Last Saturday in Seattle, Earl Weaver stalked into the Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse just seconds after a one-run loss to the Mariners.
"That's the bottom of the barrel," he yelled at his players, who had just fallen back into last place with a 13-19 record. "We can't go any lower. You better get it in gear before it's too late."
Usually, such an explosion by a famous manager would prompt his players to hang their heads and look contrite.
Not the Orioles.
"Whaaa, whaaa, whaaa," the Birds began hooting at Weaver, to his face. The collective sound, according to pitchers Steve Stone and Sammy Stewart, who recreated the scene, was a cross between a baby bawling for its bottle and Daffy Duck with his tail on fire.
Usually, the Orioles reserve this familiar version of a Birds' Bronx cheer for lighter occasions, such as when Weaver frumps into the locker room to tell his players to turn that rock 'n' roll down so he doesn't have to hear it in his office.
"Whaaa, whaaa, whaaa," they drone, making the place sound like a duck blind.
"The first time I heard 'em do that to Earl, back in '79, I didn't know what to think," says Stewart. "Here was this manager you'd heard about all your life chewin' us out and these guys were making fun of him. I thought, 'It's kinda dark in here and you don't have to move your mouth to make that sound, so I guess I can do it, too.'
"We're gonna miss The Weave. I don't know where they're gonna find another manager who'll take all the lumps that this club gives Earl."
What will life be like for the Orioles after Earl Weaver is gone?
"The dugout will be much quieter," says Mike Flanagan of the retiring, but hardly shy, manager now in his 15th season in Baltimore.
"There'll be a lot less smoke coming out of that tunnel," says Stone, pointing at Weaver's favorite late-inning worrying nook.
"There'll be a lot more rules," says Stewart, " 'cause Earl ain't got any of 'em, except to show up at the park on time and wear a sport coat on the road."
"We won't have to put up with all his screwups and his second-guessing," says Rick Dempsey.
"I won't have to warm up seven times like I did last night, then never even get into the game," says Tippy Martinez.
"Platooning?" says Gary Roenicke. "Maybe there'll be less of it. Nobody ever platooned me until Earl."
"We're sure to have more meetings, 'cause Earl hates meetings and he hates to make speeches," says Stewart. "And we'll probably have some practices in midseason, which we don't ever now, 'cause Earl hates them, too.
"And another manager might be more gutty on hit-and-runs, sacrifice bunts and steals. Earl would rather wait for the home run."
"The young players probably won't be so nervous," says Rich Dauer. "Hell, I was scared to come back into the dugout after making a mistake for four years."
"Maybe there'll be less one-on-one closed-door meetings," says rookie Cal Ripken Jr., sheepishly. "He's already had me in three or four times."
"The irascible school of baseball will no longer be in session," says John Lowenstein.
"Most important difference," says Stone, as several temmates snicker, "is that, unless they hire (movie midget) Billy Bartie to run the club, the manager's uniform will be a whole lot bigger."
Says Weaver himself, "It won't make a damn bit of difference to those guys. They'll keep right on winning, 'cause they're good ballplayers. Maybe once or twice a season, somebody'll go to bat who might not have as good a chance as somebody else, according to my stats. . . That's not much difference."
For a year, Weaver has been insisting that he will call it quits after this season, so that he can attend to more important matters: his garden, his golf and his wife. As he said this spring, "Just once, I want to see the sky turn to dusk without the stadium lights coming on."
Even owner Edward Bennett Williams admitted this week, "I'm persuaded of Earl's intentions for next year. I believe that he's convinced, in his own mind, that he wants to retire. That doesn't mean that I don't keep trying to talk him out of it. I'd like him to stay . . . I don't believe that a 51-year-old man in good health with his competitive drive and his success can stay retired . . .He's even offered to sign a two-year Oriole contract (to do scouting, etc.), just to tie him to this organization and prove he's not planning to go to another team (read: the Yankees for a huge salary)."
Gradually, and painfully, the Orioles are coming to accept the likelihood that Weaver won't be back in '83. The withdrawal symptoms, however, are strong; the whole organization seems in a sort of paralysis of gnawing disbelief that the man who has guided the club to six East Division titles, four American League pennants and one world championship will not be back.
On one hand, as veteran Crowley says, "I've played for Earl here in 12 seasons and, like him or hate him, Earl does speak the truth. I mean always . . . Somehow, I just believe he'll be back next year, though I can't explain it."
According to General Manager Hank Peters, no serious or systematic thought has been given to the identity of a Weaver successor. "Earl and I have worked together as general manager and field manager so long, and so well, that I guess I'm like most people around here. Maybe I hope it's a problem that will go away," says Peters.
Speculation is not only premature, but, given all the variables of a season in flux, ridiculous. It's also impossible to pass up. The standard battery of sensible names for the job include:
* San Francisco Manager Frank Robinson, who long ago threw his hat in the ring. He got high grades with the '81 Giants, and is being closely watched.
* Chicago White Sox Manager Tony LaRussa, a young lawyer who impresses almost everyone in baseball, including Williams. Perhaps unobtainable.
* Cincinnati Manager John McNamara, a respected handler of pitchers and a close friend of Peters. Maybe too bland and invisible for Williams' taste.
* New York Mets Manager George Bamberger, enormously popular with the Orioles and Weaver's old buddy. The perfect choice but, again, probably not available.
* Several current or past Orioles coaches or farm team managers, including Cal Ripken Sr., Jim Frey and Joe Altobelli. Also, there's Ray Miller, 37, who's expected to have colorful LaRussa-style success as soon as his managing day comes.
The Orioles, to a man, refuse to discuss possible successors, as though such a breach of loyalty toward Weaver might nudge him, ever so slightly, toward closing the last rhetorical loopholes by which he might change his logician's mind.
Despite their occasional sharp words--like Jim Palmer saying a fortnight ago that "Earl's cost us five games already this season," or Ken Singleton saying that his poor hitting was aggravated by being made a DH--the Orioles are still convinced that Weaver is one of their major assets.
Perhaps their central cog.
As recently as two weeks ago, a mood of uncharacteristic irritability hung over the Orioles' clubhouse. However, the team returned home with that cloud largely dissipated. Palmer and Weaver had an hour-long meeting that both called "the best talk we ever had." When asked this week about Palmer's stinging early-season second-guesses of him, Weaver shot back, "See what he says now. Don't drag up that old stuff."
In fact, Palmer now sidesteps specifics, talking instead about how Weaver will be in the Hall of Fame. "I've reconciled myself that I'll do what I'm asked . . . whether it's fair or unfair," said Palmer.
"That's what I thought," said Weaver.
Singleton, the DH, also is placated. "I hold no malice," he says. "A decision (about his not playing the outfield) has obviously been reached . . . I just think that if I'd been used all spring as a DH, instead of playing every day, I'd have been a little better prepared."
Also, grumblings on the bench were partly quieted when Jose Morales was traded. "With Dan Ford here and me at DH, there just weren't enough at bats to keep everybody sharp. I'm sure that's why Jose left," says Singleton.
Even Eddie Murray's recent injury, allowing both the red-hot Lowenstein and Roenicke to play at the same time, have eased the clubhouse prickliness. Now, for the time being, the Orioles are chipper again and disposed to see their manager with long-view affection.
"Earl messes up a lot. Every time he leaves me out of the lineup I tell him what a horsefeathers manager he is," says Dempsey. "But we all know he's right a lot more than he's wrong. I've played for Billy Martin, Bill Virdon, Ralph Houk and Gene Mauch, and it's not even close. Earl's the best."
"Earl has always intimidated young players," says Dauer, "but when you get over the grilling Earl gives you, you're a better player than you ever thought you'd be. That's why Orioles have long, winning careers."
"Earl puts extreme, intense pressure on all his people," says Miller.
"I can't think of a guy here in my generation, except Eddie (Murray), who didn't go through a tough period with Earl," says Flanagan. "He made you think about him more than you should. You knew he'd be waiting for you on that top step asking you, 'Why?' But, once you got over him, you gained self-respect.
"He makes it more of a mental game. You better have more than just talent," adds Flanagan. "You can't wander out there and say, 'I'll throw what my heart tells me,' 'cause if your heart tells you to throw a curve ball and Earl's charts say the guy's got 60 base hits off us in 10 years on curve balls, you're in trouble. You better be thinking out there."
"I'm a believer in facts," says Weaver.
"You know you're going to get yelled at," says Stewart, "but, once he believes in you, he'll never give up on you, not even Palmer."
Says Weaver, "You always have to ask the player for his reasons. The players have to admit to themselves that what they did was not right. Then, there will be improvement . . . If their reasoning isn't as good or better than mine, then we gotta do it my way."
Perhaps the title of Weaver's recently published autobiography says it best: "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts."
The Orioles will miss doing it Weaver's way.
"Earl does his work in the spring from the first day of camp. He really drills us hard on fundamentals. But, then, it's old hat. The rest of the year, he can just make out the lineup card," says Stewart.
"We'll miss him during games. He's such a competitor. He screams and hollers and starts pulling for everybody and getting on the umpires from the first inning," says Crowley. "Without him? It'll be a funny feeling."
"Earl treats everybody the same. He uses everybody. And he chews on everybody, but he never holds a grudge," says Miller. "Once the guy comes back at him (with a retort), which is what I think he really wants to see, it levels things off and Earl goes over and puts his arm around you, so to speak, and has a quiet talk.
"He'll always respect and protect you, but he's not very close to anybody, not even us coaches. He'll compliment you indirectly, in the press, but he'll almost never give you a direct compliment. If he did, it'd feel funny . . . Hey, it wouldn't be right."
Perhaps the quality of Weaver's that the Orioles will miss most is the one they cannot put their finger on--the one that may be rooted in Weaver's baseball intuition, his ingrained 35 years of baseball judgment and gut-level human psychology.
When Weaver stormed into that clubhouse in Seattle, he almost had to know that he would get the duck treatment. In fact, he probably wanted it.
The beaten team might hang its head. But the proud team, the kind Weaver has always wanted, would not let anyone, not even the man who created them as a team, imply that he was the only one who really cared.
"If we did that to another manager," says Stewart, incredulously, "he'd probably get all flustered or mad and say, 'Now listen up, I'm serious,' or something like that, and it'd be an awful moment.
"But Earl just looked at us and went, 'Whaaa, whaaa, whaaa, yourselves.' "
And, as is so often the case when Weaver acts and his flock reacts, the Birds started winning immediately.