In a way, hiring Joe Altobelli as manager of the Orioles is as much a vote of confidence in the team he takes over as it is in the man given the job. "It is a vote of confidence in what he have," said Edward Bennett Williams, the owner of the Orioles, "but not a stand-pat vote of confidence. Obviously, we have to get an infielder, we have to help the bullpen and we may need an outfielder."

But, Williams said, "We're not trying to do a rescue operation. We were not seventh, or sixth or fifth. We were very high up. We don't have to rebuild, rip asunder and go with a youth movement. I want to make improvements -- and we will -- on what we have. But we're not reconstituting the roster. We wanted the minimum disruption."

Altobelli, with his low-key humor and familiarity with the organization, represented that. However, Williams, said, "We didn't hire a manager to be a caretaker."

Nor, he said, had they hired someone "to be an antidote" to Weaver's sometimes prickly personality.

"We hired someone to do the job for as long as he can do the job," he said.

Or, as some cynics maintain, until Earl Weaver wants it back. Asked if he thinks Weaver's retirement is permanent, Williams said, "I think Earl will manage again."

For Baltimore? "I hope Joe Altobelli is a tremendous success for a very long time but I feel confident Earl Weaver will want to be back in action. Earl has never had the luxury of being fired and having the office pay for a vacation like most of the managers in the American League. Earl just needs a vacation.

"Do I rule out the possibility that Earl Weaver would ever manage the Orioles again? I never say never or always anymore."

Had the Orioles wanted to hold the job for Weaver, they would have been more likely to choose a manager from their current roster. Williams said, "If you take that logic to the limit, we would have picked Mariana Weaver. But we didn't think Mariana could manage."

Clearly, the Orioles thought Altobelli could. Williams said he was the first choice all along. "We wanted Joe Altobelli," he said. "We had to wait until his contract expired with New York. I did not want to have to ask permission to talk to him."

Williams said Altobelli's contract with the Yankees, where he had been third base coach for two years, expired Oct. 31.

Williams said he spoke with Altobelli about a week to 10 days ago. "I like his personality, although I don't know him well. I like his style," he said. "I think he did a good job in Triple A. He did a very creditable job in San Francisco. There was a problem out there that didn't have anything to do with Joe Altobelli. I like the fact that he has American League experience the last two years. He's disciplined himself well. I think he will be able to handle any discipline problems. He has their respect and their affection.

"He was first because of his long experience with the organization. He had managed a number of players (eight) in the organization. It was not introducing an unknown quantity into an otherwise stable organization."