Only one Oriole has played in every game at the same position—the inimitable third baseman, Brooks Robinson, and if Weaver were suddenly to transform Robinson into, say, a leftfielder or a bench warmer, one assumes that the heavens would part and a stentorian Voice would tell the manager exactly what he could do with those damned Charts of his.
In the meantime, Weaver manipulates. The Charts make him do it. And so does the team, for the truth is that the Orioles of this year are not the Orioles of the past three. The flawless defense has developed flaws and the once timely hitting is now too often too little, too late or not forthcoming.
At the week's end four former mainstays—Belanger, Powell, Andy Etchebarren and Elrod Hendricks—were batting below .200. Hendricks, for that matter, was crowding .100. Don Buford was nearly 85 percentage points below his .290 average of a year ago and Johnson, a .282 hitter in 1971, was down 60 points. Even Rettenmund, who has been slowly gaining ground on his old self, was still about 50 points below his career average of .306.
"The statistics," Weaver complains, "show that the other clubs aren't making as many errors against us as they did in the past. Maybe we don't hit the ball hard enough for anybody to miss it."
The most discouraging Bird of all in the hard-hitting department has been Boog Powell. This once mighty slugger is not only a hundred points under his career average, he is also not hitting the long ball. After more than 60 games and 164 times at bat he has only four home runs.
Powell apparently has recovered from the wrist injury that hampered him last season, has dieted to a respectable, for him, 255 or so pounds and is now wearing glasses. But still he does not hit.
"There is nothing wrong with him physically," says Weaver. "But when a man is in a slump like this, there is something wrong. I don't know what it is and he doesn't either."
Only their customary superb pitching—all four starters, Jim Palmer, Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson, have earned run averages under three—their new youngsters off the Rochester farm club and the relative feebleness of the other teams in their division have kept the Orioles aloft. With the exception of the Red Sox, the AL East clubs have the lowest team batting averages in the major leagues. Even the frail Texas Rangers outhit them. The Detroit Tigers, who are threatening to end Weaver's reign atop the heap, have not been hitting authoritatively enough to open a big lead over the Orioles. Their team batting average is .230.
In light of Oakland's continued success in the league's Western Division, the boasts of rival managers Weaver and Billy Martin of Detroit sound increasingly hollow. Martin has promised to see to it that Weaver has good tickets for the World Series, while Weaver has said that he will be procuring those accommodations himself, not Martin.
"For three years we were always on top, so there was no need for me to talk," Weaver says. " Martin came over to this division last year and I guess he felt he was the underdog, so he started talking. Now we're behind, so it's my turn to say a few words."