Ninety minutes before the ceremony began, before Earl Weaver would go out on his day and put himself in better perspective than many of us paid to do that, a television in the Oriole manager's office came to life. It showed the now-empty chairs and podium near second base where he would be honored for being so brilliant at baseball and appreciated for being so vulnerable as a man.

"Know what should be there?" he asked, and when Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams, baseball minstrel Terry Cashman and the half-dozen others stayed mute, Weaver added: "A tent. A tent over a big hole, and I'm lying there in a box."

That sort of odd play-by-play dominated the balmy afternoon that Baltimore said thanks to Weaver, who will retire after the final Orioles' out this season for reasons only he can fully comprehend. For every fond moment, there was harsh reality.

Most of Memorial Stadium was crowded a half-hour before the celebration started; his mother, wife, other relatives and special friends had filled that grassy stage by now; every detail had been accounted for, save one: would Weaver make his own party?

He had fretted a good deal of the very early morning about his batting order against the Indians, whether to go with the sentimental lineup that included Al Bumbry and Ken Singleton or the cerebral one that included John Shelby and Benny Ayala. Finally, his head prevailed over his heart.

"Then he asks me: 'Is Flanagan or McGregor pitching?' " said Rex Barney. "I had to say: 'Earl, Scotty won last night.' He's something today."

Indeed he was.

"We've had things reversed all these years," Williams said to that pregame gang in Weaver's office. "Earl's always wanted to be a lawyer and I always wanted to be a manager."

Weaver used that to break some tension.

"Exactly right," he said, his face suddenly impish. "Can you see me arguing (with umpires) the correct way?" He assumed a barristorial pose, calmly poking the air with a finger, laughing and saying: "Right in front of an ump, like he was a judge, 'Let me say that.' "

Williams teased Weaver:

"Don't think I can take managing more than one year. Too big a strain on me."

"Just pick up the phone," Weaver shot back.

Elrod Hendricks poked his head inside the door.

"Just want to see if you're okay," he said.

"I'm not," Weaver snapped. Then he mellowed: "How's Kenny and Al?" The manager's heart was tugging again. Then his head took over.

"Know the worst thing about baseball?" he said. "We're up, say, 2-0, today, last of the ninth, two on and a 2-0 count, and I go out and take Flanagan out. They'll boo me like a . . . (after cheering and crying for him during the pregame pomp).

"Two things they love in Baltimore. First is the bunt, gettin' a guy over from second to third. They lose their hearts over that. And they want to see a guy go the distance. He can be droopin' and it's 110 and he can hardly get the ball up to the plate but they want to see him go nine.

"You can't do that."

Weaver's trusty 3 x 5 cards were at the ready again today. He had used perhaps 10 of them to "jot down some notes" for his speech. In truth, every word had been as carefully planned as his lineup.

Suddenly, it was time to get on with being legendary.

"Don't know how I'm gonna go through an hour without a cigarette," he had said. "But then I've had two packs since 6:30, so I guess I'll be all right."

He was.

A lime-green '54 Pontiac sported him about the stadium, and he popped up every minute or so to accept such as a set of golf clubs, a Carribean cruise, a van, even a useful, thoughtful gift from American League umpires with whom he has feuded over 15 years here.

Williams announced that Weaver's No. 4 would be retired.

"No Baltimore Oriole ever will wear No. 4 again," said Williams. He paused, pointedly, and added, "Except you."

Then it was Weaver's turn at bat, and he was nice.

Weaver the grown man remembered how racially torn the country had been when he became Orioles manager in '68; Weaver the little boy admitted: "at times, I was so excited I forgot I was manager and got up and applauded like everyone else."

Weaver the sentimentalist thanked everybody but specifically mentioned only his mother and wife; Weaver the realist added that all those associated with him frequently had to endure "a moody, irrational and very rude individual."

Nearly everyone else had been totally flattering. Except for one magazine piece by a Baltimore writer who had been close to Weaver for years. The manager was all but in tears that someone he considered a friend--and whose assignment as Orioles beat writer he had tried to save -- could evaluate him as dispassionately as he judges favorite players.

As he'd hoped, Weaver delivered his speech without bawling, without "my mother having to pick me up and put me back in my seat." He ended by saying: "Memories of this day are going right with me to the grave."

Earlier, he'd thought about one last twinge of emotion.

"When I'm packing (after the season, playoffs, World Series, whatever)," he said, "that's when I'll realize it. It'll be a different packing feeling, because I won't be putting in lineup cards for spring training. I'll be saying: 'Where does so-and-so (the next Orioles manager) want this?' "