One by one, each Oriole stuck his head into Earl Weaver's office today. And each time the manager, who starts his 35th and (he vows) final pro season when spring training opens here Friday, bounced up like a Baltimore chop to shake hands.
Weaver was at his best during this morning of sociable preamble as he bantered with his early Birds who couldn't resist reporting prematurely so they could run in the lush Florida grass on a breezeless, toasty 80-degree day.
With each greeting, Weaver, 52, reestablished that invaluable tone of friendly yet barbed parrying between manager and players that keeps such a rich blend of prickly candor, humor and respect in the Baltimore clubhouse air.
"This is what I'll miss most," he murmured, undoubtedly thinking ahead just one spring to that early retirement he's always coveted, always promised himself and is now bound and determined to take in '83, whether it's the right thing or not.
"I don't know if it'll be right," says Weaver of that abdication to the life of a seven-handicap golfer and a scratch gardener. "Gonna find out."
If Weaver wanted a painful reminder of what he'll leave behind, he got it this day.
To Jim Palmer, who claims to have the best memory in baseball, Weaver's first comment of spring was, "Well, Jim, I hear you forgot your starting time yesterday (for a golf match). Here we go again."
After grabbing the hand of Ross Grimsley, the alleged greaseballer who's here for a last-chance tryout, Weaver pretended to wipe off a residue of illegal sticky stuff, saying, "Oh, jeez, you didn't get it all off."
After Grimsley came Don Stanhouse, also here on a tryout basis. Weaver looked at the two grinning, snickering, men--two of those prodigals he secretly loves and always tries to keep in healthy supply in his locker room. "Good Lord," Weaver muttered, feigning disbelief, "The Unusual One and The Mystic."
For dependable Scotty McGregor, Weaver had the big smile that you can reserve for the good child you know won't let you down.
"Are you ready," said McGregor softly, slyly turning the tables on the manager by stealing his line.
"Ready?" retorted Weaver. "All I did (wrong) last year was bring in Stoddard once too often . . . And I still say it was the right move."
"He's back to normal, guys," announced McGregor to the locker room.
Finally, on came catcher Rick Dempsey, Weaver's designated target of attack in any and all situations. Last spring, Dempsey arrived with a full beard (all winter in the growing), and was decked out in red bandana, shades and sandals. Weaver didn't recognize his own catcher, and wasn't allowed to forget it.
Today, Dempsey arrived so all-in-white squeaky-clean, that Weaver's first sarcastic words were, "Tennis, anyone?"
Weaver informed Dempsey, and an appreciative audience of pitchers, that the catcher's years of difficulty with calling the right pitch would soon be at an end. The Japanese, Weaver had learned, had invented a glove complete with electronic buzzers, buttons and beepers for remote control with the manager.
"Dial-a-pitch," crowed Dempsey. "Now Palmer can blame you instead of me."
The bad news, interjected Stanhouse, was that Dempsey would have to "go to school for four years" to learn how to use the new glove.
Looking at Dempsey deadpan, Weaver concluded, "I just hope you don't electrocute yourself. We need you."
By the time all these rough greetings were finished, Weaver was in a fine state of suppressed excitement, pacing in the tiny office he shares here with six coaches. Interspliced with these impromptu reunions, an interview on the retirement question had been in frequently interrupted progress, so both notions were much in Weaver's mind.
"I can still drop into a locker room and say hello," said Weaver, who must know it can't be the same. You're either on the team or outside the team. "But I'll miss that."
There's more that he won't miss. The years of fragmented family life. The toll of stress from 25 years of managing. The boredom of "Cleveland in June." And "the dread . . . no, it's not (quite) dread . . . of knowing as soon as you come home you're going to have to go back on the road again.
"People think this is glamor . . . They're not going to understand it," Weaver says. "I try never to say 'never' . . . Maybe by June of '83, I'll be back looking for a (managing) job . . . I know what my income will be for the rest of my life. I'll never make less than I took home (ie., not deferred) from the Orioles last season. But maybe 10 years from now (because of inflation) I'll say, 'Hey, I gotta go back to work.' "
For now, Weaver says he has only two dominant wishes--first, to live down the drunk driving conviction this week that has profoundly embarrassed him, and, then, to win the '82 World Series so that his final choice of baseball words can be "I'm happy for the rest of my life."
Weaver, fined $1,065 and given a suspended sentence during 18 months of probation by Judge Gerard Wittstadt on Tuesday, arrived at Miami Stadium a bit later than normal this morning because a friend had to drive him.
Just guess how much Earl Weaver enjoys that. Ask about his driving plans and he says, "It's a fair question . . . but how I get around is nobody's business."
Weaver's pain about his two drunk driving arrests is genuine. "In 35 years, I've never had a drop of alcohol on any day I've gone to work (at the park)," says Weaver, and no one disgrees.
On one hand, Weaver says, sincerely, "You make a mistake and you pay the penalty . . . I brought it all on myself . . . I've made a promise to myself never to touch a drop of alcohol before I drive and I don't break promises to myself . . . I pray every night, 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And deliver us from evil.' That night (Aug. 31) I was not delivered from evil."
Weaver didn't even mind the mandatory psychiatric analysis. "I like to talk about myself," he quips, adding how proud he was of the psychiatrist's evaluation of him. "I think the guy really liked my personality."
With his conviction, his wait to get his driving privileges back and his imminent retirement, Weaver is worried that he might take attention away from his team. "I'm going to have to go through the same questions with everybody everywhere," he says. "Instead of Eddie Murray's 41st home run, they're going to have to hear more Earl Weaver bullfeathers."
The Weaver bullfeathers will end soon enough. Weaver heard today about the death of the great umpire Nestor Chylak, who was only 59.
"That's what I mean," said Weaver, reflectively. "What did the man have? Three, four years (after retirement) with his family?
" . . . Why should I work another six, eight years earning money I'll never spend?"