Earl Weaver on TV is a lip-reader's delight. Because TV considers us infants whose ears will fall off if penetrated by naughty words, we get only pictures, no sound, of Weaver during his fulsome orations on the abilities and genealogies of umpires. Some people, then, didn't know what Weaver said the other day in his debate with Ron Luciano, the ump who kicked the Oriole manager out of the ballpark before either man said a word.
Lucky for you, I read lips.
We'll get to a report of sorts on the Weaver-Luciano dialogue, and later we'll probe the American League body for evidence of a backbone, but first you ought to know some background: Weaver grows tomatoes as a hobby and curses umpires for a living. . .Luciano studies Shakespeare as a hobby and kicks Weaver out of ballparks for a living. . .and the American League doesn't know God from a groundskeeper.
Seven times now, Luciano has ejected Weaver, but Sunday's heave-ho was the first accomplished before Weaver uttered a sound. Already disturbed by the American League's spineless decision to postpone, not forfeit, two games in Chicago when White Sox negligence left the field unplayable, Weaver seized the first suggestion of a Luciano mistake as cause to come out of the dugout.
Baltimore's most famous tomato farmer didn't say a word. He just stood there. A third strike had been called on one of his men. Weaver came out of the dugout and stood there. He extended his arms with the palms upturned, as if pleading for deliverance from fools, and Luciano hearing the unspoken plea, chased him.
This is when the going got good. Rather than leave quietly, Weaver stormed the umpire. On TV it was really wonderful. You've seen those rear-window doggies whose heads bounce up and down. That's what Weaver looked like. Luciano, a big man, towered over the tomato farmer, speaking, it seemed, into the top of his baseball cap.
"'Tis not my speeches that you do mislike," Luciano said, "but 'tis my presence that doth trouble you. Rancor will out."
Though on the TV Weaver's lips were a blur of motion. I could read his words and I was astonished. The popular press has created an image of Weaver the vulgar, burnishing the myth with printed implications that the Oriole manager knows no words with more than four letters. Against Luciano, he gave as well as he got.
He tried conciliation. "For what is wedlock forced but a hell, an age of discord and continual strift?" Weaver said. "Whereas the contrary bringeth bliss, and is a pattern of celestial peace!"
"That unlettered, small-knowing soul," Luciano said in reply.
Weaver exploded at the insult. "What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted! Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just, and he but naked, though locked up in steel, whose conscience with injustice is corrupted."
I knew immediately that Weaver would protest the game because, as he later said, "of the umpire's integrity."
"Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind," Luciano said to Weaver. "The thief doth fear each bush an officer."
"O! What authority and show of truth can cunning sin cover itself with," Weaver said, now kicking dirt on Luciano's shoes. You are a base fellow who (Weaver went on) "loves to hear himself talk, and he will speak more in a minute than he will stand to in a month."
This struck a nerve with the umpire, for two years ago he was quoted as saying he didn't care who won the American League championship as long as it wasn't Earl Weaver and the Orioles. His minute speech that time cost him a large fine levied by the league office, and on the TV I could see him warning Weaver, "Be thou chaste as ice, pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny."
Weaver dared Luciano to do anything. "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," the tomato farmer said.
"Eat the bitter bread of banishment," Luciano roared, again giving Weaver the heave-ho signal.
All this lip-reading is child's play compared to figuring out what the American League had in mind in its shameful decision to postpone, not forfeit to the Orioles, those two games in Chicago over the weekend.
The league president, Lee Macphail, while angry at the development, refused to blame the White Sox for their park's unplayable condition. A rock concert had ripped up the outfield turf and then a thunderstorm turned the place into a swamp. Trying to patch it up with pieces of new sod, the White Sox groundskeepers created a slip-and-slide house of horrors that would give million-dollar out-fielders the heebie-jeebies.
By blaming the White Sox, MacPhail could have ordered the games forfeited to the Orioles. Instead, he pointed the finger at God. The thunderstorm was an act of God, he said, and you can't blame the White Sox.
Sure you can. After a calamitous antidisco bash caused the White Sox to forfeit the second game of a double header with Detroit, it is nothing if not negligence to again invite in a rock concert two days before the league's leaders come to play.
It is possible, with a luckless turn of events, that the Orioles would have to make up three games at season's end to win their division -- two with the Yankees that were rained out, one with the White Sox.
It will be unfair to them, and an embarrassment to baseball, if the Orioles lost a championship because, say, their pitching rotation is botched up as a result of extra games scheduled because God, to use MacPhail's logic, put on a rock concert in a ballpark.