The first warm winds and mists of a winter storm from the Gulf were just beginning to buffet Miami Stadium this morning as Edward Bennett Williams propped his feet up on a grandstand seat and watched his Baltimore Orioles double-time through a beat-the-rain workout.
In one of the lazier hours in his frenetic life, the Orioles' owner talked about a dozen baseball subjects that, in the last four years, have grown close to his heart. Carefully, he touched all the bases: from the advantages of losing Earl Weaver to the knotty problem of "who's on third," to his discovery this winter that it was possible for him to insure an entire baseball season with Lloyd's of London.
For starters, how do you insure a baseball season?
Williams, apoplectic last season when rainouts cost his club seven lucrative playing dates, has done it.
"Those seven dates cost us 175,000 in attendance and perhaps $1 million in revenue. The weather was the difference last year between us making or losing money," said Williams. "So I went to Lloyd's. You have enough to worry about operating one of these franchises without looking out your window every afternoon to see if the sun is out.
"Nobody's ever asked them to insure a season before. They'd insured individual dates, but never 81 openings. So, they rounded up the actuaries, then came back and said they would give me a two-opening deductible--like a $100 deductible on your car," explained Williams.
If the Orioles lose one or two dates to the weather, they can't collect. However, thereafter, "Lloyd's will pay me about three-quarters of the revenue I lose on that date. They named it the 'EBW policy,' 'cause I invented it," chortles Williams, whose annual premium on the policy is less than $100,000. "I think secretly they're hoping that I beat 'em on it, because they want to sell it to everybody. I think they gave me a low premium as a tease.
"Basically, if we lose three dates this year, I'll break even. But after that I'll start whipping 'em. If we'd had this policy last year, we'd probably have collected a half-million dollars."
This is the same innovative man who paid virtually no rent to play in Memorial Stadium last season and who expects to have the same deal this season. In '82, Williams worked out a novel one-year lease whereby he would split his bottom-line annual profits 50-50 with the city if there was a profit. If there wasn't, he would pay only 10 percent of the gross ticket revenue. Last year, the bookkeepers said the Orioles lost a little cash, according to Williams.
Although the lease has not been renewed yet, Williams says, "I assume it will just be rolled over (continued on the same terms)."
Anyone who can insure a team against rain and get the use of a 55,000-seat publicly owned stadium almost for free can certainly see the silver lining in losing the manager with the second-best winning percentage of the lively ball era. Williams even has hopes someday of trading Weaver for a front-line player--even up.
"Earl has manifested no change of heart about wanting to come back. It's my understanding that he is negotiating with ABC to do color on the Monday night games.
"He may enjoy that," ventures Williams. "But my feeling has been, from the very beginning, that Earl wouldn't last in retirement. He may last through a season, but I believe he'll get very restive, and that he'll want to come back . . . In the meantime, he's under contract to us for two years."
Ah, yes, that contract. Since the Orioles have Joe Altobelli under a two-year deal, and since Williams says, "We fully expect him to be successful," what impact would a Weaver "unretirement" in '83 or '84 have?
"It would only mean that if someone were interested in getting him to manage his club, he'd have to deal with the Orioles," says the owner. Even to the extent of having to give the Orioles a player in trade for Weaver? "Yes," he nods.
"I'm anxious that this not come out as a weighted-one-way observation because at the start let it be said that there's a tremendous disadvantage in losing one of the--to use an overworked bad word--'winningest' managers in baseball. But I also think there may be some advantages that flow to us," Williams says.
"Our new manager won't have any sentimental attachments that inhibit him from making changes. There were some changes that suggested themselves last year to any sophisticated observer of the Orioles. We had a designated hitter (Ken Singleton) who was not hitting from the right side of the plate. We had a center fielder (Al Bumbry) who, for whatever reason, was not performing well defensively or offensively. That, I hope, was attributable to the injuries he carried into the season with him last year that he doesn't have this year. But it may be that they are attributable to age. Both of them, with rare exceptions, played all year and we were disadvanatged by that.
"Earl was the first to admit that he had reached the point where he couldn't bring himself to hurt players who had been responsible, to a large extent, for his own success. And Bumbry and Singleton certainly fell into that category.
"Also, we really had a minor league third baseman (Glenn Gulliver) during the whole stretch drive, probably unnecessarily, because, I think, adjustments could have been made. We might have been stronger with (Rich) Dauer at third and (Lenn) Sakata at second. Earl will say, 'We won with him,' but I gravely doubt whether he (Gulliver) will be on this roster this year. He certainly isn't fitting into the plans of the manager and the coaches," Williams says.
"I think we're seeing the de-Stalinization, the de-Weaverization, of the Orioles," Williams continues. "When one manager is gone, then players, for the first time, start articulating all the things they didn't like."
Although Williams was in the front ranks of those who wanted the Orioles to acquire a front-line player like Buddy Bell or Bob Horner to replace "the minor leaguer" at third, he has reconciled himself to the current situation, especially in light of the deracination of the pitching staff that such a trade would have entailed.
"I'm comforted now when I come here to see that our pitching is intact. Whatever it may be, it's intact," says Williams. "We have six people who are capable of starting, which is a richness that most clubs don't have."
As for third base, Williams dreams about Leo Hernandez, although the farmhand who hit 34 homers last year troubles him, too. Why would the Dodgers trade him for aging pinch-hitter Jose Morales? "Why would they let Hernandez go, if they were also contemplating letting (Ron) Cey go? I asked friends in the Dodger organization about Hernandez. They obviously didn't think he could hit big-league pitching. Everybody attests to the fact that he can play big-league defense now. The question is whether he can hit. I don't know. That's why we got Aurelio Rodriguez for some protection."
To brighten up, Williams joins everyone else in camp in the daily game of watching Mike Young take batting practice. "Young looks as though he's going to be a real star," Williams says. "Hank Peters feels he can be another in the tradition of Murray and what we hope (Cal) Ripken will be. I don't know whether he's ready yet, but he's got everything."
All in all, Williams has the buoyant hopes appropriate to the season.
So blithe is Williams' spirit that he can look with equanimity on Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner's signing of two more glamorous free agents--Don Baylor and Steve Kemp. "I think," says Williams, "that George has assembled the 12 best outfielders in baseball."