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On opening day, remembering Earl

April, in these parts, is irresistibly transformative. Vibrant life and color rise up and relentlessly overwhelm a drab winter's landscape, inspiring notions in the human heart of renewal and redemption. And with it comes another baseball season and all its manifestations of new beginnings and the grand possibilities that await in the lush green days ahead.

So it was supposed to be 45 years ago. 1968 had dawned with the stunning reports of the Tet Offensive, a sobering reality that stretched deep into March, concluding with a sitting president declining to seek re-election, and bringing to us a reluctant familiarity with places called Khe Sanh, Hue, Lang Vei and My Lai. Our weariness longed for April's explosion of daffodils, bright green leaves, and baseball.

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But the traditional month of promise had hardly begun when news arrived that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated while standing on the balcony of a Memphis hotel. It was a dagger to the heart of the struggle for equality and justice, and our city erupted in an explosion of long accumulated frustration. We suddenly found ourselves in a war zone of riots and fire bombings that played out against the imposition of a general curfew enforced by uniformed soldiers, leaving us gripped by varying degrees of fear, anger and disbelief. Many businesses and neighborhoods would never be the same.

When it was mostly over, we ventured out cautiously and curiously past the smoldering ruble of mangled storefronts, which stood in stark contrast to the spring weather and peaceful calm of Holy Week and spring break. The Orioles opened play at Memorial Stadium almost immediately after the decrease in violence with a victory over the Oakland As, a win tempered by the palpable discomfort we now felt as we passed along our own streets.

Only a few short weeks later, with the riot fires fresh in our minds, Sen. Robert Kennedy was also felled by an assassin's bullet, his calls for social justice and an end to poverty seemingly having also taken the blow that left him lying on a hotel floor. As we moved toward summer, it was as though madness had become the rule of the day.

The record is an undeniably amazing one. That '68 team won 91 games and finished in second place. During the following 15 seasons, Mr. Weaver's teams finished first or second 13 more times. They won 90 games 11 more times, and 100 games five times, securing seven division championships, five pennants and a World Series. He had talented players, but he made them better. In fact, he used the entire roster in a way that maximized every player's ability to contribute to a winning team. Consoling and criticizing as necessary, he motivated them to become greater than the sum of their parts.

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Raymond Daniel Burke, a Baltimore native, is a partner in a downtown law firm. His email is rdburke@ober.com.

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