Somebody might get Joe Altobelli's job this season, but don't bet that anybody will get his goat.
"The worst thing is to get fired in September," said Altobelli on Friday. "If you get it, it's better to get it in May. I've never had a summer vacation.
"It happened to me once before and maybe I'm better off for it," he said on Thursday. "Who's to say I wouldn't be better off if it happened to me again?"
Today, he said, "The managers in the playoffs last year had one thing in common. They'd all been fired. It hurts. Especially the first time. But it doesn't kill you . . . I'm still kicking."
Every day Altobelli, who managed the World Series champions in 1983, is asked if he thinks he'll be fired. And every day he answers with a yawn, a snort or a quip, all of which say the same thing. You can fire me, but you can't touch my pride. Take This Job and Shove It is written all over Joe Altobelli.
He had a nice quiet winter to think up his answers. Zero banquet invitations. "Forgot me pretty quick," he says, chuckling, telling about how the only rubber chicken he ate was at a football banquet for his son. "Saved 10 pounds."
Maybe Frank Robinson has been hired as a Baltimore coach and, it's widely assumed, as owner Edward Bennett Williams' choice of heir apparent if the Orioles sag.
Maybe Earl Weaver, comfy in nearby retirement but antsy after losing his network TV job, might just return.
Maybe coaches Ray Miller and Cal Ripken Sr. -- finalists for the job in '83 -- still are in the picture.
Maybe Altobelli holds a record for Most Managers in Waiting.
What seems sure is that Altobelli is going to look good in '85. Even if he gets canned. Perhaps his San Francisco firing ('79) toughened him. Perhaps those years as a coach for the Yankees, watching George Steinbrenner debase good men who groveled for their jobs, made Good Ol' Alto vow that'd never be him.
Whatever the cause, it's obvious that Altobelli, who looks like he could take a kick from a mule and never blink, is clenched for the blow already.
"If you feel you're good, then there's no problem about getting another job," he says. "What winning the Series (in '83) meant to me was that I doubted I'd ever have trouble getting a job in the game if I wanted one . . .
"I sold 31 automobiles in Rochester in November one year. I think if I can do that, I can do anything."
Spring training has been tough work for Altobelli every year. In '83, the world had to know, "Can you replace a legend (Weaver)?" In '84, it was, "Can you defend your title?" Now, it's this question: "Can you keep your job?"
If you want to see baseball people close ranks fast, just gang up on a good man. Get on Altobelli's case around here and you could end up head down in the whirlpool.
"Nobody's fired Joe Altobelli. He's 0-0," snaps Ripken.
"I won't even talk about that," says Miller. "Joe's an outstanding baseball man."
Even General Manager Hank Peters, says, "Joe is not on the spot. The ball club is."
Ask Weaver, who never was thought to be Altobelli's buddy, if he plans to call Williams as a courtesy before he'd take another job, and Weaver says, "No, I don't think that would be fair to the Baltimore manager." Weaver says he might reevaluate his position by midseason, but, for the moment, is content with the life of golf, race tracks and tomato plants that he's lived for the last two seasons.
If you want Robinson to look at you the way he used to look at Don Drysdale after a knockdown pitch, just ask him if he'd like Altobelli's job.
Altobelli, in the game's best tradition, has welcomed Robinson here like a lost brother. They chin all the time, because Altobelli sees to it.
"I'm not here to get anybody's job," Robinson says. "If your conscience is clear, if you know you're here to help the club and to help the manager, then it doesn't matter what people say. I know what I'm here to do -- be loyal and work hard.
"I'm not looking at this as a stopover point . . . I enjoy coaching here. I'm not in a hurry. The first two (managing) jobs I was offered (in Cleveland and San Francisco), I just felt like I couldn't take a pass. There were no black managers (in baseball) and the door was open a crack, and I felt like I had to take it, not just for myself. But now I've paid my dues. Next time, maybe I can be more selective and get in a situation where there's half a chance to win."
When Robinson was hired in December, the Orioles suffered a public relations gaffe. The news broke. The Orioles denied a signing. Robinson obviously wanted to come. Everybody's signs seemed crossed.
Were Williams, Peters and Altobelli not in accord on adding Robinson? Who was voting which way?
The Orioles vow that Robinson's signing just got fumbled in the midst of the rapid-fire signings of three free agents. Maybe so. Robinson says, "The subject is a bore. I'll pass on that."
Whatever the back room reality, Altobelli and Robinson have locked into the same point of view that Weaver adopted when Robinson coached here between managing jobs in 1979.
"Remember what Earl always said?" Robinson asked yesterday. "Well, that's how Joe and I feel, I think."
What Weaver "always said" and what he reiterated this weekend, was, "If you get fired, who cares who takes your job? A good coach like Frank helps you win and winning keeps you from getting fired. I want the guy who's supposed to replace me to be on my staff, 'cause if he's so good, then he's going to help me and then he won't replace me. See?"
The man who'll have the ultimate say on Altobelli -- owner Williams -- was here today, rejoicing in the revived team that once again looks like a contender, now that "we decided it was time to take the rubber bands off our wallet and go after free agents."
Naturally, Williams says, "We wouldn't have had Joe back this year if we didn't have confidence in him."
What Williams and Altobelli know is that a manger's future is affected far more by his players' strong backs than by his own brains.
After their fifth-place finish in '84, the Orioles presumably don't need a motivational speaker or a psychiatrist as a skipper. If they hit and pitch well enough to stay in the pennant race, Altobelli will be smart enough to give them a professional ride, as he did in '83. And if they are uninspired once more, it's doubtful he'll have the extra gifts at his fingertips to rise above his team as Weaver sometimes did.
"Earl is a hard guy to forget," says Altobelli. "I still don't want to try to compete with him. He was special, a (future) Hall of Famer. He was here 14 1/2 years. Hell, I'm going to be lucky to live 14 1/2 more years, let alone manage here that long."
Baseball has decked Altobelli only once. That might be the only shot it gets at breaking his heart. "In Frisco, it took me three days to get over being fired," Altobelli says. Last year, he "wanted to choke the world," sometimes for an hour or, at most, a day. But it always passed. "I've had a lot of enjoyment from this game, and some heartaches, too. But you have to accept that anything this good has to have some bad features, too . . .
"As a player, I was concerned about my job. Not frightened, but concerned. That's how it is now, too . . . I don't want to be the kind of guy who sits around waiting for the phone to ring. You can't play this game scared."
"Manager" might be a word with too many syllables for Altobelli's common-Joe vocabulary. Don't worry about him, though. In good times or bad, he has the first three letters of that word mastered.