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Hoping To Bring In One Last Big Harvest

If Baltimore doesn't die on the vine, Manager Earl Weaver could have a great going-away present in his final (maybe) season

Back in the spring at Miami Stadium, the noted author Earl Weaver was ribbing the noted author Ron Luciano about alleged inaccuracies in The Umpire Strikes Back, Luciano's bestseller-to-be. When Luciano invoked poetic license, Weaver said, "Like it says in Hamlet, Ron, 'This above all: to thine own self be true.' "

The story's not finished. Edwin Pope, sports editor of The Miami Herald, recorded the exchange in his column. Unfortunately, he got the quotation confused with another from Hamlet and put it in the mouth of Horatio. The next time Weaver saw Pope, he said, "Edwin, if Polonius didn't blooming say it, I've lived the last 35 years of my life backwards."

It shouldn't be surprising that Earl Weaver quotes Shakespeare, or is coming out with a line of plant food, or plays golf to a seven handicap, or Schneiders his players at gin, or has his Orioles in yet another pennant race, maybe his farewell pennant race. "Baseball is a game of surprises," he says, "so nothing surprises me." Weaver is a man of surprises.

As of Sunday night he had Baltimore just four games in back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the American League East. The Orioles had won eight straight and 15 of 16, and they could find some hope in their remaining schedule, which is easier than the Brewers'. The O's have been written off any number of times this year, and even Weaver is conceding them only an outside chance, although he may be just blowing smoke. "How can anybody pick us?" asks the manager, who goes through half a pack of cigarettes during a good game. "We're eighth in hitting and eighth in pitching." Indeed, the only player who has been consistently good all season is First Baseman Eddie Murray. At week's end he was batting .319, with 26 homers and 86 RBIs.

But the man carrying the standard for Baltimore lately has been Weaver's longtime companion and foil, Jim Palmer—Prince Hal to his Falstaff. Traded by the newspapers and demoted by Weaver to the bullpen in May, Palmer has won 11 straight since June 7. Last week he pitched his first shutouts since 1978, a 1-0 four-hitter over Toronto and a 3-0, one-hitter against Minnesota.

On Saturday night against the Twins, Palmer walked in from his warmup in the bullpen to a standing ovation by the Memorial Stadium crowd. "It was a very nice gesture, and that hasn't happened since the '73 playoffs," Palmer said later. Minnesota's only hit was a fifth-inning single by Gary Gaetti past the outstretched glove of Shortstop Cal Ripken. Palmer allowed just three base runners, and struck out seven. The crowd of 19,536 called him out of the dugout after the game. Still, as Duncan said in Macbeth, "More is thy due than more than all can pay."

"He was beautiful, amazing," said Weaver. "That was the best I've seen any pitcher look this year." Naturally, Palmer disagreed. According to Pitching Coach Ray Miller, "He said during the game that he didn't feel like he was throwing well at all."

It's very nice of Palmer to give Weaver all these going-away presents. Earl is in the last of his 15 years as Baltimore's manager, having announced his retirement some time ago. Why should he leave now, at age 52, having finished first or second 12 of his 14 previous seasons? As he said in spring training, "Just once, I want to see the sky turn to dusk without the stadium lights coming on." As he said last week, "I'm tired of sleepless nights, I'm tired of reading how stupid I am in the papers from some player I've bent over backwards to keep in the lineup, I'm tired of stepping on toes."

Although some feel that Weaver doth protest too much, he has, in fact, sold his house in the Perry Hall section of Baltimore County. His permanent home will be the town house he owns overlooking the Country Club of Miami in Hialeah. "I'll put my feet up on the hassock and look out at the fourth and seventh fairways," he says. "The seventh is one of the toughest par-fives I've ever seen. But I can par that bloomer every time."

Besides golf, there's fishing, the race tracks, the dog tracks, pinochle, eating his home-canned vegetables and learning the names of his grandchildren. He won't smoke as much. His book, It's What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts, is still selling well, although he's miffed that Luciano's is on the bestseller list and his isn't. He and Pat Santarone, the Orioles' groundskeeper, are about to sprout on the plant food market with a product called, strangely enough, Pat & Earl's Plant Food. "There'll be two different kinds," says Weaver. "One for root vegetables and one for leaf vegetables." And then there's broadcasting. Given Weaver's propensity for foul words, one might think he'd be unsuitable for television, but actually, as he's proved on his daily radio show on WFBR, he can be both pretty good and non-profane. Why, he's meeting with ABC about a job this very week.

Weaver's plans for the next two seasons include a continuing relationship with the Orioles. He will be a major league scout in spring training and in late August and September. Speculation about his successor takes in Coaches Miller and Cal Ripken Sr. and John McNamara, Frank Robinson, Tony LaRussa, Joe Altobelli and even Palmer. Weaver favors Ripken, who replaced him while Earl served his week's suspension in July for striking Umpire Terry Cooney in the face during an argument.

At the beginning of the season, Weaver-watchers were worried that his heart might not be in managing this year, but that view changed with his first ejection on July 10. Three games later he conducted a balk clinic for Umpire Cooney, taking Pitcher Dennis Martinez's glove away from him to demonstrate. The next day came the Cooney-Weaver bout.

Some of the players are still skeptical about Earl's leaving. "He just wants a van and a trip to Hawaii," says Rich Dauer. On Sept. 19 the Orioles will honor Weaver with a Thanks, Earl Day. He'll get a van, a golf cart complete with beer tap, clubs, a stereo and many surprise gifts. The Orioles will also present him with the world's largest greeting card, and Terry Cashman, of Talkin' Baseball fame, will sing a song he wrote in Earl's honor. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

"I'll miss him," says Santarone, who was Earl's groundskeeper back in Elmira in the early '60s and the best man at his marriage to Marianna. "Sort of like the way you'd miss a rock that's been hanging around your neck for 20 years. When I first knew him, he didn't know a watermelon from a wheelbarrow. Now he thinks he's a better groundskeeper than I am. Well, I'm a better manager than he's a groundskeeper. Seriously, I'll miss him. In the 20 years I've known him, he's never told a lie. He's hurt people, but that's because the truth hurts. Of course, about tomatoes, he does lie."

This above all: to thine own self be true. "I remembered that from my sophomore year in high school," says Weaver, "and I've always tried to live by it." Earl may have remembered that line from Polonius' speech to Laertes in Act I, Scene III, but he forgot that Polonius also said, "Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar" and "Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice."

"His voice is what gets me," says George (Storm) Davis, the Orioles' 20-year-old pitcher—until the September callups the youngest player in the majors. "Usually, when I'm on the mound I'm concentrating so hard I can't even hear the crowd. But even in Fenway I can hear Earl yelling at me when I go 2 and 0 on a hitter." Davis has done a fine job for the Orioles this year—he's already being compared to the young Palmer—and is one of three rookies Weaver has been using. Weaver stuck with Ripken despite a horrendous start, and through Sunday, Junior shared the AL rookie lead for homers with 22 and led the O's in doubles (27) and triples (5). After Ripken was moved to shortstop on July 1, Weaver brought up Glenn Gulliver and put him at third. Despite a Lilliputian average of .215, Gulliver walks a lot and has an on-base percentage of .374.

As Gertrude said in Hamlet, "Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper, sprinkle cool patience." Patience is Weaver's great virtue. He waits for the big inning, he waits for a player to come around, he waits for the team to turn around. Which is why, once again, the Orioles are in the race. The starting pitchers, who couldn't find their stride for almost five months, have thrown nine complete games in their last 14 outings. And, as in days of old, there is Palmer, or "Cakes," as he is known in the clubhouse for his Jockey shorts ad.

His ERA for the 11-game winning streak is 2.20, and he could have had maybe three more wins in that time if he had gotten a little more support. "My arm is strong again," says Palmer, "and with the arm came confidence, and with my confidence came the confidence of the people behind me." At 36, "He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age...." That comes from the Messenger in Much Ado About Nothing.

Palmer worked hard in the off-season to strengthen his right shoulder. "I was tired of the flak about not being the pitcher I once was," he says. In spring training he looked very good, but at the start of the season he tried to do too much and hurt his back, and that's when his troubles started. On May 6 he faced just three California Angels, said he had a stiff neck and was sent to the bullpen for almost three weeks. "I'm not saying it was the right thing to do," says Palmer, "but I did get a chance to strengthen my arm." In the meantime, he was rumored headed to Kansas City for Shortstop U.L. Washington. Palmer said he wanted out.

On May 25 he returned to the rotation, and he has been 12-1 since. "I just love to watch him," says Miller. "I learn something new every time he goes out, and I'm a pitching coach, for Pete's sake. He's dedicated to his conditioning—he runs five miles the day after the season ends—and he's got a photographic memory about situations, counts, which way the wind was blowing, in games he didn't even pitch."

At the All-Star break, Palmer all but stopped talking to the press. "I suggested it," says Miller. "He was upset at the sarcastic questions that were being asked, and I told him to let his 250 wins do his talking. Guys were burying him, and I knew sooner or later he was going to burn them." Or, as Lear said, "Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend...."

On Saturday night Palmer had all four pitches—his fastball, curve, slider and changeup—working. His motion is a little different from the vintage Palmer's—at one point all four appendages are fully extended, like a jack's—but he's still very smooth. "If that wasn't the Jim Palmer of old, I'd hate to have faced him then," said Twins rookie Kent Hrbek.

"I haven't seen stuff like that all year," said Weaver. "Although I don't know why he threw those two changeups to the leadoff hitter he walked in the ninth."

The relationship between Weaver and Palmer is a strange and wondrous thing. When Weaver was arrested last August for drunken driving, Baltimore County Police Officer William T. Koenig asked him if he had any physical defects. "Jim Palmer," Earl muttered.

For his part, Palmer doesn't much like the idea of a lame-duck manager. "When Earl went in to negotiate his long-term contract, he told them he couldn't manage if he didn't know he was coming back," says Palmer. "Well, it cuts both ways." Palmer still openly questions Weaver's decision to put Ripken at shortstop and remove Lenn Sakata.

"Both of them are perfectionists and both of them are honest," says Miller. "Earl will go out to the mound, and Jim will say, 'I got nothing left,' and Earl will say, 'But you're my best pitcher,' and the shouting starts. To compound things, Earl feels he can't get close to his players, and it's not in the best interest of the ace of your staff to get too close to the manager. Earl doesn't want Jim to know how he feels about him, and vice versa. I think when it's all over, they'll let each other know."

Weaver explains their relationship by quoting a fellow author. "It's like Shakespeare blooming said: 'Familiarity breeds contempt.' " Actually, Aesop wrote that. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, though, Shakespeare wrote, "Upon familiarity will grow more contempt."

A funny thing is happening to Weaver as he makes his last (maybe) turn around the league. He's getting applause from crowds on the road. Last Wednesday in Toronto, the public-address announcer told the fans, "The Toronto management would like to take this opportunity to wish Earl Weaver the best of luck in his retirement. Thanks for the memories." The umpires even applauded, maybe because they're happy to see him go. Then Exhibition Stadium filled with the strains of The Duke of Earl.

On the bus to the Toronto airport, the players picked up the refrain, "Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl, Duke, Duke...." Weaver stormed down the aisle from the front of the bus. "We're still five games back, you bloomers."

On the plane ride home, Weaver asked that the players send their best representative forward to play some gin. Earl proceeded to put the schneid on Infielder Terry Crowley. A few days later, Weaver and Catcher Rick Dempsey were discussing the game of gin. Weaver attributed his success to skill. Dempsey said it was luck. "Here you are," said Dempsey, "at the dawn of your retirement, and you're still talking crap."

"You're wrong," said Weaver. "As Polonius said to his son Laertes before he left for France...."



During an argument with Cooney over a balk call...



Santarone has been Weaver's best man in the garden, on the grounds and at the altar.



...Weaver made his points on the mound.



Palmer, 13-3, had two shutouts last week.



Fruits (and vegetables) of Earl's labors.



Waiting in the wings to take over is Ripken Sr., who had a 7-2 record in Earl's absence.