Earl Weaver has stalked out of the Big A, looking gruff, small and forbidding, so that California Angel fans will think, "Don't ask that little creep for his autograph. He'd probably spit tobacco juice on you."
But once past the crush, Weaver looks back and catches the eye of the one man in the crowd whose sons wear Baltimore Oriole caps. "Come here," snaps Weaver, so sternly you'd think the man was an umpire in for a chewing out.
The father brings the two boys over and discovers that Weaver wants to give them an autograph, wants to smile and say hello, wants to know where they are from.
As Weaver squeezes into the back seat of a car full of Bird coaches, two large Kiko Garcia fans will not allow the auto door to close, wanting to prolong indefinitely the minutes in their lives when they have Weaver's attention and have him trapped.
But when it comes to Kiko Garcia fans, Weaver will suffer infinite pains.
"You watch -- soon as we get back to Baltimore, Kiko will get a bunch of hits," he tells the two semisober fans, gently dislodging them from the door. "He always does."
The car drives through the neon blur of Orange County, a wilderness of taco palaces and Disneyland theme parks.
"Two more years," says Weaver in the quiet car, full of people he has known for years. "That's it. Then, when 'This Week in Baseball' comes on (television), I'll be on the golf course and couldn't care less.
"And a year after that," he says, "nobody will remember Earl Weaver." "Yeah, like they don't remember Casey Stengel," says Ray Miller, pitching coach.
It has been a moderately long day for the just-turned-50-year-old Weaver. He has flown from coast to coast after finishing an 11-day stretch of 11 games against the two best percentage teams in baseball, the Royals and the Yankees; he has signed a two-year extension of his managing contract through 1982 the previous midnight; once in Anaheim, he has spent a continuous 3 1/2 hours on interviews with every imbecile in Southern California with a pencil, microphone or television camera; he has nursed his Orioles to another victory, and sweated with Steve Stone through his 20th win and the first 22 outs of a possible no-hitter, and then he has done another hour of interviews and autographs.
Weaver is definitely frayed. He has left one major Los Angeles television station with egg on his face on its live evening news. "And no, with a live report from the Big A with Earl Weaver, we have reporter Jim Hill," jabbered the television. Except what the camera captured was a furious Weaver ripping the microphone off his uniform and telling the vidiots that he was sick of standing there waiting through the weather and airplane crashes and commercials and now, on top of it all a tape of a 4-day-old tirade of his from 3,000 miles away. "If you guys can't do your jobs no better than that . . .", he said, turning his back on the rolling camera and stomping off.
The older he gets, the closer he comes to the end of his run, the more money gets stashed away in deferred payments so that he can spend his life in vegetable gardens, on golf courses and at dog tracks, the harder it is not to find Earl Weaver appealing. He's mellowing in the best sense.
If baseball can germinate genius -- a debatable point -- then Weaver is the bloom of native American wit and savvy as revealed within our national pastime.
After 33 years of baseball, spent wrapping himself in the mystique of unconventional strategy, acid humor, temper tantrums and a defiantly opaque epigrammatic style of personal speech, Weaver is gradually longing to be understood a bit more before he disappears to the first tee, the tomato patch and a life of blissful coupon clipping.
"I always tell the truth. When are you going to understand that?" stormed Weaver after a defeat to the Yankee last week. And, after his fashion, he does.
Ask him if he thinks his instant legend of a showdown with umpires last Saturday will result in a suspension.
"Suspension?" he says, wide-eyed. "No, those umpires shouldn't be suspended. Poor guys are doing the best they can."
Ask him why he is so consumed by baseball, talking it constantly.
"My wife says, 'You spend more time on baseball than you do with (daughter) Kim and I. Do you love baseball more?'" Weaver says. "And that's the second wife talking," he adds, as though anyone who knew the first wife could imagine what she would say. "Well, I told her, 'Without baseball, we don't eat so good.'"
Then Weaver says more quietly, "A man and work . . . That seems to be the way it's got to be in this world."
That suits Weaver, who lives for work. Anything that is slow and detailed and laborious and fruitful appeals to him.
For his cozy, local, low-pay radio show, "Manager's Corner," which other lesser skippers would dismiss with ad-libs and easy banter, Weaver sits down each day with a legal pad and fills five pages with word-for-word presentation.
"I'm a better writer than you are, too," says Weaver to a reporter, proudly turning over a script.
More organized, certainly. Weaver's show on this particular day has two halves, each divided into three topics, three Roman numerals, with 31 individual, numbered points to be made on those subjects.
"I've never been fired from any job," says the meticulousy groomed Weaver, and he's talking about selling encyclopedias and cars, and being a hod carrier, too. "But I think I've signed my last contract. If AT&T and the municipal bonds don't fall flat, I'll be retired in '83."
For years, Weaver has been squireling away more than half of his salary -- "I don't have time to spend it" -- until guesstimates" now put his deferred payments from the team at more than $500,000 extending into the 1990s.
"I know exactly what I need to live on, have ever since I made $3,500 a year in 1957," he says. "Now I defer what I don't need. I'm always going to do the same things. I grow all my own vegetables. I stuff my own sausages -- pork shoulders should be coming on sale next month. I look for chuck roast on sale to use in stew or grind up hamburger. Doing that takes time, and I enjoy it," says Weaver, who seems to understand that a man is defined by how he spends his time, not how he spends his money.
"I'll have plenty to play golf every day, run out to Hialeah or the dogs, take Marianna out to dinner in Fort Lauderdale and take a walk on the beach," he says.
Weaver has it all figured. Just hold out a little while and there will be no more constant aggravation, like the Oriole regular who groused last week, "Earl loves to make brilliant moves, even if they are the wrong ones."
"No more guys barreling into my office like Ross Grimsley did one time," says Weaver. "He was screaming, 'You're shafting me, You're shafting me.'"
"I asked him how I was doing that," said Weaver, and he says, 'You're yanking me earlier than any of the other pitchers.' So I told him, 'Do you know why that is, Ross? It's 'cause I think they can get the next man out and I don't think you can'."
Yes, Weaver desperately wants to get away from that. And he doesn't want any more cap-kicking lessons, like the one Ralph Houk gave him. "I couldn't kick it as far as Houk, so I figured I better figure another gimmick."
And pennant races, and beating the Yankees before a quarter of a million people in five days, and having a cynical, hip player like John Lowenstein say, "That darned Earl just knows everything." Weaver can't wait to get away from that.
"I got it all figured," said Weaver. "Except for that damn inflation. If it weren't for that inflation, I'd be gone already."
Inflation, of course, is here to stay. Hopefully, so is Earl Weaver.