On certain nights at Memorial Stadium, Earl Weaver seethed like a blast furnace at Sparrows Point.
It usually started with a blown call early in the game — maybe a stolen base for the other team that he thought was an out.
His right cleat would appear on the top step of the dugout and then it was only a matter of time. He’d burst onto the field in a rage, throwing his cap, hurling expletives in a raspy smoke-tinged voice, kicking dirt on home plate, unearthing second base, and unleashing a profanity-laced tirade at the umpire who’d wronged him.
The more he argued, the louder the crowd cheered. When he was eventually ejected, he’d receive a standing ovation.
The stadium on 33rd street is gone, and now so is the ringleader of the what was the “world’s largest outdoor insane asylum.”
The legendary Oriole manager Earl Weaver passed away early Saturday at the age of 82 while traveling on an Oriole cruise.
News spread quickly across the city under blue skies fit for opening day, and fans made pilgrimages to the statue garden at Camden Yards to see Earl. Oriole FanFest was going on in the convention center. Tributes were in full swing on cable sports shows.
“He’s arguing with St. Peter,” posted writer Rafael Alvarez on Facebook. “He was Mickey Rooney in a baseball uniform,” wrote ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian.
He regularly fought not only with umpires, but with players and management. Explosive, aggressive, funny and cantankerous – he worked hard to be a winner.
The St. Louis boy who would “knot-hole” his way into Sportsman Park and rub elbows with the Gashouse Gang while his father laundered their uniforms made us feel like champions.
“Baltimoreans by nature seem to have a built-in inferiority complex,” said Stan “The Fan” Charles.
“He left the fans with an easy-to-relax attitude, because in most cases the Orioles were the better team in most meaningful match-ups and Weaver’s superior baseball intellect counteracted any bit of inferiority.”
“It’s What You Learn After
You Know It All That Counts”
As one of the greatest managers in the history of baseball, Weaver’s accomplishments were many and varied, and he is widely thought to be a major influence on the way the modern game is managed.
He was arguably the first Sabremetrician – using stats in critical situations. He moved Cal Ripken to shortstop, a decision that revolutionized the position. He inserted Don Buford into the lead-off spot in the late ’60s – a guy who could get on base and hit home runs. Power-hitting lead-off hitters were far from the norm.
Earl was the first to use the laws of probability in game situations by way of index cards. Now those stats are fed via computer in real time to dugouts.
“I was the first person to bring a radar gun into a major league ballpark,” he said, in 2011, at a Sports Legends event. It told him all kinds of things. For instance, that centerfielder Larry Harlow could throw a ball 95 miles-an-hour.
Early in his tenure, he put up a sign in the dugout that read: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
He was too short to play in the major leagues. He had little power and a weak arm. Shortly after he was named manager in 1968, Frank Robinson asked what he could do to help. Earl asked him to sign autographs, something players hated doing. The other players followed Frank’s example, and it was Robinson’s support that gave Earl, someone who never played in the big leagues, credibility.
“Pitching Keeps You In
Games, Home Runs Win It”
Managing for 14½ seasons at the major league level, he won 90 games 11 times and 100 games during three of those seasons. His Oriole teams appeared in four World Series and were World Champions in 1970. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.
Weaver preached pitching, defense and the three-run homer and the Orioles were the winningest franchise in baseball over a 25-year span that included his run as manager.
“Pitching keeps you in games, home runs win it,” he liked to say.
From 1973 to 1979, the Orioles won more than 90 games in every year but one. In what was an early version of Moneyball, he shifted talent around, platooned players, and relied on the index cards to get the right match-ups.
“If a guy is 1 for 16 against a certain pitcher, we’re going to get that guy out,” he said.
Leading Baltimore’s Motley Crew
The late Seventies team was a motley collection of characters – led by John Lowenstein, Don Stanhouse, Rick Dempsey, and Mike Flanagan – and somehow Weaver brought them to a World Series in 1979.
Another Weaver project, Eddie Murray, was a big reason for that success. It was Earl who bucked management and refused to send Murray down after spring training in 1977.
“I knew it would crush him, so I kept putting him in the lineup. He led the team in hitting by the end of spring training,” Weaver said.
Flawed and funny, brilliant and big-hearted, just like their city, this Orioles team felt like our tribe.
And Weaver? He was our Oriole grandfather, part of the extended family, the subject of countless summer breakfast conversations with our elders. He was a person our parents admired and loved as they set out to make their wages and who gave them hope as they made ends meet.
He was an old friend who we will miss as much as we ache for those simple and innocent days on 33rd street.