He used the last 105 games of 1985 to tinker with combinations, relearn opponents and consider what had gone wrong with the proud pitching staff.

He made third baseman Floyd Rayford and outfielder Mike Young everyday players and Jim Dwyer a pinch hitter. He had pregame and postgame skull sessions with pitchers, and when a ball would squirt through the infield, he'd ask: "Was the infielder in the wrong spot, or was the wrong pitch thrown?"

He said goodbye to third baseman Wayne Gross, who can't field, and hello to Jackie Gutierrez, who can.

He said goodbye to second baseman Rich Dauer, who can't hit, and hello to Juan Bonilla, who can.

He took an old friend, Dennis Martinez, out of the starting rotation, and helped get another, Sammy Stewart, into a Boston uniform.

In many ways what the Baltimore Orioles did this spring training was no more than a continuation of what Manager Earl Weaver began last summer.

And as they returned home to Baltimore tonight, to begin the regular season Monday at Memorial Stadium against the Cleveland Indians, they had been reworked and reshaped in the image of their fiery little manager -- a team (Weaver hopes) of pitching, defense and home runs.

So finally the latest Orioles era has begun, the era of Earl II.

If he succeeds, he will be credited with what many baseball people already credit him with -- being one of the most innovative, successful and smartest managers the game has seen.

Not everyone likes him, because he is cocky, occasionally loud and often profane, but even those who don't like him respect what he can do with a baseball team.

"Earl gets the best out of a whole team," first baseman Eddie Murray said, "and we need that."

Since Weaver returned to manage the Orioles last June 14, he has been the dominant figure inside and outside the clubhouse, and as the 1986 season begins, is their best reason for hope.

He has held court with maybe 500 reporters this spring, and each interview is a joyous ride through forests of stories, valleys of theories and pulpit-style teachings on the way his game should be played.

He will tell you he loved every minute of his 2 1/2-year retirement -- "And if Mr. Williams had phoned the day after I'd lost $20 on the golf course, I'd have told him, 'No way I'm going to manage until I get my money back from this nasty person ."

At 55, he does appear to have it all. He admits to having more money than he'll ever spend, especially since he is not a man of extravagant tastes. He often prefers the Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's to the specialty at Joe's Stone Crabs.

A year ago, his best baseball friends thought he had mellowed, that Earl Weaver's competitive fires no longer burned so brightly. Almost no one believes that now.

The ego has not changed -- "My .597 winning percentage went down a little last season to .592 ," he bragged one afternoon. "I want to get that back up there. That's 96 wins, and it ain't enough. We've got to get the kids up to get us four more some way."

The I'm-a-great-pitching-coach attitude has not changed. "I want sliders," he said. "That's what guys like Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins threw. I want to see that batter's butt fly out and him lunge at the ball."

His friends say he will change once the season starts, that his temper will be quicker, his patience in shorter supply.

If he screams in the dugout during spring training, he'll scream even more in May and June and August.

Do not stand in his lucky spot after someone has hit a home run.

Do not get in his way if he is headed to the runway to smoke a cigarette.

Do not argue if he thinks he is right.

Weaver came to spring training with two goals, to straighten out the pitching and the defense, and a lot of people doubted he could get the pitching straightened out.

Yet as the Orioles leave spring training, it appears he has. In the final 11 exhibitions, Baltimore starters rolled up a 2.18 ERA. More impressive, after handing out an average of 3.58 walks per nine innings in 1985, Orioles pitchers averaged 2.5 walks per nine innings this spring.


"We've worked our butts off," Weaver said. "It would be a real shame if something good didn't come of it. We had these guys throwing batting practice, then we'd have 'em throwing on the side. The whole idea is to get them back to the point of knowing where the strike zone is.

"Then you stretch 'em out. You get 'em tired and you get 'em hit hard, but you build up their arms.

"We had 'em running all the drills over and over. I'll bet each one of 'em has touched first base between 300 and 500 times this spring. You want to get it so they do it without thinking."

Has this been an extra hard spring training?

"No," he said, "we've done the things we've always done."

"Yes," said reliever Tippy Martinez. "It has been very intense."

"Our pitchers worked their butts off this spring," center fielder Fred Lynn said. "I can see they're throwing differently than last year, especially Scott McGregor, who has good pop on his fast ball. I see a difference in Mike Boddicker, too. He's throwing a good changeup and a good breaking ball. It's all looking pretty good from where I stand, and I'm in a good spot because I'm like a second catcher."

"Earl usually gets a response when he tells you something," pitcher Mike Flanagan said, "usually in a positive way. Whether you concentrate more on doing things right or getting mad, he gets a response. It makes you think, because you know if you throw a certain pitch and it gets hit, you'd better have a good reason to throw it. It makes you bear down, and that's good."

There have been other factors. Several players privately say a more stable clubhouse is important in 1986. A year ago, outfielders Lee Lacy and Lynn, second baseman Alan Wiggins, reliever Don Aase and designated hitter Larry Sheets were newcomers, and not everyone got along.

For the first time in years, the Orioles had new faces, and also for the first time in years, many of them had not come through the farm system to earn their million-dollar contracts.

"You don't just throw a bunch of guys together and expect them to be molded into a team," Lynn said. "They hadn't gone through it here, but I was part of it in California. And it took about a year.

"People think it doesn't matter on the field, but it does. The more you're able to talk, laugh and joke with each other, the better off you are. It's a long season, and if you don't get along, you're going to have a tough time winning."

Does a strong manager make a difference?

"Definitely," Lynn said, "and Earl is a strong manager."