Brrrrring! Interim manager Cal Ripken Sr. looked at the phone in his clubhouse office. Brrrrrring! "Better answer it," said one of the reporters gathered around Ripken's desk last Thursday night in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. "It's either Earl or the President."
Ripken picked it up. "Hello...." Ripken paused, then smiled. "Thanks, babe," he said. "You know, you're getting a lot of microphones here...." Another pause. "So I guess I'll see you tomorrow. Great." With that, Ripken hung up.
He didn't say who'd called; he didn't have to. Both Ronald Reagan and Earl Sidney Weaver were to make appearances in town on Friday—but Weaver would be the one popping out of the Oriole dugout, the one with the butterflies in his stomach, the pack of Raleighs in his pocket and the raspy crackle in his voice. He would draw 39,142 to Memorial Stadium and receive a thunderous ovation. (The President, in a speech at Fort McHenry, would excitedly note that "the Earl of Baltimore" had come home.)
Weaver hung up the phone at the Baltimore house of his stepdaughter Kim and her husband, Carl Ely. He'd had a busy Thursday. At 12:30 p.m. in the Washington, D.C. law office of Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams, he had agreed to come out of 2½ years' retirement and manage, at least for the rest of the 1985 season. He would take over an Oriole team he had guided to six division titles, four American League pennants and one world championship. For Weaver it was a sudden decision, a handshake deal worth a reported $500,000 a year. Williams had said "the right words," had appealed to Weaver's team loyalty and love for the city of Baltimore. "This makes me sound as conceited as hell, but the man wanted me to come back," says Weaver. "If you like somebody and they want you to do something, 90 percent of the time you're going to try to oblige."
Strapped for time to prepare for his unexpected return, Weaver had instructed Oriole team officials to tell reporters at an afternoon press conference announcing both his return and the firing of manager Joe Altobelli that he, Weaver, had a "prior commitment" for Thursday night and that Ripken would take over for one game. Weaver's "commitment" was to scrutinize the media guide and latest team statistics while listening to the Oriole-Brewer game—an 8-3 Baltimore win—on the radio. "I have a lot of catching up to do," he would say.
But Weaver didn't need much time to catch up. Taking over a team that as of Wednesday had lost five straight and fallen into fourth place, eight games behind first-place Toronto, in the AL East, Weaver directed the Birds to three victories over the Brewers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday—9-3, 7-5 and 9-1—that left Baltimore still in fourth, but just four in back of the Blue Jays. "Sometimes players just need a swift kick in the pants," said third baseman Wayne Gross. "Earl's pretty good at that."
The old-Weaver strategy was there—the lefty-righty platooning, the checking of player tendencies, the love of the home run—augmented by aggressive base running and even Weaver's anathema, the sacrifice bunt. In the sixth inning of Saturday's game, Weaver had Gary Roenicke sacrifice Cal Ripken Jr. to second; Ripken then scored the go-ahead run on a single by pinch-hitter Larry Sheets. "Wea-ver! Wea-ver!" chanted the crowd.
Weaver's patience was tested on Friday night when Baltimore starter Storm Davis walked four batters and gave up three runs in the first inning. Weaver ducked into the dugout tunnel for some smokes. "It was a three-cigarette inning, I'll tell you that," he said later. But he stuck with Davis, who went on to throw a two-hit shutout over the last eight innings. "Even in that first innning, you could tell they just weren't hitting him that hard," said Weaver.
Weaver's return brought a rejoicing headline in The Baltimore Sun—EARL OF BALTIMORE RETAKES THRONE—and nearly unanimous approval on TV and radio call-in shows. "Hi, this is DeeDee Lynn, Fred's wife, calling from California," came the voice on one. "I just wanted to tell you it's very exciting what is happening." Weaver talk filled the air, whether about his thick-soled, multi-turf shoes ("Tippy Martinez elevators," he joked) or the disappearance of that $40 permanent he wore in his two years as an ABC commentator. "You can't spend $240 a year on your hair, not when you're retired," he said.
Some were skeptical about his true desire to return to the kind of long hours and tiring travel that had helped impel him to quit in 1982. Even Weaver couldn't fully explain his swift decision to come back. He'd turned down offers from 11 major league teams since retiring (at least one for more than $1 million a year) and had repeatedly said he had no interest in managing anywhere. He had arrived in Baltimore early in the week with his wife, Marianna, after a two-day drive from St. Louis in their '83 Chevy van; since leaving their home near Miami in late May the Weavers had visited six children and grandchildren in Atlanta and St. Louis, and they planned a quiet 13 days in Baltimore with the Elys. "I wasn't even sure if I was going to see a game while I was in town," said Weaver.