's one of the three managers in history to win 100 games in three straight seasons," says Weaver pausing slyly.
"Of course, I'm one of the three, too."
If Weaver has a conventional theory on anything, he wouldn't admit it, or would twist it to his own hat size.
"A team is run on a set of rules, each of which might have 25 special cases," he says. "Reggie Jackson and Tim Nordbrook abide by the same team rules. But those rules can have exceptions, if there are reasons. What's important is that everybody knows everybody else's special case, and the reason forit.
"You never decide how much you're going to climb on a player until you hear their explanation. Look for logic in their explanation, not good judgment. If you chew a man for something that seems logical to him, he won't understand."
Weaver has widely varying standards of forgiveness. "I let a writer shaft me three times," he says "then . . . "
How many second chances does a player get?
"One hundred. You must remember that anyone under 30 - especially a ballplayer - is an adolescent. I never got close to being an adult until I was 32 . . . Even though I was married and had a son at 20, I was a kid at 32, living at home with my parents. Sure, I was a manager then. That doesn't mean you're a grownup.
"Until you're a grownup person that other people can fall back on, until you're the one that's leaned on not the person doing the leaning, you're not an adult.
"You reach an age when suddenly you realize you have to be that person. Divorce did it to me. It could be elderly parents, children . . . anything. But one day you realize, 'it's me. I've got to be the rock.'"
For 16 years, Weaver has been that little, leather-skinned rock.
"A manager has to stay away from his players," he says. "You have to be mature enough to realize that the day will come when you will have to look every one of them in the eye and say, 'You can't cut it anymore.' You're the one who has to fire them, bench them, trade them. You're the one who decides all the worst things in their lives.
"And you have to do it for 25 guys. To be fair, to keep your job, to have the best possible team, you must keep your distance, no matter how much you like a guy."
It is a common occurence to meet a player who flatly calls Weaver the best manager he ever had or ever expects to have.
"No one else has been close," said Elliot Maddox of the New York Mets, who has the reputation of being hard to handle. "I'd play for Earl in a minute. He's absolutely fair and honest with you. No, I never mentioned it to him. He's not the sort of man you'd dream of going up to and saying, 'I really think you're great.'"
The Oriole bus unloads. Weaver gets off first and goes one way. The players go another.
"I almost never see them away from the park and I don't want to," he says. "I don't miss 'em after the last pitch . . . I know I can't afford to." CAPTION: Picture 1, Paul Molitor scores from second for the Brewers on single by Cecil Cooper. Thurman Munson misses tag. UPI; Picture 2, Earl Weaver