Earl Weaver: 1930-2013
“On my tombstone just write, 'The sorest loser that ever lived.'”
-- Earl Weaver, manager, Baltimore Orioles, 1986
Did Earl Weaver, who died today at the age of 82, ever manage anyone but the Orioles? People talk of players no longer being with one club but what about managers? That's even rarer. Even before free agency, even with good managers, clubs let them go. Billy Martin managed the Twins, Tigers, Rangers and Yankees all before 1976. Joe Torre managed the Mets, Braves and Cardinals before his 12 years with the Yankees. Casey Stengel managed the Dodgers and the Boston Bees/Braves before taking over the Yankees in 1949.
Earl Weaver? Just the Orioles. Two stints: 1968-1982; and 1985-1986. He missed out on their last championship year, 1983, but according to him he wouldn't have had much to do with it anyway. “A manager's job is simple,” he once said. “For 162 games you try not to screw up all that smart stuff your organization did last December.”
I hated him growing up. I was in Minnesota, home of the Twins, who were one of the best teams in baseball in the late 1960s and early '70s. They would've been the best but for Earl Weaver's Orioles. We faced them in the playoffs in 1969 and '70, when I was 6 and 7, and never won a game. Best of five. Three and out. They were too good. I remember one playoff game when Killebrew and Oliva hit back-to-back homers, and my brother and I, alone in the house, tore it up in celebration, then had some 'splaning to do when my parents returned from volleyball and a picnic at Pearl Park. But we were losing... Killebrew and Oliva... The Twins still lost that game and Chris and I were grounded. October magic.
Weaver was famously short and famously short-tempered. He was Billy Martin before Billy Martin without being such an asshole about it. He believed in good pitching, good “d,” and the 3-run homer. He got it all. He was the manager of the only team in baseball history, the 1971 Orioles, to have four pitchers win 20 games (Pat Dobson completes the set). He was the manager of some of the best fielders at their position in baseball history: Paul Blair in center, Mark Belanger at short, Brooks Robinson at third. Plus he had the pop: Frank Robinson, who retired fourth on the all-time homerun list; Boog Powell, who was like Harmon Killebrew's taller, fatter, less talented cousin; plus everyone else. They could all hit.
I remember a game we went to once in ... 1971? We took our grandmother, my mom's mom, who was visiting from Finksburg, Maryland. That's in Carroll County for those who care. Jim Kaat pitching for the Twins. First pitch? Don Buford hit a homerun. Final score? 8-0. “A manager should stay as far away as possible from his players,” Weaver once said. “I don't know if I said ten words to Frank Robinson while he played for me.”
He seemed ancient then, as did another gray-haired manager of the time, Sparky Anderson; but Weaver, for all the white hair, was only 40, while Anderson was in his 30s. Did the white hair help them get managerial jobs despite their age? One wonders. A guy who's 40 takes over a ballclub today and I think of him as a punk kid.
I wonder what he did in his retirement? Did he still care about the O's? Did he watch the Jeffrey Maier game in '96? I would've liked to have seen Earl Weaver jumping out of the dugout at that call.
Eminently quotable, he said said one of my favorite lines about baseball. “Don't worry, kid,” he assured a young writer, Tom Boswell, who was worried he's done something wrong during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner”; “we do this every day.”