Five years ago, the Orioles and the A's met for the American League championship - and Oakland later won its third straight World Series. When the teams parted company here late Monday night, the Orioles had the best record in baseball; the A's had the worst.


"In a word, judgment," said Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver.

He meant judgment from the commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn, to the most anonymous scout for both teams. Most of the decisions in one way or another involved how to cope with a new and radical concept: free agentry.

And money: which players to give it to and - especially for the A's - how to get what needed to be given.

"There's no doubt we (the Orioles and A's) had all the talent," Weaver said. "The prime talent. Or most of it. We had a lot to lose, like Oakland, and we did a good job of retaining the players we couldn't replace.

"Charlie (A's owner Finley) had no chance. All of his guys were walkin' and he had no way of keepin' 'em."

This was late in 1976, after the Orioles finished second in the American League East and the A's finished second in the American League West. It was the first year of free agentry - and Finley tried to cut his November losses by trading Vida Blue to the Yankees and Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Red Sox in June for a total of $3.5 million.

Kuhn voided the deals.

"When that money was taken, what could Charlie do?" Weaver said. "With that money, he could have signed some of the other guys who eventually left, maby Campy (Bert Campaneris) and (Gene) Tenace. And (Sal) Bando. Of course, he had to lose some players.

"Oakland's a big park, with a lot of foul territory. That detracts from (batting) averages. It's nice for pitchers, but the nights are cold and attendance was down even when they won big."

And Finley is cheap.

Also, Finley has - or had - a flair for building fine teams. Fi he did not know personnel himself, as he insisted, he had enough silent, sensible scouts nearby to spot the young Catfish Hunters, Blues, Rick Mondays, Reggie Jacksons, Bandos and Fingers.

"If he could have kept at least a few of them from going," Weaver, "with young guys like (Wayne) Gross and (Mitchell) Page (acquired from Pittsburgh in a deal for Phil Garner), he probably could have maintained a contending team."

Kuhn thought Finley would grab all the money he could get for all the players he could sell and run from baseball. The thin financial thread that keeps the A's alive is provided by Finley selling players for less than the Kuhn-ordered $400,000 maximum.

Finley lost Rudi, Bando, Tenace, Campaneris, Don Baylor, (acquired from the Orioles for a free agent who skipped Baltimore, Reggie Jackson) and Fingers that first year.

It was dumb of the Orioles not to have had Jackson signed before they traded for him, because he cost them Baylor and brought nothing in return. But they were bright enough and calculating enough, although it did not seem so at the time, to lose players (Bobby Grich and Wayne Garland) who could be replaced from within the minor league system.

"We made sure we kept the players we thought couldn't be replaced," Weavers said. "(Jim) Palmer, (Ken) Singleton, (Lee) May, (Doug) DeCinces. Guys like that. We made a judgment we could lose Grich, becaust (Rich) Dauer had been named player of the year (in the International League) at Rochester.

"For two years, we wound up lookin' great because Grich was hurt. Now he's doing what everyone knew he could." Left unsaid was the fact that although Dauer broke two major league records for fielding consistency last year, he has yet to realize that enormous potential.

Of losing Garland and his 20-7 record, Weaver said, "We had pitching coming through the system we had to make room for. We decide (Mike) Flanagan would eventually be at Garland's level. So we bought one (Flanagan) a lot cheaper than the other.

"What this all boils down to is having the baseball judgment that gives you talent in the system and through trades. Take (A1) Bumbry. He played out his option last year, but also broke his leg. We found out how much we missed him, so we paid what it took to keep him.

"We won a division title (in '73) with (Rich) Coggins - and he helped us get Singleton the next year."

The Orioles have won so many trades with Montreal one wonders how the Expos remained alive let alone atop the National League East much of the year.

Singleton and Mike Torrez came from the Expos in '74 for Coggins, Dave McNally and Bill Kirkpatrick in one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history. Gary Roenicke and Don Stanhouse, two major reasons for the Oriole surge this season, came in December of '77 for Rudy May, Randy Miller and Bryn Smith.

At the time, Weaver fumed about that deal. So far, Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor have helped cancel the loss of May and another free agent, Ross Grimsley. And Stanhouse made the All-Star team this year.

"We decided we had to have power," Weaver said, referring back to Singleton and mentioning two more products of that wildly fertile Oriole farm system. "We decided we even needed somebody in the seven spot who could hit one out.

Now with (John) Lowenstein and (Pat) Kelly we can thrown six of 'em in there."

Weaver made this final judgment not too long before Kelly smacked the pinch-hit, grand-slam homer Monday that buried Oakland once again.