He was into his last cliche. For Earl Weaver, there had been two curtain calls and maybe a half-dozen public bouts with his tear ducts near the end of this final, fickle day as manager of the Orioles. Now a smile was sprouting on that wonderful, weathered baseball face and he suddenly growled:
"That was the last down. Can't say that anymore."
Baseball's a game of ups and downs, you know, and in Weaver's reckoning that was what today was all about: a climactic collision by two special teams hellbent for one sporting path.
"They got one more up," he said. "They got that up; we got the down."
Helluva way to put a season: Milwaukee had 95 ups; Baltimore had 94.
"Lotta heroes the last four games," he said. "Thank God there weren't any goats, no one person who can be pointed at for the loss."
Lotta irony, too. All season the Orioles had been assumed doomed in the American League East; they fought heroically, magically, making up three games in 24 hours and finally pulling even with the Brewers. They seemed touched, destiny's darlings. Then, on the one day more than sentimentalists thought they would win, the Orioles were bombed.
Weaver was kind of up and kind of down off the field less than an hour after the Brewers had squashed his last maneuver from the dugout.
"Really haven't felt anything yet," he said. That was in reference to the reality jolt of retirement. Alvin Dark had written recently and predicted not managing would be more than Weaver could manage. But what so many assume he will miss Weaver won't.
Not spring training. Not 16-hour days with all those lousy, complicated bus trips. Certainly not the abuse. That's the major reason for walking away, at 52. Weaver says he simply doesn't want to push himself, and others, any longer.
"Don't know if I could be mean anymore," he said.
He knows his successor must be.
"When it'll hit me, really hit me," he said, "is when that (Oriole) plane leaves Miami (at the end of spring training) and I'm not on it. It'll be like not making a club, getting optioned down. And I'll miss opening day. Hope to see it, though I don't imagine it'll be televised down there.
"I pushed this year because I knew that at the end it was gonna be over with. For a while. Unless I feel differently (as Dark says he will)."
If Weaver is leaving because he no longer chooses to be tough, many of his last managerial words and works were tender.
He huffed and fussed over that second postgame appearance before a stadium still half full long after the final out.
"Gotta go out, Earl," somebody said. "They won't leave till you do."
So he did.
And loved it, soaking in the affection like a stumpy sponge. He even mimicked Wild Bill Hagy, contorting himself for one last O-R-I-O-L-E-S spelling lesson.
"What a ham," he mumbled as he trotted back to the clubhouse.
Weaver often seems to detest microphones and the men who flick them at his chin like a Don Sutton brushback; he could not brush past Brooks Robinson.
"Thanks for being so patient," Robinson said during some technical delays.
"That's all right," Weaver said. "You know how much I owe you."
"Came in here in the ninth," Robinson added, "but I couldn't get a uniform."
"You shoulda come here in the sixth," Weaver snapped.
Later, somebody wondered about career alternatives. There were none, Weaver insisted.
"When I was a 4-year-old (in St. Louis)," he said, "I wore a (baseball) shirt that said: 'Me 'n' Paul (Dean).' "
He was hooked for life.
"How lucky can you be?" he said. "How many blessings can God put on one person?"
He thought about the Brewers, that last up that got away.
"A good club," he said. "Guys have been around, matured. I've seen 'em grow. Given good reports on 'em. But I don't know if my reports (on Cecil Cooper) have been as good as he is. And (Robin) Yount? Don't know if he's gonna get much better. But how much better can he get?
"And Benjy (Ben Oglivie). Platoon player and not a good outfielder in Detroit. But he comes up (today) with one of the most important catches in a long time. I've watched him transform. Gorman Thomas. We all but ran him out of the league with high fast balls. But Bamby (George Bamberger) gave him a chance.
"I've watched and reported. Once a club starts to mature it's ready to have good times." He paused. "And the Orioles are right with 'em. We're one-two in baseball, from a won-lost standpoint."
There was yet another irony:
"Got a son who lives in Atlanta; got a married daughter who lives in St. Louis."
One game kept a Weaver from a third pennant town.
"What's disappointing," he offered at one point, "is hollering goodbye to Richie (Dauer) and (Gary) Roenicke. They'll be back; they'll do it next year. And I'll be giving a report (on the playoff or World Series opponent) to the new manager."
Weaver will be doing analysis for ABC this week during the AL finals, and he joked that his career-long stopper, Jim Palmer, will be "carrying me again. Things are not gonna slow down for me for some time."
Things in his office had slowed enough for him to undress and walk toward the shower when a familiar reporter returned from the Milwaukee clubhouse and cracked that nobody really saw Oglivie's sliding catch because it was out of television replay range.
Weaver's face brightened. It had taken some effort to thank umpires and the press during a formal press conference, but he'd done it. Now his eyes twinkled and the small giant baseball surely will miss more than he misses baseball said:
"Did he catch it? Maybe I got one more argument left."
Kansas City's Willie Wilson, with a .332 average, won the American League batting title by one point over Milwaukee's Robin Yount, but the margin was not the slimmest in baseball history. In 1949, Detroit's George Kell had a .3429 batting average against .3427 for Boston's Ted Williams.