Once, the Baltimore Orioles hired a midget to sweep off the bases between innings. When Billy Martin first saw this act he said, "I don't think it's fair for the Orioles to make Earl Weaver manage and sweep the bases, too."

Once, when Martin saw all the old folks in Sun City, Ariz., driving around in their golf carts, he said, "This is a town where Earl Weaver could live. He wouldn't need a driver's license to get around."

And, once, a few years ago, as Martin was dashing out of the dugout to argue with the home plate umpire, Weaver stuck his head out of the Baltimore dugout and grabbed his throat in the "choke" sign for all to see. Martin, at the plate, gave Weaver the Italian salute.

"Billy understands baseball," Weaver once said. "He just doesn't understand life."

As Earl Weaver and Billy Martin headed to home plate Monday to exchange lineup cards for the first time since July 25, 1982, when Martin managed Oakland, the soft rock 'n' roll song playing in Memorial Stadium had the duo Peaches and Herb singing, "There's no perfect fit,/ but this still is it./ We're both so excited/ 'cause we're reunited. Hey, hey, reunited."

Once, way back in 1979, which, believe it or not, is the last time that Weaver and Martin met as managers of the Orioles and Yankees, the two legends would send coaches to the plate so they wouldn't have to meet. Martin was incensed that Weaver had managed to get a game rained out (while the Yankees had a big lead) by having his grounds crew dump all the water from the tarp right behind shortstop so the field would be declared unplayable.

Martin would snicker after games about Weaver being a bush league second baseman who never made the majors and Weaver would casually mention that he never had any trouble managing a great player and fine gentleman like Reggie Jackson. Martin would say Weaver never proved he could win with a bad team and Weaver would answer that if you didn't get fired every other year you might be able to stay in one place long enough to build a good team.

Martin would run and bunt when his teams were far ahead. Weaver would yawn and find solace in his .557 career winning percentage against Martin.

Oh, they were wonderful nasty fellows and perfect foils. Cussin' and cheatin' and arguin' and baiting the umps. Whenever Billy was around, Weaver was odds on to tear up a rule book in the umpire's face or steal one of the bases and take it back to his dugout with him after an ejection. And, whenever the cursed Earl of Baltimore was in the vicinity, Billy was twice as likely to kick dirt all over some nice ump's shoes or order a knockdown pitch.

Once, Martin seemed to have run out of pinch hitters and, as he stalled, trying to force Weaver into a pitching change, Weaver started screaming toward the Yankee dugout, demanding to know who was coming up to hit.

Martin, inactive for 20 years, picked up a bat and headed a few steps toward the plate.

Such memories were part of the reason 34,844 people decided they had nothing better to do on a Monday night than watch a life-and-death battle between teams in fourth and fifth place. Boy, were 34,844 people disappointed.

Monday, butter wouldn't have melted in the mouths of these two reformed characters. Before the crowd was even let into the park, Weaver came out of his dugout, arms over head at the sight of Martin, approaching from the Yankee side. It almost seemed, until the last instant, that the two might hug. By the batting cage they whispered sweet nothings to each other. If they had gotten any friendlier, they'd have needed a chaperon.

When Martin heard that Weaver might be coming back a week ago, he said, "Oh, Earl just can't stand it that I'm back and he isn't. He'll come back so he can try to beat me."

This evening, Weaver was not only praising Martin but making excuses for him.

You see, last week Martin, after 40 days in the wilderness of good behavior, decided that, after watching his Yankees lose eight out of 10 games, it was about time to shift the blame somewhere else. "A lot of things have to be corrected here. But these things should have been done in spring training. That's why the manager should always manage in spring training."

When this hit the tabloids, Martin claimed it was no knock at Yogi Berra and, anyway, he'd been misquoted. Which isn't what the tape recorders say.

Weaver, always one to help a friend in pin stripes, claimed this evening he could see just how Billy could get caught in such a natural misunderstanding. "Heck," said the angelic Weaver, who seems to be suffering four-letter amnesia, "anytime anything goes wrong you always say something like, 'Didn't we go over that in spring training?' I'm sure Billy didn't mean anything against Yogi."

The whole wonderful experience of two star-crossed buddies like Earl and Billy getting hitched again was almost too much for Weaver's soft heart to bear. "The fact that somebody still wants us is amazing enough," he said.

These days, Martin's trademark is a smile. Whatever happened to the Kid who said, "The rules are made by me but I don't have to follow them?"

In other years, Martin came here and said, "Baltimore's such a lousy town, Francis Scott Key went out in a boat to write 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' " This night, he gave a little wave to the Baltimore crowd.

In the old days, people didn't get too close to either Martin or Weaver. It's not that Billy might sucker-punch you. As he always said, "I didn't throw the first punch. I threw the second four." And it wasn't that Weaver would uncoil his bullwhip tongue and spoil your week. It's just that you didn't want to find out.

"If you approach Billy Martin right, he's okay," said Ron Guidry, Monday's 10-0 winner. "I avoid him altogether."

Now, Martin and Weaver are just a couple of old pussycats. Martin once confessed, "I made a vow in church when I was a kid that I would not drink until I was 18. I've made up for it since." Not anymore.

Martin says he's used his enforced 1 1/2-year retirement to learn more temperate pastimes. Like growing tomatoes. Like Weaver. After Monday's lovey-dovey scenes, speculation was rampant that the old adversaries might be heading out together afterward for some liquid refreshment.

Probably warm milk.