These are hard and confusing days for the Baltimore Orioles. They're caught between two worlds and don't know what to do.

But they're going to have to make up their minds.

Probably this week.

Are they the old Orioles -- loyal, low-key, fundamentally sound, confident, and, above all, patient? Greater than the sum of their humble parts.

Those Orioles, if they'd just lost four games in a row and reached the one-third mark of the season with a 29-25 record, would shrug it off with a yawn.

Let the long season run its course, then take stock calmly.

Or are they the new Orioles -- rich, inconsistent, skittish and less than the sum of their expensive parts?

Owner Edward Bennett Williams, who respects the old ways but is inclined by temperament to the impatient wheeling and dealing of "competition living," knows he can't wait much longer to make decisions. The trading deadline is Saturday.

"I'm not going to sit idly by and let things go on like this," Williams told Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post on Monday, even before his team lost a soul-wrencher, 8-7, here in Detroit to the Tigers to fall back into a tie for third place.

"I want to do something to ensure that we have a gung-ho effort. I have a review of the season to date scheduled with (general manager) Hank Peters this week . . . We'd like to make a couple of moves."

Days like this, raw and rainy in the Motor City, a ball club's got nothing to do but sit around the hotel lobby and kibitz. Brother, do the Orioles have enough topics for conversation.

Everybody knows that Manager Joe Altobelli's job is hanging by a thread.

"Everybody's talkin' about whether they're going to fire the manager," said pitcher Sammy Stewart. "Which one? We've got four managers now. Joe (Altobelli), Frank (Robinson), Cal (Ripken Sr.) and Ray (Miller)."

In a sense, the Orioles are run by committee these days -- and not too well. For instance, Robinson the coach has been lobbying for more action on the bases. So, Monday, Altobelli sent two runners, got both thrown out and killed two rallies. Altobelli and Miller have had trouble staying on the same page on the pitching, so neither man's ideas get a valid chance to work.

Should Altobelli get the ax? He's competent but little more. Should Robinson be promoted? Off his work in Cleveland and San Francisco, who's to say he's better than Altobelli?

Is there enough money on earth to tempt Earl Weaver out of retirement? He still says he isn't comin' back. And more than a few Orioles with memories, like Mike Boddicker, who spent the better part of five years at Rochester thanks to Weaver, are just as glad.

"Earl's never wrong," said the 20-game winner. "Just ask him."

"We asked for problems as soon as we brought Frank back," said one veteran Oriole. "He hasn't overstepped his authority one time, but everybody assumes he's here as the next manager."

Robinson's even lost 25 pounds in a symbolic act worthy of a politician.

Managing aside, should the Orioles, who desperately need a fast leadoff man and a second baseman with range, trade for Alan Wiggins of San Diego? Wiggins fits that bill perfectly.

He's also gone through drug rehabilitation at least twice and has a new $2.5 million contract, which he celebrated by going AWOL. Also, the Padres want Mike Young, who might be a star someday, or Stewart, who is very useful already, in return. Talk about high-risk trades.

If not Wiggins, then can the Orioles pry Ken Oberkfell away from Atlanta or Jack Perconte away from Seattle without giving up a Young-Stewart quality player? Or is this just a case of somebody else's mediocrity looking better than your own?

Will the Orioles finally bite the bullet, admit that the trade for Dan Ford was a disaster and eat the rest of his contract just to get him out of their sight? Ford is now on the disabled list; don't expect him back -- ever. The day Hank Peters put a stopwatch on Ford as he dawdled back to the dugout after an out and timed him at 48 seconds, the writing was on the wall.

This barely scratches the surface of Orioles quandaries.

Who's going to replace Joe Nolan, whose knees are shot, as backup left-handed-hitting catcher? When is Fritz Connally going to play more at third, especially in the late innings, in place of virtually immobile Wayne Gross?

When is fragile Fred Lynn, who has started all 54 games, going to get some rest against left-handed pitchers? He's tired and slumping (seven for 40). Lynn, ripped for taking himself out of other lineups, says, "I'd never go to the manager (to ask out of the lineup)." The whole team knows he wants to freshen up. Gary Roenicke, rusting badly, plays a perfectly acceptable center field.

When do long men Nate Snell (1.95 ERA) and Stewart (2.56) change jobs with "ace" short men Don Aase (6.83) and Tippy Martinez, who have been shelled. Or is somebody embarrassed to put a 32- year-old rookie like Snell (making about $35,000) ahead of free agent Aase, who just signed for $2 million?

When does Lee Lacy start batting second, for which he is equipped, rather than leadoff where his four walks all season speak for themselves? The Orioles prospered with Young batting leadoff last season, but he's been forgotten because Altobelli, sensible to the need for steady employment, has benched him in favor of hot Jim Dwyer.

When you put a manager on the spot, you get the short-term, save-my-neck thinking that you deserve.

Outside the towering glass Renaissance Center today the wind blew, cold rain blew diagonally in sheets and fog swept in banks across the slimy green Detroit River.

From their rooms, that's what the Orioles watched as they wondered about their equally blustery and murky future. Who will be fired, who will be traded, who will be demoted in the next few days?

Or as Stewart said before this evening's game in Tiger Stadium was rained out and the Orioles returned to their gilded hotel cages, "How many teams have I been traded to so far today?"

Once, life was simple with the Baltimore Orioles. Not now.