When Earl Weaver walked to home plate in Memorial Stadium with his lineup card tonight, the crowd of 39,142 stood and roared, chanted, "Weaver, Weaver, Weaver," and, all in all, pretended that no time whatsoever had passed since that day in October 1982 when they bid him goodbye with tears. Sometimes you can come home again.
As Weaver stood at the plate and doffed his hat in all directions, an impish, crooked grin on his face, Manager George Bamberger of the Milwaukee Brewers could not resist. Weaver's big old pitching coach, and one of his closest friends, jumped in front of Weaver and started waving his own hat to the crowd.
As Bamberger said an hour earlier, "Some things never change. Earl is still full of horsefeathers."
As Jim Palmer inched his way around the batting cage, he moved within Weaver's hearing range. "I know what's different about him," said Palmer in a stage whisper. "He got shorter."
Weaver pretended not to hear.
Noticing that Weaver, vain about his waistline and hair, fit into his uniform more snugly than in '82, Palmer needled again. "Hey, Earl, are you on that new diet yet; lots of fiber and pasta? No? Don't worry about it. You looked good on TV today."
"What!" said Weaver. "Now that you took my job with ABC you got the nerve to tell me I look good on TV?"
"You're making more money in this managing job than you did at ABC, aren't you? I hope you are," said Palmer.
"Well, yeah," said Weaver.
"Okay, then you can thank me for getting you fired," said Palmer. "You ended up with a better job."
And they shook hands.
"Jeez, Earl," said Rick Dempsey, passing by, "will you hurry up? We got a clubhouse meeting."
Baseball returned to this town today. His name is Earl Weaver.
If anyone wondered this morning whether his heart is in his return to managing, those questions were answered completely. If he had come back to Baltimore and its Orioles with any more enthusiasm, with any more sense of refreshed spirit, he might have floated right out of Memorial Stadium like a helium balloon.
From the moment he began a 10 a.m. news conference today with a rambling, funny, nervous, emotional, 12-minute Stengel-ese monologue, Weaver brought energy and enthusiasm back to the Baltimore Orioles.
"I had no thoughts of managing as recently as yesterday, until yesterday in Washington when I met with (owner Edward Bennett Williams and General Manager Hank Peters)," insisted Weaver. "I told my wife the night before (on Tuesday night), 'Maybe there'll be some words said that will change how I'm thinking . . .
"The right words were said . . . "
Words about loyalty to a franchise whose talented and expensive team was floundering for want of a guiding and driving hand.
"I thought to myself, 'Okay, Earl. Let's have some fun, put on the uniform again and try to win some games. Let's see what it's like.' "
His most urgent agenda item today was to assure his players, the public and the media that he had not in any way intrigued to get Joe Altobelli's job -- not that anyone thought he had since it's been common knowledge that Williams would have rehired him in a split second anytime within the last six months. Maybe anytime in the last year.
Weaver laboriously recited the coincidences that placed him in Baltimore, visiting his daughter, at the very time that the Orioles were sinking in the standings and taking Altobelli down with them.
"A lot of people don't believe that," said Weaver.
While Weaver never undermined Altobelli in office, he did not defend him after the fact. Weaver insisted that Altobelli's firing was not handled improperly. In fact, he told stories of times when he was on the brink of being fired himself and had to bite his tongue during indignities parallel to those Altobelli bore.
"Phone rang at 11 p.m. in Kansas City in '76 and a radio guy says, 'Weaver, you've been fired. It's in the Baltimore papers. What have you got to say?' I went through it that next day. It's a terrible feeling. But we won a few. I existed . . . It's part of the game. It can't happen any other way."
Weaver, who says he has turned down managing offers from 11 teams since he retired, emphasized that salary is a small consideration in his thinking.
"I'm working for a lot less than other organizations offered," he said, then laughed. "I wasn't going to take those jobs anyway, so it was easy (to turn down the money).
"It took less than five minutes to agree on salary . . . reports that there was (dickering) over money were erroneous."
Why then did he return?
He never really could say.
"I was nervous then," he said of his surprise decision, "and I'm nervous now . . . My wife's happy about it. But not ecstatic . . . It's a job. It's not a challenge. I don't like challenges."
Oh, he said, "I love managing." And he said he loves Baltimore. "I'm not a big-town boy. I'm not a small-town boy. It seems like this town was made for me to live in."
He praised his current coaching staff and insisted that the team "as presently constituted" is "good enough to win the American League East pennant this year."
"I've had fun for 2 1/2 years," he said. "Now I'm looking forward to working again -- throwing myself into something."
Despite the lack of a simple punchy synopsis of why he returned -- something like John Riggins' famous "I'm broke, I'm bored and I'm back" -- a feeling lurked behind all Weaver's words that he might have larger and longer plans than simply fulfilling his contract for the rest of 1985.
"I don't have many good clothes with me or . . . any transportation. I had to go out today and buy a pair of shoes and an athletic supporter for the game," he said before slipping in his quiet bombshell. "If anyone knows where my wife and I can rent a furnished two bedroom apartment for now and maybe forever, please call the Baltimore Oriole offices."
He spent his day meeting with coaches and "doing my homework." In fact, he admitted that the "prior commitment" that kept him away from Thursday's game was really just his unwillingness to show up at the park unprepared to do his job.
"It would have been a circus," he said.
It was a circus tonight.
Everywhere he went he was followed by dozens of reporters and camera crews. "It feels like a World Series," said Milwaukee Coach Larry Haney. "He really brings excitement with him."
In a thoughtful mood this morning, Weaver said that he had retired because he didn't want to make the harsh decisions and say the sharp words that a manager must. Even the thought of this evening's home plate umpire, Terry Cooney, whom he once slapped in the face during an argument (four-day suspension), came back to mind.
"One of the big regrets of my career . . . was the incident with Terry Cooney. It was a deciding factor in my thinking that I might need to get away from the game. I thought, 'Control yourself. See what can be done in that area.' "
"I enjoyed every moment of my retirement. My days were full . . . Last week I went to an amusement park (with children and grandchildren). For 10 hours, I was riding roller coasters and dodge 'em cars with them.
"I enjoyed that. Now I'm back. I'm gonna manage a ball club and I'm gonna enjoy that."
Had he changed? Could he simply pick up his now legendary career as if time had merely paused?
He shrugged. "When I lose at checkers," he said, "I still throw the checkers."