The little boys inside the men who play baseball are on public display more often than we imagine. Oriole fans in Memorial Stadium not long ago might have been puzzled by the frantic signals Ken Singleton was sending from first base to the dugout. He waved his arms, jumped up and down and, when the Orioles finally noticed, made a grand gesture toward the stands.

Eddie Murray, Singleton was alerting his cronies, would hit a grand-slam homer in a few moments.

Which is exactly what happened.

"A cinch," Singleton said. "I was watching him (Toronto reliever Ken Schrom) warm up, and he didn't have too much."

When sight and mind, instinct and reason conspire to create the overwhelming notion that a teammate is about to hit a home run, Orioles will go to outrageous lengths to communicate that to either Rick Dempsey, Ray Miller or Terry Crowley.

It's a game the Orioles play within the game.

Calls is what it's called.

Fans play it all the time; the Orioles take all this silliness seriously.

The idea is to predict homers, on specific at-bats, and at the start of each game everyone in the dugout has three calls. Unless some sort of bonus rule that even many Orioles cannot understand prevails, only four predictions per batter prevail. Those are the first to yell to the keepers of the calls: "I've got a call."

That's how it must be done, loud and direct. No dawdling, no retroactives, no sidling up to Crowley as, say, Cal Ripken Jr. hits a maybe to deep left-center and then yelling "call" when it clears the fence.

Rarely, if ever, has their dugout more resembled a bubbling Bird cage. Call chirps have been enthusiastic -- and often correct -- of late, the team having hit 30 homers in 18 games before last night.

Murray and Ripken had combined for 14 homers in 17 games; Glenn Gulliver had reached base in 25 of his 27 major-league games; Rich Dauer and Dempsey were batting close to .400 in their last dozen games; 43 of Gary Roenicke's 87 hits had been for extra bases.

"Called Eddie's homer," pitching coach Miller bragged after Friday night's 4-2 victory over Minnesota. "He got an off-speed pitch early (on his second at-bat) and didn't flinch. Nothing moved. Right away I put in a call, 'cause I knew he was sitting on (waiting for) a fast ball. That seemed the sequence, slow-fast, and he nailed the next pitch."

The rules do not allow a batter en route to the plate to put a call on himself. But if he feels a Ruthian surge building, he can tip a teammate. Floyd Rayford did that just before homering in the 13th inning to beat Oakland here. When Murray, leaving for the on-deck circle, announces "I got some hands," calls cascade about the dugout.

One correct call entitles the winner to three more. Dempsey once had a three-call game.

"I am the best," he brays.

Indeed, Dempsey has taken calls to a higher, more dangerous, level.

With guarantees.

A guarantee, according to Dempsey, means you put all your calls on one at-bat. Miss and you're done for the game. One bit of baseball esp and you're either haughty or humble.

Dempsey has strutted twice this year.

"Ripken with a two-run homer that beat Texas, 4-2, was one," he said. By revealing the other, Dempsey is giving away an edge to less attentive mates. So what? A gargantuan guarantor probably needs a handicap anyway. So Dempsey, bubbling, says:

"It was against Oakland. For some reason, after (pitching coach) Art Fowler talks to his pitcher the next guy often hits a homer. So I see Fowler leave the mound, after talking to (Matt) Keough, I think, and I just about jump out of the dugout putting a call on.

"(John) Lowenstein belts a three-run homer.

"Uncanny! Fowler tells his pitcher what to do, and the next guy hits a home run. I won (a guarantee) with that last year, too."

If all Orioles in the dugout can call, not all of them can be called.

You can't call a hostage.

In Birdspeak, a hostage is a hitter held homerless. He cannot get a call until he earns it with what, from now until eternity, surely will be called a circuit breaker. This means that Mark Belanger was eligible to be called only six times, in perhaps 600 at-bats, his last six years with the Orioles.

Calls are encouraged because: they're fun, they keep everyone in the game and give players at bat a psychological lift. If you think a teammate senses you're likely to homer shortly, you're certainly more apt to do it. The exercise all but forces everybody to study sequences, how a pitcher is working. By helping himself at calls in the dugout, a hitter also helps himself at the plate.

"I'm good at it," Dempsey said, "because I don't guess as much as the rest."

The call game is supposed to be used positively. But during one game the Orioles had well in hand early the count reached 2-0 on an opposition slugger and free spirit Lowenstein could not resist whispering: "call."

In Toronto, Jim Dwyer put a call on Murray early in the game. But Murray's high drive to right got caught up in a gale and caught by the right fielder on the warning track.

Later, Dwyer got no calls but homered to right anyway.

Trotting around the bases and into the dugout, he acknowledged this vote of no confidence by seeking out Murray and saying: "Eddie, it ain't so hard."