The clubhouse of the Country Club of Miami, the golf course that has become Earl Weaver's home, is an ugly, comic burned out shell of a building.
Though the fire occurred four years ago, what remains of the clubhouse looks as though smoke should still be curling up from its charred girders.
Miami cynics murmur that Marvin the Torch held a kerosene party here; it makes a fine fable, the sort that raconteur Weaver loves to tell, especially when the truth--a spark in the laundry room--is so bland.
Whichever way you tell the tale, Weaver loves the result; as soon as that consarned clubhouse burned, he started getting serious about retiring.
"Hell, yes, I'm glad it burned down. And I'm glad they don't have the money to rebuild it. Hope it stays just like it is," says Weaver, whose home adjoins the seventh fairway of the West Course. "It drives away all the phonies."
In swanky, nouveau riche Miami, who, except a truly serious golfer, would belong to a country club that looks like a Charles Addams cartoon?
"It sure brought down the dues--$600 a year," snorts Weaver, perhaps the only man in America who can play 500 holes of golf a month for $50. "I got my own private golf courses--two of 'em. Never crowded. Tee off any time I want."
Weaver is the vice president of the men's association of the club--a group whose avowed purpose is to keep the club solvent (to maintain the courses) but is too poor to rebuild that clubhouse.
If you want to know what the best baseball manager of his generation claims he intends to do every day for the rest of his life, then meet him in the pro shop around noon almost any day.
By then, he's finished a morning tending tomatoes. The Earl of Bal'mer is ready for the serious business of enjoying himself, just as he's sworn to himself for 35 years that he would.
Outside the pro shop sits a white, orange and black golf cart with the word "Orioles" written in script across the front and "No. 4" stamped on the side. This vehicle, the fantasy-come-true of the 52-year-old little boy who owns it, is equipped with a radio, an electric fan, a sun roof and two beer coolers. When the cart was presented to Weaver at "Thanks Earl" Day in Baltimore last September, the crowd of 41,127 may have wondered who in the world would have the chutzpah to play in such a wonderful-ridiculous contraption. Not to worry.
In a corner of the bare-bones pro shop, Weaver perches next to a computer. The men's association hasn't gotten around to painting the pro shop's walls or carpeting its floors, but they've requisitioned a computer to show every score shot by every member. These guys are serious.
For years, Weaver kinda wanted the Orioles to put a little computer in his office to replace all those clipboards of charts and stats on his wall. Now, Weaver is delightedly punching in the code numbers of his partners for the day; he's scouting a $5 nassau. It's a good thing for Billy Martin that Weaver never learned how to work these gizmos before he retired.
"Here, wanna see how bad I been playin'?" Weaver asks.
On the screen are Weaver's last 20 scores, all in the 80s, except one 77. "My handicap's up from six to 10. If I get much worse, I'll have to come back," says Weaver who's always joked that only two things could bring him back to managing--inflation eating up his money or bad golf eating up his pleasure.
One foe in Weaver's foursome is of particular concern to him--a Mr. Lucky LeChance (sic) with whom the diminutive legend has been in combat for decades.
"I used to have to give Lucky so many shots that I'd hide when I saw him coming," says Weaver. "I can't guess how much money I've lost to him."
The slim, stylish LeChance appears and recounts how, in recent months, he has battled and finally defeated legionnaires' disease. "They packed me in ice to get my fever down," he says. "Twice, they pronounced me dead. I guess I really am Lucky."
Weaver listens, then says, "When LeChance was in intensive care, we were all rooting for him to die. Him and that damn 19 handicap."
"Would you believe," says LeChance, "that Earl only has one more class left before he graduates from charm school?"
"It worked out all right," says Weaver. "He's playing better now than before he died. It cut down his swing. His handicap's down to 17 and now we're getting some of our money back from him."
"If Earl has ever lost any money on this golf course," says another of Weaver's partners and friends, Ernie Lantz, "then it must have fallen out of his pocket."
At the first tee, Weaver's fivesome becomes a small tornado of team wagers and individual side bets; someone should have brought the computer. As soon as the play begins, so does the agitating.
On the second hole, Weaver hits the shot that may have drawn him away from baseball--a long, powerful fade that nurses the wind and hard fairway until it rolls to rest on what, to the ecstatic Weaver, must seem like the horizon of the world. For a little man with a lot of pride, it's a kick for Weaver to know he can drive it with anybody this side of a real pro.
"Nicklaus and Koch? That's 310 (yards)," crows Weaver, probably not exaggerating by more than the average golfer--about 50 yards.
As in all corners of his life, Weaver the golfer remains completely in character. He dresses like a pro and swings like a man who loves to study the technique and theory of sport. Once past an amusingly intense series of preswing waggles, Weaver's hack is basically that of a well-taught, dedicated amateur--quick, no quirks, aggressive. Around the greens, however, Weaver is a sight to warm an umpire's heart. He starts to choke, imprecating himself as soon as any chip or putt stops more than two feet from the hole.
At the 19th hole, after all bets--which Weaver loves to keep track of in his head--have been computed, Weaver had clobbered LeChance and Lantz four different ways; and won all of $8. A day when $50 changes hands becomes part of the codger coterie's chronicles.
In baseball, Weaver found challenge, but also strain; wealth, but, in some seasons, frayed health; fame, but too little friendship. With the years, Weaver tired of the aloofness essential to leadership. More and more, he craved what the CC of Miami could give him: a group of people who treated him with respect but without awe; who gave him back as good as he dished out; who chose him for their companion for himself, not because he was the famous boss.
"We like it here because it's unpretentious; I've never found a country club that was so relaxed," says Lantz, a semiretired businessman as well as a former coach and major league scout.
"Earl loves this circus. He and Lucky and a guy named Ben Horn are here every day. Earl can tell you every shot Horn ever made to beat him. They're like legends to each other. They start cussing each other on the first hole and never stop. You can hear them in the next fairway."
"I don't play with them that often," adds Lantz. "Golf is the worst waste of time in the world, if you have the talent for anything else. The more you play, the worse you get. In fact, it's worse than work. As Earl may discover."
Lantz doubts this "daily circus" will hold Weaver past one summer.
Although he likes to keep it secret, Weaver is not in any significant sense retired. Nor does he intend to be.
Though the public doesn't know it yet, he has simply switched careers. Within a year or two, he plans to be more famous, more wealthy, more respected, more relaxed, more professionally secure and more of a national institution than ever.
For those who haven't noticed, Weaver has already constructed his retirement so that he will probably be on national TV much more often, and get to say a hundred times more than he ever did as a manager. He's worked it so that he can be in the ballparks he loves about 75 times a year. And he'll make more money than he ever has in his life.
This season, Weaver's "retirement" income--from deferred payments for managing, from work as an Orioles' special consultant, and from his ABC contract to do color on Monday night game of the week telecasts--will be more than a quarter-million dollars. In past seasons, Weaver held himself to a $75,000 annual allowance.
If Weaver's master plan works, he'll manage to do all this in his spare time, working fewer than 100 days a year, while leaving the rest of his days to argue with Horn.
Weaver's greatest concern this spring, and the single factor that will probably have the greatest bearing on whether he returns to managing in the next few years, is his new TV career. Weaver's reviews last fall, when he teamed with Jim Palmer on the AL playoffs, were mixed. He was knowledgeable, occasionally witty, but he was also reserved and almost dignified--an odd word to apply to a man famous for blowing his stack in public. He didn't seem much like Earl Weaver.
Weaver knows it and hopes that he gets more chances. He studied his playoff tapes over the winter and decided that he needs plenty of work.
"I didn't get excited enough. I should have had more energy, so I could pass on more excitement to the people. They're playin' for the pennant and I said, 'What a wonderful throw. That might change the series,' " says Weaver mildly. "I should have jumped up and yelled, 'God damn, what a great throw. That's the turning point.'
"I took it very calm, but that's not me. I was worried about my grammar, and I didn't get involved enough in the game, so I didn't get excited enough. That's what I learned.
"I'm under contract to do 18 games this year. That means they have to pay me, but they don't have to use me. I assume that how often I'm on will be determined by how well they think I'm doin'."
ABC hasn't given Weaver any offseason hints as to its corporate evaluation of him, or its plans for him. Despite several years of writing his own pregame radio shows as preparation for this, does Weaver feel like a rookie?
"Yes," he says, nodding and adding, "I'll be all right if I do my homework."
Part of Weaver's homework includes scouting 27 games this spring, driving to Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and even Fort Myers. This doesn't sound too retired. As usual, Weaver has a quick, crusty answer: "I'm doin' it 'cause I'm gettin' paid. And I get 18 cents a mile, too."
Actually, Weaver wants a reason to get to the ballpark.
"I don't understand people who leave the game and then disappear," says Hank Peters, the general manager of the Orioles. "Some of them retire and don't even associate with baseball people after they've been around them their whole lives. I'm glad Earl obviously isn't doing that."
Last Saturday, Weaver, in a curly permanent hairdo, reappeared near the batting cage. The atmosphere was strained, but pleasant.
"I heard about this," said Coach Lee May of Weaver's hair. "You've grown."
"Got the stopwatch on me?" asked Al Bumbry.
"Nope," said scout Weaver, "I'll just write down 'fast.' "
At one point, Weaver and Altobelli held court 15 feet apart--back to back. Neither greeted the other. Maybe they just didn't notice each other.
To be sure, Weaver and Palmer didn't meet; they're not speaking. "Earl got annoyed," says Palmer, "because I told a reporter about how Scotty McGregor told him last year that he swore so much during games that lightning was going to strike him down. Scotty was making a point about some of Earl's behavior and he sat at the other end of the dugout from Earl all last season.
"The next time I saw Earl," recalls Palmer, "he said, 'For 16 years, I got paid to talk to you. Now, I don't have to, so I won't.' "
Palmer says he responded, "Don't you still get a consulting fee? You should consult me."
They haven't spoken since. "The game passed him by," says Palmer.
After 35 years in the dugout, sitting behind home plate among scouts is a mystery to Weaver; he might as well be watching cricket. Weaver often can't tell one pitch from another, asking the kid with the radar gun for help. "Was that a straight change?" he says. "I'm having trouble."
Fans wander up for autographs, reporters seek interviews and a congressman climbs over a railing and practically falls in Weaver's lap so he can have his picture taken with the former manager.
The man Pitching Coach Ray Miller calls "the most patient impatient man in the world" tolerates the aggravations.
Quickly, Weaver outlines the plans he has for every week through the World Series: visits to St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta, Elmira, Baltimore, North Carolina to see his children, relatives, in-laws, friends; to scout or broadcast or play golf. "You wouldn't believe my schedule. And Marianne and I still haven't used up the cruise," he says, meaning the Caribbean cruise he got on Thanks Earl Day.
Weaver's 18th hole: on this easy 342-yard test, his drive lands in a fairway trap. His next shot--a feeble dribbler--lodges under the lip of the trap. His third barely escapes and ends in the rough. Weaver's fourth shot is a dead shank under the only tree in sight.
Weaver is disgusted as he skulls the ball across the green into more weeds. His chip back stops in that hair-pulling six-foot range.
The little man who has been called the first thoroughly modern manager lines up his putt. In an age of free agents, when even young managers were confused by the times, Weaver commanded his teams without fines, virtually without rules, without phony friendships with his players, without recriminations or grudges. For 15 years, he built the best managing record in the game by sheer force of personality, quick wit and a sort of cosmic insubordination regarding conventional ideas about how to do his job.
"This is for seven," Weaver mutters as he lines up the putt. And misses. His quadruple bogey gives him yet another 85--10 shots worse than when he wasn't retired. Weaver smiles and shrugs.
This retirement is such a sweet gig--making money hand over fist, staying on the comfortable fringe of the limelight, while having a ball--that even quadruple bogeys can't bother Weaver. In a couple of years, maybe he'll decide what he really wants to do when he grows up.