The leftfielder for Baltimore leads the American League in homers and is second in RBIs. He's at once an anthropologist from Las Vegas, a mystic from Puerto Rico and a perfectly normal human being from Diamond Bar, Calif. His manager misspells one of his names, and mispronounces the other two.
The Three Faces of Weaver are John Lowenstein, Benigno Ayala and Gary Roenicke, and as the Orioles' rotating leftfielder they had produced 24 homers and 69 RBIs at week's end. Earl Weaver decides which of their names to write on his lineup card depending on who's hot, who's not and who's pitching. Platooning is nothing new to baseball, but what Weaver has done with these three resembles what Mozart did for the flute.
Lowenstein, 35: "Earl being the natural strategist that he is, he knows pretty well what we can do statistically, so this is nothing new from his standpoint. Somehow it's become difficult to assume the players have anything to do with it. He does play hunches, although he goes mostly by the statistics his players accumulate. He looks like a genius, when actually, all the efforts have been compiled on an individual basis." Lowenstein, you see, was an anthropology major at California-Riverside.
Ayala, 31: "I try to think ahead of time. Say, we are playing Chicago in two weeks. I think how the lefthander pitched me the last time. Sitting on the bench I have a lot of time to think. I try not to be surprised." Two weeks?
Roenicke, 27: "Basically, I moved my hands down and back. I saw the way the good hitters, Eddie Murray, George Brett and Tony Armas, were doing it. So far, it's worked." Roenicke has a new stance.
No matter where they're coming from—and Ayala and Lowenstein are living examples of the expression "out of left field"—they're heading for a phenomenal season. Through Sunday, Lowenstein was hitting .307 with 11 homers, one fewer than his career high, in only 137 at bats. Ayala, batting .304, had 13 RBIs on 13 hits. Roenicke, who has also played center, right and first, had eight of his 15 homers and 23 of his 41 RBIs while in leftfield. He was batting .259 overall and .255 as a leftfielder. The three have shared leftfield since 1979, but not with this kind of production.
"Naturally, there will be better years than others," says Lowenstein, "attendant on the semicircular seasonal statistics. Right now, we are moving toward the peak of our equilibrium."
"They're a blooming phenomenon," says Weaver, who doesn't use the word blooming.
Roenicke and Ayala bat righthanded, and Lowenstein hits from the left side, but the platooning isn't as simple as sticking a certain guy in against a certain kind of pitcher. Weaver's famous stats, which show how his hitters do against specific pitchers, usually determine who's in the lineup. If, for instance, Centerfielder Al Bumbry has trouble against a particular southpaw, Weaver will play Roenicke in center and Ayala in left. Sometimes, Weaver will play Roenicke against a righty because Weaver just has a feeling.
"In glancing at the lineup card, I look for length," says Lowenstein. "If I see a very long name, I know I'm playing. I also see a misspelled name. Earl always puts the i before the e. Sometimes I'll correct it, but the next day it's still misspelled." Provided it's there at all.