These are lofty goals, and Weaver will be lucky to reach one out of the three. This frustrates him, for he is the incurable overreacher, a man who has been up so long it looks like down to him. Still, when Weaver shakes his tiny fists at the heavens, he does so with some righteousness, for the Orioles have been playing under a cloud all year. Fourteen times they have been rained out at home, and when the season ends they will have played at least four fewer games than the scheduled 162. He might well have had his four 20-game winners and his 100 wins with those extra games.
A mediocre box office is yet another characteristic the Orioles share with the Athletics. But Baltimore's stay-at-home fans are as rabid as South American soccer enthusiasts when compared with Oakland's legions of the lost. The champion A's will draw perhaps 950,000 spectators this year, which is 50,000 fewer than Baltimore and a bit more than half of what also-ran Boston will attract in the East. Oakland's loyal nonsupport bewilders and enrages both management and players. Lord knows, Owner Charlie Finley has tried hard enough to dragoon the reluctants. He has favored them with mules, clowns, balloons, mechanical rabbits, livestock, free cars, fireworks, hot pants, panty hose and even championship baseball. Still, the citizens of the East Bay avoid his ball park as if it were a branch office of the Internal Revenue Service.
"It's depressing to the players," said Manager Dick Williams. "I think they perform better before large crowds. What seems strange is that, because of San Francisco, Oakland always has wanted an identity of its own."
"There is," Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland's identity crisis, "no there there." But the fans cannot be blamed for an unfortunate accident of geography. The San Francisco Giants and the A's together will draw well over two million this year, a more than representative turnout for a big-league community where the two ball parks are only half an hour's drive apart.
Baltimore itself suffers from its near contiguity with Washington, and the chances now are that the playoffs will not be a sellout. Pity, because as the A's Tommy Davis, who has played in both leagues, says, "The toughest series will be with Baltimore, not the National League's winner." Weaver thinks that the entire American League is much stronger this year and that Oakland's emergence is just one symptom of it. Owner Finley agrees. His team rolled over the stiffer competition, he says, because of "maturity, togetherness, aggressiveness, determination, Vida Blue, a steady Sal Bando, a happy Reggie Jackson and a manager who knows how to get along with me."
Williams and Weaver provide an interesting stylistic contrast. Williams came to the A's with a reputation from Boston—where he won a pennant in 1967—as a strict disciplinarian. His attitude is crisp, almost military, but instead of further tensing up the perennially uptight A's, he has taught them the art of relaxation. The looser A's no longer make the mistakes on the field that have crippled their chances in the past. The loosest of all may be the once emotionally knotted Jackson. With a healthier attitude, he is contending for the league lead in homers. "Just give me a bat and a glove and point me," he says. "That's my new philosophy."
Weaver seems fussy and disorganized. By last week he still had not decided who his starters would be for the playoffs. And yet he has the smoothest-functioning team in baseball.
Both managers ought to have the luxury of resting their key players before their series. Williams will not allow his three starters to work more than five innings in their remaining games. Blue, particularly, has shown evidence of fatigue these past few weeks. Weaver wants to give his starters five days' rest before the playoffs. Baltimore has the advantage of having the first two games at home and, as Frank Robinson says, "If we can beat Blue in that first game we'll get them thinking."
Finley is already thinking. He has hired, at considerable expense, former Detroit Manager Mayo Smith to trail the Orioles through this last month of the season. Smith seems happy enough with the assignment, although he confesses to some awkwardness when confronting Weaver face to face.
Smith was on duty last week watching the Orioles closely. Had he seen something new, some hidden secret that might help the A's? He thought a moment, shifted in his seat, then said, "No."