How do you satisfy a manager who’s not satisfied by anything but perfection? He was so undone by loss. After defeat, his face looked like he had just eaten a really big lemon, and he could get madder than a mosquito in a mannequin factory. He spoke through unclean lips and would rather curse than spit. He enjoyed kicking dirt on home plate or an umpire’s shoe as much as he liked playing golf. He was short (five feet, six inches), fiery, and a showman without peers. When his cap wasn’t turned around backwards or sideways, the “O” on the front could have stood for outrageous. Friends and players used words like passionate, father figure, winner, brilliant and relentlessly entertaining to describe him. Umpires used words like hothead, irate, nut job, and crazy. He imposed his will and hated umpires. They hated him back. He was a hard guy to like but easy to respect. Watching him bait an umpire was like two grizzlies fighting over a salmon. He was once ejected from both games of a doubleheader.
He knew that baseball was a subtle game. Sometimes one pitch, one call or one hit can change the game completely. At game time, he was seated but already squirming. In baseball, the anticipation is everything. It’s like waiting for Christmas. What you like most about it is not so much what you get, but the buildup is the real gift, the worry and wonder, the anticipation. His players fed off of his energy. It was like he had an extra motor. A wiry bunch of nerves and muscle, he was so smart; he was always playing chess when everyone else around him was playing checkers. Arguing with this guy was like wrestling with a pig in the mud. After awhile you realized the pig was enjoying it.
Earl Weaver was Zeus with a lightning bolt, and he had no issues with bringing down fire and brimstone on umpires. He was just smarter and always ahead of the game. Weaver versus umpires was hostile, like Grant against Lee. He seemed to own a pocket full of miracles. It was always an empty feeling when you looked into the opposing dugout and there stood Earl Weaver. You realized you may be at a disadvantage before the game even started. Writers loved him because he was so funny.
Earl Sidney Weaver was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on August 14, 1930. He played baseball at Beaumont High School. In 1948, he signed a contract with the hometown St. Louis Cardinals, as a second baseman. For the next several years, Earl worked his way up in the Texas League and landed with the Houston Buffaloes in 1951. By 1956, Earl found himself managing the Knoxville Smokies of the South Atlantic League. In 1957, you could find Weaver managing the Orioles’ Minor League team in the Georgia-Florida League located in Fitzgerald, Georgia. Earl moved in 1958 to Dublin, Georgia, and then again in 1959 to Aberdeen, South Dakota. The Wisconsin Fox City Foxes of the Class-B Independent League called Earl Weaver their manager in 1960. In 1962, Earl was promoted to the Double-A Elmira Pioneers and then promoted again to the Rochester Red Wings, the Triple-A club of the Baltimore Orioles, in 1966. Along the way, Earl played in 1,431 games in the Minor Leagues with the Cardinals, Pirates, and Orioles. Earl’s teams won three Minor League Championships. He also sold used cars in the off-season and could talk anybody into anything. Although he never played in the big leagues, Earl Weaver joined the Baltimore Orioles as a first-base coach at the beginning of the 1968 season. By July 7, 1968, Weaver had replaced former O’s Manager Hank Bauer as manager. He would stay for 17 years.
On October 6, 1986, Earl Weaver said to the Washington Post, “I’m the sorest loser that every lived. That’s what I want written on my tombstone.” Weaver understood that one of the secrets of baseball is what’s next. The pauses permit conversation. It’s a game of limitless possibilities and the odds of failure are enormous. We don’t know anymore about what will happen than we know about life. Even the best fail seven out of ten times. It’s a game of democracy; you can be any size or color or nationality. It’s a fair game and, no matter how hard the owners try to screw it up, it just keeps going on and on.
Earl always claimed that if he had instant replay when he managed, it would have saved him from a lot of embarrassment. Weaver and umpires mixed together like water and oil. Their conflicts became the greatest show on earth. Twice he was thrown out of a game by umpire Ron Luciano, before the game started. Once after an altercation with an umpire, Earl stormed back to the dugout screaming, “I’m going to check the rule book on that.” The ump yelled, “Here, use mine.” Weaver shouted back, “That’s no good, I can’t read Braille.” Weaver hated most umpires but especially Marty Springstead, Joe Brinkman, Don Denkinger and Ron Luciano. One time in 1973, while Weaver was arguing with Luciano, Earl threw his cap on the ground. Don Denkinger, Luciano crewmate, walked over and stepped on Weaver’s cap with his sharp spikes and slowly twisted it back and forth. Writer Tom Verducci claims that umpire Bill Haller once said, “When Weaver dies, the family will have to pay for pallbearers.” Weaver was ejected a total of 98 times in his career.
ESPN reporter and baseball writer, Tim Kurkjian, once wrote, when the Orioles were playing the Tigers in 1986 and Baltimore starter John Habyan had just been brought up from the Minor Leagues, John proceeded to walk the first four Tigers before Weaver pulled him. After the game Kurkjian asked Earl, “So, Habyan was a little off with his control, huh?” Weaver said, “Yeah, I guess home plate at Triple-A is 17 feet wide instead of 17 inches, and the players must all be eight feet tall.” This next story is my favorite. It seems that it was Earl Weaver Day at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, and the Orioles had Earl riding on the back of a convertible waving to the crowd. As the umpires watched, this one umpire leaned over to the others and said, “If there is a God, that little SOB will fall off the back of that convertible and get run over.” Another story finds a slumping Al Bumby heading to chapel one Sunday when he heard Weaver say, “Al, take your bat.” Kurkjian also wrote about a mediocre outfielder for the Orioles named Pat Kelly. Pat was a fine Christian young man and wanted one day to become a minister. Once after Kelly had struck out with the bases loaded, Weaver flew into a rage. When Kelly got back to the dugout he said, “Earl, “I hope you walk with the Lord one day.” Weaver, with his head always in the game responded, “I hope you walk with the bases loaded one day!”
Weaver always smoked Raleigh cigarettes in the tunnel to the clubhouse and claimed “Every time I fail to smoke a cigarette between innings, the opposition will score.” Earl would position himself at the corner of the dugout closest to the runway to the clubhouse, so he could sneak a smoke. Closer Don Stenhouse for the Orioles was always referred to by manager Earl Weaver as “Full Pack,” as if saying Weaver smoked a full pack of cigarettes while watching Stenhouse pitch.
While managing the O’s, Weaver hosted a radio show called “The Manager’s Corner.” His partner was Orioles’ play-by-play announcer, Tom Marr. He has also written three books: Weaver on Strategy (1984), It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts (1983), and Winning (1972). One of his favorite sayings was, “If you know how to cheat, start now.” Earl Weaver hated mental mistakes. He did not care for the DL (Disabled List). He called it the Dead List, “If I can’t use them, then they are dead to me.” He quoted Shakespeare, grew tomatoes, claimed a seven handicap in golf, bet the horses, and played gin rummy.
Someone once said, “Wisdom does not always come with age. Sometimes age just shows up by itself.” When Earl retired, he commented, “Just once, I want to see the sky turn to dusk without the stadium lights coming on.” Weaver got credit for pioneering the use of the radar gun to measure pitchers’ velocity, during the 1975 Spring Training season. He won three Manager-of-the-Year Awards. Earl Weaver managed in the big leagues for a total of 17 years, from 1968-1982 and 1985-1986. Baltimore retired his # 4 at the end of the 1982 season. He returned after a short rest in 1985 and retired for good after the 1986 season. It was the worst year in his career. At that time, things were too bad to be exaggerated. “We’re so bad right now that for us to hit back-to-back home runs means one today and another one tomorrow,” exclaimed Weaver. The last game he managed occurred on October 5, 1986.
Between his stints as manager, Earl became a color commentator for ABC television. He called the 1983 World Series with Al Michaels and Howard Cosell. He later called the 1984 National League Championship Series for ABC with Don Drysdale and Reggie Jackson, before returning to the Orioles as manager again.
Several of Earl’s players commented. “If he has to bite you to win a game, he will,” said Dennis Martinez. Sammy Stewart said, “Having Earl as manager gives us a four-game lead on anybody.” The great players always reflect on what they have, not what they don’t have. For six months a year they were gods in wool uniforms, and the other six months they sold cars and hardware.
Weaver’s philosophy on how to win could be summed up like this: “Pitching, defense, and the three-run homer. If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get.” He also valued outs as if they were gold. “You only get 27 of them; don’t give then away by putting on the hit-and-run sign,” said Earl.
His larger-than-life statue stands seven feet tall and is located in the “Garden of Giants” behind the centerfield wall at Camden Yards, home to the Baltimore Orioles. The statue depicts him standing with both of his hands in his back pockets. Earl received a three-foot replica when his statue was unveiled.
Earl managed in 2,540 games and won 1,480 while losing 1,060. His 1,480 wins are the third most by any manager to never play in the big leagues, behind Joe McCarthy and Jim Leyland. Baltimore won 90 or more games 11 times, with Weaver in charge, and more than 100 games five times. His Oriole teams won six Eastern Division titles, four American League Pennants, and one World Series in 1970. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996 by the Veterans’ Committee. Earl Weaver, “The Little Genius,” died at approximately 2 a.m. on January 18, 2013, of an apparent heart attack. Earl and his wife Marianna were guests on an Orioles’ fantasy cruise in the Caribbean Sea. He had experienced a mild attack in 1998, but recovered. He was 82 years old and living in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
Famous sports photographer, Charles M. Conlon once said, “The game which seems to breathe the restless spirit of American life, that calls for quick action and quicker thinking, that seems characteristic of a great nation itself, is baseball.” I wonder if Conlon knew about Weaver?
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or email@example.com.