Earl Weaver rapidly is becoming baseball's first surrealist manager.
The Baltimore Oriole skipper, always known for a pixieish sense of humor that he has often kept hidden in the clubhouse, has in the last six weeks unveiled a streak of absurdist wit that would please Salvador Dali.
Tonight, returning from a three-game suspension for publicly questioning an umpire's integrity, Weaver was in prime form -- creating fictitious telegrams from comic book characters, dreaming up hypothetical lawsuits and then settling them in his head.
Casey Stengel would have been proud.
True, Weaver's 87-44 Birds were typically brilliant, beating Minnesota and its southpaw ace Jerry Koosman, 5-4, for the O's seventh win in eight games.
Mike Flanagan, the majors' leading winner, ran his record to 19-7, thanks to four final outs of relief help from Don Stanhouse, who saved his 16th.
And, naturally, Flanagan's boon pal, Ken Singleton, capped a decisive four-run O's seventh inning by driving in what proved to be the winning run with a two-run single off Mike Marshall.
The Oriole arm-and-hammer -- Flanagan and Singleton -- had struck again.
But it was Weaver, as usual, who was the unseen force, the hand that left its invisible script on this game.
Just one day ago, Weaver threatened to "seek medical and legal advice" when he got back to Baltimore, complaining that the "undue humiliations" he had suffered at the hands of umpire Ron Luciano had made him "all nervous."
In fact, Weaver said that he had a recurring dream in which he took the Bird lineup card to home plate and found himself surrounded by four umpires -- all clones of Luciano.
Back in uniform tonight, Weaver said he felt "better," because of a telegram he had received.
"It was from some guy named Al Neumann and it said, 'What, you worry?" said Weaver, spinning a tale intelligible to all readers of Mad magazine.
"I think maybe I'll settle the suit out of court," grinned Weaver, who has not filed any suit and has no plans for one.
Settle for what?
"I'll settle for not seeing Luciano again this year," said Weaver, snapping up the straight line. since Luciano said, "I don't care who
The Earl of Weaver's scenario is almost always comprehensible. When his team is going well, as it did until early August, Weaver practically hides, referring credit to his players.
"When things are tough," said Weaver tonight, "I'm supposed to take the abuse. I'm supposed to take the grief. That's part of a manager's duty. Managers don't do much, but that's part of the job."
Now that his Birds are streaking again, with their pitching looking deeper and better all the time with the return of Jim Palmer and Tim Stoddard (on Saturday), Weaver can forget about lawsuits and protests and ejections.
No wonder he is getting telegrams from Alfred E. Newman and deciding to settle with Luciano "out of court."
"I stayed out of the second game in Minnesota on Wednesday because if I'm not around people have to give the players the credit." said Weaver. "They did a great job and proved to everybody how little they need me. I'm sitting in the stands and they win three of the four."
But didn't Weaver manage every move from the stands?
"Well, of course," he laughed. "But I was eatin' popcorn, too. How tough is that?
"When things look fairly decent like they do now, it's time for me to get the hell out of the players' way."
So, tonight, the crowd of 24,461 gave Benny Ayala and Eddie Murray an ovation for their back-to-back doubles in the seventh that gave the O's a 1-0 lead. When Rich Dauer singled home two runs in the eighth to put the O's in front, 3-2 over Koosman, they stood to yell. When Singleton, the hammer who always supports Flanagan's arm, singled home his 100th and 101st RBI off reliever Mike Marshall in the same inning, the fans reached the bananas level.
And, finally, when defensive replacement Mark Belanger backpedaled frantically to make a marvelous leaping catch of a diabolical handle-hit bloop by Butch Wynegar with the bases full of Twins and two out in the eighth to protect a 5-4 Oriole lead, they gave an imitation of the 1812 Overture.
Only one man in a Bird uniform got a mixed reception tonight. When No. 4, the 5-foot-6 fellow with his hands deep in his hip pockets, trudged to the mound in the eighth to replace Flanagan, the cheers were quiet and mixed with a few gentle boos.
Why had Weaver left Flanagan in for 127 pitches and 13 hits -- even if a majority of them were sickly things -- the unwashed multitude wished to know. Why had he waited until that 5-2 lead dwindled to 5-4 before calling on Don Stanhouse?
Weaver retreated to the dugout, then lit a cigarette and trudged up the tunnel to his "lucky spot" -- a place out of sight to which he hides when, after his best-laid plans, the game finally and irretrievable is in the hands of his players.
He stood there like a tiny solitary child, watching his life's work out of the mouth of his baseball cave. Looking at that slice of infield that stretches from third base to second, Weaver, the surrealist of his game, puffed and pondered.
Looking, as always, for that tiny edge which few others see and even fewer can understand.