Edward Bennett Williams, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, met yesterday in Washington with former manager Earl Weaver amid mounting speculation that Joe Altobelli will be fired as manager and replaced by Weaver, possibly as early as today.
Williams and Hank Peters, the team's general manager, were not available to comment on reports that Weaver already had been offered the chance to return to the club he managed for 15 seasons, through 1982, when he retired and was replaced by Altobelli.
However, it was learned the Orioles will make no final decision until Weaver makes up his mind what he wants to do. If he decides he wants to return to managing, the job is his, it was learned.
Weaver was unavailable for comment.
Last night in Detroit, where the Orioles lost to the Tigers, 6-2 -- their fifth straight defeat -- Altobelli seemed uncertain of his status.
"I talked to Hank at about 2 o'clock this afternoon," he said. "He said, 'Hang in there. We'll talk tomorrow.' "
Asked what he thought he and Peters would talk about, Altobelli said, "If I'm not the manager, we'll talk about that. If I am, we'll talk about the ballclub. That's about as cut and dried as I can give it to you."
Altobelli indicated he is aware of Williams' interest in Weaver, who is in the area visiting his daughter in Baltimore in addition to meeting with Williams.
"If you could get a manager who's a guaranteed winner," Altobelli said, "he'd be worth as much as a (star) player. Give the guy a million dollars. Earl'd come as close to being that kind of manager as you could find. Then give it (the million dollars) to him."
United Press International reported that Weaver is accepting a three-year, $1.5 million contract to return as manager. However, it was learned that no deal has been finalized.
Altobelli's status has come into question as the Orioles have fallen out of first place (with an 18-9 record on May 11) to fourth place, eight games behind American League East-leading Toronto. After Boston swept three games from the Orioles in Baltimore, Williams told The Washington Post he was "very upset" with the team's performance and said he would "not sit by idly and let things go on like this. I want to do something to ensure that we have a gung-ho effort."
Williams apparently already has met with Peters to review the first third of the season. That discussion included Altobelli's status and possible player personnel changes.
Altobelli has been intensely criticized in Baltimore the last several weeks, as speculation mounted that he would be replaced by any of several managers-in-waiting, including coaches Frank Robinson or Cal Ripken Sr. Plus, of course, Weaver, who says he has turned down several offers to manage teams since his retirement from the Orioles.
"I wish I'd had stock in AT&T after all the phone calls I got today," Altobelli said. "Must have been 35 or 40 . . . "
When asked if it was a problem to manage under such conditions, he said, "It's not a problem. It's awkward. Nothing in baseball surprises me. An owner has a right to make a change to help his ballclub. But yes, it is awkward. All anybody is talking about is me, not the game we have to play tonight. And that's not how it should be."
Ken Singleton, who played eight years for Weaver and his final two for Altobelli, said on Baltimore television that if Weaver was hired, "The team is going to get that spark it's looking for." He said that there is enough time left in the season for the Orioles to turn it around and added, "I think Earl's the man to do it."
In another Orioles development, Padres second baseman Alan Wiggins held a news conference in San Diego and said he was ready to play anywhere in the major leagues. Wiggins has been mentioned as a trade possibility with the Orioles since he finished a drug rehabilitation program but was told by the Padres that they would not use him again.
Yesterday, Wiggins' agent, Tony Attanasio, said the Padres were dragging their feet in dealing Wiggins. "I think the Padres could work out a deal with Baltimore in five minutes if they wanted to," he said.
Attanasio said he and Wiggins had met with Orioles owner Williams, who is reportedly unhappy with second baseman Rich Dauer's weak hitting.
Padres General Manager Jack McKeon said he had heard from the Orioles yesterday morning, but was expecting to hear more later in the day. He did not.
"I'm less optimistic about doing something than I was before," McKeon told the Los Angeles Times. "But that's at this hour. That's how deals are made. You go through peaks and valleys. (The Orioles) are still determining what they want."
McKeon said that other teams had called about Wiggins but he would not identify them, saying that he didn't want to jeopardize any possible trades. Baseball's trading deadline is Saturday.
"If Baltimore wants to make a deal, I'm sitting by the phone," he said. "But if they're serious about Wiggins, they better get on the ball. Whoever gives us the best deal, we'll take it. I'm not saying Baltimore is on the bottom of our list, but there are others I know I can do something with."
Wiggins said yesterday that he prefers to play in San Diego because he has a home in the city. However, he said he'd go to any team that wanted him.
"I just want to play," said Wiggins, who was third in the National League with 70 stolen bases last year. "I have preferences, but like I said, I just want to play."
Padres President Ballard Smith said Tuesday night that Wiggins is finished in San Diego. He had been saying earlier that Wiggins would not be back for the rest of the year.
Attanasio denied the news conference was called to put pressure on the Padres to play or trade his client. He said, however, that even though Wiggins continued to get paychecks from the Padres, it was in his client's best interest to get back on the field.
"The man should be playing baseball," Attanasio said. "There isn't a doctor we have talked to who has said he should be doing anything other than playing baseball now. Not tomorrow. Now."
Wiggins' troubles with drugs resurfaced April 26 when he failed to make the team bus in Los Angeles. A few days later, it was learned that Wiggins had checked into a drug treatment center in Minnesota for a month of therapy.
It was the second time he has run into trouble with drugs. He was arrested for possessing cocaine and suspended from the team for 30 days in 1982.
The Padres, at the time, allowed Wiggins to return on the condition that he stay clean. They said a relapse of his problem would mean dismissal.
The drug agreement signed last year between the players union and the owners, however, allows a second chance for first-time abusers. Wiggins would be considered a first-time abuser under that agreement.