BALTIMORE -- The Big Ed Era in Baltimore Orioles baseball began Tuesday afternoon in a giddy 10-ring circus atmosphere with owner Edward Bennett Williams snapping his whip and promising an age of rebirth.

If nothing else, this Age of EBW is going to be fun. And completely unlike anything the dignified, almost stodgy Orioles have ever perpetrated. Taken piece by piece, Williams probably hit for the ownership cycle in his "restructuring" orgy. Still, the volume of hirings, policy pronouncements, public apologies, manifestos, blood-oath resolutions, Churchillian quotes and homespun tales was enough to make the head swim. Williams even recalled how, 56 years ago, he hawked "all-hots and ice-colds" in the old ballyard in Hartford. Yes, this one had it all. Who ever heard of a two-hour news conference with six key figures? George Steinbrenner, eat your heart out.

Williams summed up the day thus: "This is not the end, nor is it the beginning of the end. It is the end of the beginning." Got that?

It's not every day that an owner hires a general manager (Roland Hemond) and a farm director (Doug Melvin). Also a general-manager-in-training (Frank Robinson) and a troubleshooter in charge of overseeing minority hiring (Calvin Hill, an ex-football star). Did we forget anything? Oh, Williams also rehired his manager (Cal Ripken Sr.) and re-signed three players who were up for free agency.

After catching his breath, Williams also announced that he was appalled by the racist policies of the club he's owned for eight years, revealing that he was shocked to learn recently that only five of 100 Orioles minor-leaguers are black. "I monitor my health against a deadly disease {cancer} that overtook me," said Williams. "Calvin Hill's going to monitor a deadly disease {racism} that overtook this organization. Never again will we be guilty of any ethnic or gender insensitivity."

Although it would have been easy to miss, Williams also apologized to slugger Eddie Murray in an attempt to patch up their two-year-old feud. "An unhappy Eddie Murray won't be productive in Baltimore," said Williams. "I want a happy Eddie."

In addressing another loose end, Williams invited St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill to move his NFL club to Baltimore and share Memorial Stadium with the Orioles for a couple of years until Maryland could build both teams new $100 million playpens. "Billy told me, 'I'm movin'." I said, 'Please, come. Immediately.' "

Let's see, what have we missed? Only that Williams knocked his former general manager Hank Peters. "I hate indecision . . . one of the greatest wastes of time mankind has invented. Time is not fungible . . . Eliminate indecision. Then eliminate regrets." In Hemond, Williams has hired a man who once traded 16 players in 18 hours, or was it 18 players in 16 hours? At the winter meetings in Hollywood, Fla., Hemond set up a table and chairs in the lobby with an Open For Business sign. In the last 75 minutes before the trading deadline, with reporters encircling him, Hemond pulled off three deals, the last in the final 10 seconds as a representative from the commissioner's office did a countdown. Some say that lobby should be taken, intact, to Cooperstown.

Williams also nailed Tom Giordano, his former minor league director. "I believed in the great Baltimore farm system like it was the emperor's clothes. But, after a while, I began to look at performance juxtaposed to promises. These 'prospects' I was always told about disappeared so suddenly I couldn't find 'em through the Bureau of Missing Persons." As for the absence of blacks in the Orioles system, Williams added, "It's hard to believe it was by accident . . . It's troubled me very deeply. We're changing."

Asked how long it would take the Orioles to get back in the hunt, Williams said, "Two years . . . I learned from a former coach The Future Is Now."

Hemond agreed with his boss, but added that the correct answer might prove to be "one year. . . . Things can turn around in a hurry. Look at the Giants."

Robinson then agreed with his boss; i.e., Hemond, but went a step further and said he didn't really see why, with a couple of pitchers, the team couldn't get into the top three in 1988.

Ripken Sr., stepping up last, had nowhere to go but to agree with all his bosses and predict a world title immediately -- which he almost did by the time he wrestled the microphone away from himself.

All in all, it was the most fun anybody's had in Memorial Stadium since 1984. Hemond is so lovable fans will want to put him in their pockets and take him home. The famous EBW impatience that frazzled Peters might invigorate Hemond, who's been pawing the ground to get out of the commissioner's office for two years. Will Williams wear him out? "Bill Veeck was very trying at times," said Hemond. "I had to learn to get along on four hours sleep. To mix it with Bill, you had to get up early and stay up late."

The best news of all is that the Free Ed Williams movement will finally have its wish. The great barrister has let himself out of the closet at last. He's been under wraps for decades, muted by owner Jack Kent Cooke when he was president of the Redskins and only half-visible, like an iceberg chewing its nails, behind every Orioles decision.

"I plan to be involved. I'm not going to be a potted palm," said Williams. "By the end of {last} season, it got so I couldn't watch {the team}. Lord, were we slow."

With that, Williams, off and running himself, hinted that he might 1) break the owners' line on free agent collusion this winter with a major salary (but not a long-term contract) offer, 2) move Cal Ripken Jr. to third base and 3) trade Murray for a pitcher and an outfielder if Murray remains unhappy.

"What makes an 'active' owner good or bad?" Williams mused. "I have always believed that the level of involvement by an owner is in direct ratio to the proportion of his net worth which the team rep- resents . . . I believe I am the only owner in baseball who owns 100 percent of his team's stock . . .

"I am no longer able to regard the Orioles as a blind trust."

The Orioles' motto for 1988 should be: Let Williams be Williams. Come on, give us both barrels.