Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The Life of Earl Weaver: August 14, 1930-January 19, 2013
It is truly odd the way things work out sometimes. Earl Weaver was everywhere for me this past week. In the middle of this past week, as the Orioles announced they were extending Buck Showalter's contract as O's manager, General Manager Jim Duquette appeared on MLB Network Radio saying how striking the resemblances are when he sees Showalter standing near the statue of Earl Weaver at Camden Yards. On Thursday I started reading a new book I recently bought about the 1970 Orioles World Championship team. The first chapter was about Weaver's rise through the ranks to eventually become the Orioles manager. As I was reading the book I kept thinking how much amazing material there was in Weaver's career for future articles.
Weaver once told a reporter what he wanted written on his tombstone: "The Sorest Loser Who Ever Lived." Weaver was legendary for his tirades. The recordings of Weaver's arguments with umpires are legendary and can keep you laughing for hours every time you see them. Often his rants were incoherent, tangential and seemingly pointless but Weaver never did anything without intent. His arguing with umpires was often a plan to spark his team and get some life into a game that was seemingly without energy. It could also serve to throw off the opposing pitcher. If the pitcher was in a rhythm and mowing down Orioles hitters a short break of Weaver berating an umpire over a "poor call" could distract the pitcher and lead to an advantage for Baltimore. "The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager because it won't hurt the team if he gets thrown out." Weaver did get thrown out often.
It may be almost impossible for younger fans or newer fans of the game to believe but Baltimore from the late 1960's through the early 1980's was one of the best run organizations in the league. They won the American League Eastern division in five of the first six years of divisional play. They reached the World Series four times under Weaver's leadership, winning twice and very nearly winning a third in 1979. His teams always won with the same philosophy: "pitching, fundamentals and three run home runs".
Weaver was a visionary in some senses. He went against the wishes of the team owner, against the wishes of the fans and against the conventions of the day, when he chose a Shortstop. Mark Belanger was the Orioles Shortstop for years and was good. Not only that, he was a fan favorite. He was a prototypical Shortstop. Short, quick, agile, good range, not always a great bat but could hit when they needed it. Weaver had an idea. The Orioles had a third baseman in their system. A tall, sturdy, not so quick third baseman with a truly strong bat. Not the body type that anyone in their right mind would consider playing at Shortstop. Weaver didn't care he moved the player there anyways. 14 years, a Rookie of the Year Award, 2 MVP's, 13 All Star appearances, 8 Silver Slugger awards and 2 Gold Gloves later Cal Ripken, Jr moved back to third base.
Weaver's impact went beyond the city of Baltimore. His coaching staff and players learned from him and spread out across the league and even today have a presence in the league. Jim Frey managed the Royals to the 1980 World Series and was General Manager of the 1989 Cubs playoff team. George Bamberger helped build the Brewers team that reached the 1982 World Series. Joe Altobelli took over as Orioles manager and won the 1983 World Series. Cal Ripken Sr spent decades teaching the "Orioles Way" to the younger generation. Mike Flanagan served as General Manager of the Orioles for a few years. Rick Dempsey and John Shelby have been coaches on teams for decades. Frank Robinson, Don Baylor and Davey Johnson all became successful managers.
As I have written these articles over the last few months I have always attempted to keep my views neutral. I have tried very hard not to villainize players who are traditionally portrayed as villains and not to portray legends as infallible gods as they are often portrayed. I have tried not to let my like or dislike of certain teams as a fan influence the information I provide. Yet, I have to be honest, as an Orioles fan for nearly 25 years it was difficult for me to write this without allowing my allegiance to show. It is impossible to go to Orioles Park at Camden Yards and not see the shadow that was cast by Weaver's presence. For a short man it is an incredibly large shadow, one that no manager has been able to fill in the years since Weaver left the team. For decades Weaver was Baltimore. The city will now need to look to his past leadership to forge into the future.