Outside Miami Stadium this spring, a simple hand-painted wooden sign marked a prominent vacancy in the reserved parking lot. The sign said Earl. With Earl Weaver up in the broadcasting booth, Joe Altobelli now sits in the Oriole driver's seat.
Altobelli spent the off-season looking at player pictures, familiarizing himself with the names and faces of the organization. He was pleased by what he saw. Baltimore finished 1982 with the second-best record in the majors, despite a pitching staff beset with injuries and off-years by several regulars.
Barring medical problems, the Oriole pitching staff should lead Baltimore to the division title. Starters Jim Palmer, Scott McGregor, Mike Flanagan and Dennis Martinez have a combined career winning average of .616. Either Sammy Stewart or Storm Davis will be the fifth starter. Lefty Tippy Martinez and righty Tim Stoddard are the stoppers in the pen. McGregor (shoulder), Stewart (knees) and Stoddard (shoulder and knee) were hurt last year. All were hale this spring.
So was Centerfielder Al Bumbry, who was hobbled in '82 by bum legs. If Bumbry isn't ready the O's believe rookie John (T-bone) Shelby is. Like Bumbry, DH Kenny Singleton is expecting a better season. He and First Baseman Eddie Murray were once the most feared switch-hitting tandem in baseball, but Singleton hit .177 with no homers from the right side in 1982. When doctors tested his right forearm in October, they found it 18% weaker than his left.
"That's fine for taking out the garbage and picking up children," Singleton says, "but not for hitting a major league fastball." Singleton worked on a Cybex machine during the off-season and now his right arm is stronger than his left. "I'm pulling balls foul now that I could hardly hit at all last year," he says.
The O's will also get a power boost from rookie Third Baseman Leo Hernandez, a 23-year-old Venezuelan who hit 34 homers and batted .303 in the minors last year. He won't be mistaken for Brooks Robinson on defense, but he'll increase the productivity of an infield that already includes Murray and last year's premier rookie, Shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.
In the main, the Orioles won't look much different from the way they did in 1982. Oh, they'll run a little more. And the players say it's noticeably quieter without Weaver.
"I'm sure I'm going to be compared with him, almost to the point that I'd like Earl to teach me how he does this," Altobelli says, turning his cap backwards.
His cap, like his team, doesn't need to be turned around very much.
The Orioles hit well in the clutch, their 11 pinch home runs helping them come from behind in 45 wins. As usual, they were splendid on defense, their major league low of 101 errors enabling them to lead the AL in fielding for the seventh time in nine seasons. Perhaps more than anything, the O's failed to finish first because of another slow start, a 2-10 getaway that was their worst ever.