In a powder-blue suit and matching twinkle, Earl Weaver sits in a hotel lobby, as he is wont to do when the Baltimore Orioles are on the road. From this armchair perspective, not a great deal has happened in the quarter century that Weaver has been managing baseball clubs. America then was a nation of goals. Now it is a land of expectations. That's the trouble with things; the rest is about the same. Baseball, for one, is about the same. He, for another, is about the same. Never expected a thing. Just wanted to make an honest dollar and have a little left over for a rainy day. Earl always puts salt in his beer.
Isn't that something? He's out there screaming at umpires, advising Hall of Famers how to play a game he couldn't—"All Earl knows about pitching is that he couldn't hit it," one of Weaver's pitchers once said—stealing thunder, setting records, charming, irritating and, above all, being an opinion maker. That is, everybody has an opinion about Earl. Either: great manager, as smart as ever there was. Or: crude little bigmouthed parasite. But the kicker is: It doesn't get to Earl. He knows he'll have the last laugh, because if they fire him tomorrow, he has security—a pension and two places of residence, his old house in Baltimore County and a condominium in Florida that he bought when the market was low. Besides, he can always go back to selling cars. Earl has got the gun loaded. He didn't ask for any of this, the pension excepted. It beats warehouse work. They can't touch him.
The Orioles, defending American League champs, have been struggling most of the way this season. "The worst that can happen," Earl says, "is this keeps happening, they get rid of me, and I get paid to spend the summer not working."
Can't touch him. He has gone past all his goals and has money in the bank. All he really worries about is inflation. "Right now," Earl says in the lobby, lighting up another Raleigh, "I'm just sitting here trying to figure out how to get out of a losing streak tonight. But that 1990 scares me to death." Can't manage the economy, eh, Earl, heh-heh?
June 29, 1980
Earl says a dirty word, another of his wonts. It's his nature. Some of his remarks, as recorded on these pages, are not quite the same as they were when delivered. You can't believe everything you read. Last year Earl tore up a rule book in an umpire's face to drive home that selfsame point.
Earl is familiar with hard times. He was conceived almost exactly at the time of the stock-market crash of '29—a Depression Baby. He'll be 50 this Aug. 14, and he's thinking about retiring in two years. Originally, it was his plan to retire after this season, but, you know, inflation.
Hold on: You could set all kinds of managing records if you stayed, Earl. He says a dirty word. "If I get bored, I could always put in some floor time at a car showroom," he says. "That can be fun if you don't have to eat on it."
All along people have said, "Poor managers, they don't have any security," and they don't. Weaver beat that, because right up to the time he got the job with the Orioles on July 11,1968, he never had any security. So what was the big deal about managing? He just went out and managed his way, acted his way. "The moment he got the job, there was no question," says Frank Robinson, one of the incipient Hall of Famers Weaver has managed. "It didn't matter that he'd been only a little minor-leaguer—from the start there was no timidity. Earl'd be up arguing with you. Right from the start." Managing a source of insecurity for Earl? Hell, it was the best payday he'd ever had.
Earl is in the dugout now. He spends even more time there than most managers. He patrols it. Before games, he holds court there. During games, he talks continuously to himself or his coaches, now mounting the steps to berate his taller athletes, now slinking down the tunnel toward the clubhouse for a quick smoke. (You're not supposed to smoke in the dugout. Spitballs are also against the law.) There is a definite sense that you're in the Weaver home when you're in the Oriole dugout.
Joe Garagiola comes into the dugout. "Earl," he says, "they want me to call you feisty."
Earl says a dirty word. Joe shows him the script and says, "How about combative?"
Earl makes an expression; combative is no prize, but he can live with it. But, for goodness sake, let's get the record straight. "I ain't throwing no hand grenades," Earl protests. People have the wrong impression. For example, Weaver says, sure he's been ejected from 74 games, lifetime, major leagues, but that's misleading. He may use some dirty words, in passing, but he never calls the umpires anything bad to their faces.
To get this straight, Weaver has Marty Springstead, an umpire, as a guest on his pregame radio show, The Earl of Baseball. Into the microphone, Earl says, "Now tell the people, Marty, how I've never called you a dirty name."
Springstead doesn't want to be a rude guest. "Well," he says, after thinking it over, "once." Earl laughs. That must have been a beauty.
Let's get back to Garagiola. "Combative," Earl muses. "I ain't been in a fight since '57 in Fitzgerald, Georgia, when I went into the other team's dugout."
"They were on me."
Go with combative, Joe.
Weaver is, in fact, barely 5'6" dripping wet, even if he is listed at 5'8". He had good hands and—relatively, anyway—could hit with men on base. But he had little range and no power, so he didn't even get up to Triple A during the time he played second base in the Cardinal system. Half the managers in the majors are former infielders, and most of them, like Weaver and Gene Mauch and Sparky Anderson, were scrappers, pepper pots, as they were once known. The general assumption is that these fellows figured out early they couldn't make it as players and became students of the game, sitting next to the crafty old veteran manager, drinking in strategy, dreaming and scheming of making it up the ladder as a pilot.
Not Earl. If he considered his future at all when he was playing, his concerns were about what kind of job he could finagle over the winter. He never thought about managing until he got handed the player-manager job at Knoxville, Tenn. late in the '56 season. Earl never thought about managing higher up until he was hired higher up. He kept at it because he could make more money managing in the bushes than selling cars or carrying hods. And he turned out to be a natural. Why not? There are natural hitters, natural pitchers. Earl Weaver was just a natural manager. The little sonuvabitch could flat do it. What is managing, Earl? "Get the guy up there you want," he says.
Earl put out his Pall Mall. Sometimes he can't get Raleighs, because, he says, the company that makes them sticks all its money into coupons and can't get into the vending machines. What are you going to get with all those Raleigh coupons, Earl?
"A brass coffin," he says.
You are really very uncomplicated, aren't you, Earl?
He says a dirty word decorating his "yes."
Earl, you are baseball; for better for worse, for richer for poorer. So there is one thing that just doesn't fit. How is it you don't chew tobacco? You are baseball, Earl. You should chew tobacco. Explain this.
Earl says a dirty word. Then he bares his teeth. Terrific teeth. Almost as handsome as his hair, of which he is especially proud. Earl likes to wear his hat tilted back on his head, showing a full shock of hair. "These ain't mine," Earl says—the teeth, not the hair. "I chewed so much tobacco coming up, it rotted all my real teeth out."
Earl is baseball. Can do it all.
The Weavers live in a modest brick-and-clapboard house in the working-class suburb of Perry Hall. Their house isn't what you'd call pretentious. It is catty-corner to the back of an A & P, which is the gemstone of a small shopping center on old U.S. 1. If there are any truths in life, one would surely be that as long as you live only a parking lot away from U.S. 1, you're not getting carried away with yourself. The Weavers, Earl and Marianna, live there with his vegetable garden, their two small dogs and her daughter from an earlier marriage, Kim, who is 21 and a BaseBelle at Memorial Stadium.
Often, when Earl refers to Marianna, he calls her "the second wife," but that's not as blunt as it sounds. After all, Weaver's forever talking about Ken Singleton, the No. 3 hitter, or Tim Stoddard, the No. 1 reliever. Earl's first marriage was a casualty of baseball, of his never being home during the summers and then starting to manage in the Caribbean winters, too. That was the straw that broke the camel's back, the Caribbean work. He has three grown children from that marriage, and the first wife is remarried.
The second wife is dark-haired, slender, not at all like Earl, who is stubby and cute. Marianna, a secretary in Elmira, N.Y., had been married to a salesman when Earl met her in 1963, shortly after his divorce. He was the manager of the Class A Elmira Pioneers, and they were married the next season, after he led the Pioneers to the Eastern League pennant. Earl wasn't single long between marriages. "You spend all your time alone in a hotel room on the road, and the last thing you want is to come back home to another room alone," he says. "Of course, the worst thing about being on the road is all you want to do when you get home is to stay home, but as soon as you get back, all the wife wants to do is go out, because she's been stuck home all the time you've been stuck on the road."
The Weavers were very happy in Elmira and even kept their house there after Earl moved up to manage Rochester in '66 and to coach Baltimore in '68. Indeed, he was reluctant to take the job at Triple A Rochester, the Orioles' top farm. "There wasn't no place to go up from there," he explains, meaning that at Elmira he still had breathing room. Once he got to Rochester, he was afraid that he had reached the end of the line and would get bumped after one bad summer. He says he refused to consider that Rochester might be a stepping-stone.
Yet the second wife claims Weaver did a little dreaming, too. The paycheck always came first, but take some of his disclaimers with a grain of salt. After a few gins, he would let on to Marianna what was in his heart. "It was always year to year, for him," she says. "Every winter he'd wonder whether he'd survive another season. But Earl always had confidence in himself. He told me he was capable of managing anywhere, and he was sure he could be the best if he ever got the chance." She paused for a beat, not to consider, only for effect. "And he was right."
The Weavers don't dwell on this sort of thing, though. They prefer to look at events in a more down-to-earth way, to revel ever so slightly in how far they've come. "I didn't have any idea how smart and talented he was when I first met him," Marianna says, joking somewhat. She is very good for the second husband because she doesn't get too involved with his work. Except when company is visiting, Marianna prefers to stay home and listen to Oriole games on the radio, and in many respects she is less impressed by Earl's baseball exploits than by the fact that now she can flick on the TV or open up a magazine and there he'll be, a tout for some respectable commercial enterprise—a bank, a brand of meat, a line of air conditioners. Even the World Series is merely baseball; air conditioning—"How a hothead keeps his cool"—is the stuff of reality.
Same with Earl. Nothing in baseball ever frightened him, but he is nervous about his budding broadcasting career. Despite his fear, he is very good behind the mike, if not exactly perfect. Here is Earl introing Jim Frey, one of his closest friends, a former Oriole coach, now manager of the Kansas City Royals: "We're fortunate to have with us Jim Frey, the new manager of the Kansas City...well, whatever they are." That tape was done over. "I was going to say Chiefs, but I knew they weren't that," Earl says.
Since Ron Luciano—"my old nemis," as Weaver styles him—quit umpiring this year to become a former ump posing as a baseball color announcer, the thought of becoming a TV star has appealed to Weaver even more. Certainly, he is a prospect: he talks at length, and he has a wonderfully distinctive rasp; besides, he knows a lot of "inside" stuff, having invented it. His agents are working on setting up something now that might help him get a network job after he leaves the Orioles.
The American Dream: the little boy who grows up to become President, so that he can write a multimillion-dollar autobiography. Or little Earl Weaver, who has worked hard, overcome insurmountable obstacles, reached the very height of his profession and now, if he's lucky, can parlay that into a job in a broadcast booth.
At home with hard-bitten Bird Manager Earl Weaver: mornings, Earl fools around in his vegetable garden. "I'm sure people who read about Earl think, 'Oh, that poor girl who's married to him.' But he leaves the baseball at the park," Marianna says. "He can be very considerate and very gentle. He sure is with those lettuce plants. He treats them like babies. He talks to them." Earl finds peace with his vegetable plants. If Earl could garden nights on the road and in the winter, the way he does summer days back of the A & P, he wouldn't have a problem in the world.
At lunchtime Marianna yoo-hoos to Earl out in the garden, and he comes in for their big meal of the day. Then, around two o'clock, he takes a nap. Marianna gets into her nightclothes and takes a nap with him. Just lie there like babies, the two of them, dozing off.
Then Earl gets out of bed and goes off to Memorial Stadium and starts raising hell. "All it is, I work the 3-to-11 shift," he says. After the game, he comes back home, has a snack and a drink or two with Marianna and then climbs into bed and starts watching television, whatever's on. Most nights, Manager Earl Weaver falls asleep to reruns of The Streets of San Francisco.
Of course, this is not quite as idyllic as it sounds, the reason being that sometimes the Orioles lose games, something they've been doing with unexpected frequency this year—they were 34-32 at the week's end. Earl says he had it best back in '68, when he came up to the Orioles as first-base coach. This is one of those things to take with a grain of salt. On the one hand, Weaver certainly was as happy as a pig in slop that he was finally in the majors, hitting fun-goes, building up a pension and doing it all with a responsibility that was, to say the least, limited. Hank Bauer was the manager then. "I would see Bauer doing this," Weaver says, and he imitates Bauer, rising an inch off his seat, settling back down, rising up, settling down once more. "He sits back, the first pitch, McNally throws a double down the line," Earl says. Then he says a dirty word. "Why did I want that aggravation?"
On the other hand, it is difficult to believe that Weaver could have long tolerated sitting still as a coach. The point is that at last he had a breathing space in his life, and it was too short a time. Harry Dalton, then the Oriole general manager, who was Weaver's patron all along his climb through the minors, offered him the manager's job only three months into the season. "Is that good?" was Marianna's reaction. Earl's was to turn Dalton down flat.
To drive the point home, he got up and started leaving Dalton's house. Dalton responded with: either be my manager or you're fired as a coach. Weaver started negotiating. He was making $15,000 as a coach; Dalton offered him $23,000 to manage. But along with his coach's salary Weaver was pulling down $7,500, plus playoff money, managing in Puerto Rico. All that would be out the window if he became the Oriole skipper. He was supposed to take a pay cut for more aggravation? Earl says a dirty word, recalling this episode. The only time in his life he had ever taken a pay cut was when he switched from being a hod carrier to being a tax collector for the city of St. Louis. He had frozen his fingers to the bone being a hod carrier in winter, and his infielder's hands were the best assets he had then. That was different. He was not going to take a pay cut just because somebody wanted him to become a major league manager.
"I come out of there with 28," Earl says.
People should remember this, especially those who take things with a grain of salt, who say that Weaver will never quit managing. Sure, maybe he'll lay off for a season after '82, but he'll get tired of golf and selling cars. Besides, he's too record-conscious and too vain ever to pack it in. Earl will be back regularly, like Abe Burrows, getting the call to fix up another Broadway show. And there'll always be a place for Weaver, these people say, because he can manage any kind of club.
Some guys can only manage on top. Durocher, for example, couldn't suffer fools. Some guys are builders who collapse under the pressure that comes with the success they fashioned. Some guys troop the second division, mediocre managers for mediocre teams. Weaver works the other way round, taking the whole season and breaking it down. Hence his devotion to statistics and fundamentals; to forming, and then employing, a total roster; to building a staff, not just a collection of arms. He may be quick to yank a pitcher or pull a hitter, but over the long haul he will ride out a storm with a player. "He's the most patient impatient man I've ever met," says Frank Robinson.
Weaver uses himself the same way he uses the team. "Earl's aggressive and confident," says Dalton, now the general manager at Milwaukee, "but when he wants to be, on any given day, he can be arrogant, cocky and hostile. He takes on the personality he feels necessary for the situation in a particular game."
And he has the courage to take full control of things. No Oriole steals on his own; if Mercury played for Baltimore, he wouldn't have that license. "No matter how hard he tries, how smart he is, no player can ever think about the whole team," Earl says. The year Reggie Jackson played for Baltimore he wanted to run on his own. No. Jackson was offended, sure that Weaver didn't trust his judgment. He'd show him.
One day, Jackson was on first base with Lee May, the Orioles' righthanded slugger, at bat against a lefthander. Jackson took off without Weaver's O.K. Beat the throw easy. After May walked and a pinch hitter ended the inning, Jackson came back to the dugout, beaming. See? Weaver scowled. "Yeah, you stole," he said. "That opens first base. The lefthander walks May. Then I've got to bring in a right-handed pinch hitter. I had the gun loaded with May. You take the bat out of his hands and make me waste another player. That's what the stolen base got us."
"Yeah, I see," Reggie said. He never again asked to run on his own.
To be sure, the Orioles have usually provided Weaver with good players, but not all managers are capable of manipulating star-studded rosters. And in 1977, with eight rookies on the club, Earl won 97 games, chasing the Yankees to the wire. Many authorities think that was as good a managing job as there ever was. Four times Earl's Orioles have won 100 games. Except for his first season and a half, at Knoxville and Fitzgerald, Ga., he has never had a loser. Only twice in the American League has he come in lower than second—a third and a fourth; the year of the fourth-place finish, the Orioles still won 90 games.
Still, this is all a bit of a caper. Earl has it in perspective. "You got to walk with the Lord, Skip," Pat Kelly, an outfielder and born-again Christian, advised Weaver one day.
"Kell, I'd rather you walk with the bases loaded," Earl replied. He proceeded to expand on this:
"Kell told me one time after he hit a home run that the Lord was looking out for him. I said, yeah, and what about that poor sonuvabitch on the mound who threw you the high slider? We better not be counting on God. I ain't got no stats on God. He knows who's going to win this thing. We're just acting it out so 26 million people will pay to get through them gates.
"People always make a lot about how I don't carry grudges. That's my religious upbringing. I went nine years without missing Sunday school. Lutheran. I can't live with hatred inside of me. That's what I learned. I ain't scared of dying, either."
Baseball is just a game. "There ain't no genius here," Earl says. "Strategy in baseball is overrated. People say, 'That Weaver, he plays for the long ball too much.' You bet I do. Hit 'em out. Then I got no worry about somebody lousing up a bunt, I got no worry about the hit and run—and that's really overrated—I got no worry about base-running errors. And I can't screw it up myself. Just instant runs. You bet Weaver likes the long ball.
"You want to know how you really think as a manager? I'll tell you. Right after we got the house in Perry Hall, I had some extra money from managing in Puerto Rico, so me and Marianna decided to get a pool. We got a good pool. Because I'm thinking, a pool's a nice investment. When you sell the house, you're going to get your money back. But when it came time for the indoor-outdoor carpet, I told Marianna to hell with it; it's going to wear out, so get the cheapest stuff. So it wore out, and we got another cheap one. And it wore out. It wasn't till this past year I was confident enough to get a good one."
Earl won his first pennant in 1969, his first full season, and he discovered that he could get $300 for speaking at a banquet. He made 23 banquets that January, in which there were a maximum of 31 banquet nights. "I wasn't scared of taking over the Orioles," he says. "Almost all players go through the minors. They learned the same things as me. It's the same game. All I was scared about was losing my job. All I'd ever wanted was a job in an organization for life. What was the chance of me staying on this long, getting in the pension? I'll tell you, I sure wouldn't want to do it all over again, because I don't think I'd be so lucky next time."
Weaver's playing career crested in March of 1952 when Red Schoendienst held out, and just to be safe, the Cardinals put this Double A second baseman on their 40-man roster. If they hadn't, Earl could've been drafted by another team, and if Schoendienst had stayed stubborn, the Cards might have needed Weaver. "I was proud they had to protect me," Earl says, obviously still proud. "I had made them protect me, and that meant something. Unfortunately, let's face it, at best I was adequate."
Eddie Stanky was the St. Louis manager that spring. Feisty, combative little pepper pot. He had a new ploy. If you got caught in a rundown and you were about to be tagged, you would throw yourself at the feet of the tagger (the catcher in this drill), thus bowling him over and helping anyone else who might be on base to advance. This wasn't a drill the taggees had much enthusiasm for, especially because the burly catcher, in his heavy gear, would usually end up on top of them. Guys like Stan Musial kept sneaking to the back of the line. "Hey, you're good at this," Stanky said to Weaver, and kept him demonstrating. As the catcher kept falling on top of him, Earl began to divine that his role with St. Louis was not a valued one.
By 1955 he was gone, down in A ball again, and it was apparent that the jig was up. That winter he took a job in the management program of a finance company called Liberty Loan. This was going to be a career; just think, if it had worked out, Earl would be keeping stats on dead-beats today. But he decided to play one more summer of ball, and his stopgap managerial stint at Knoxville in the summer of 1956 impressed the Orioles. In January 1957, the Baltimore farm director called and offered Weaver $3,500 to manage Fitzgerald, D ball.
Earl is worn down now from all the years of managing. "Don't forget that Earl has had to win," says Jim Palmer, his friendly nemis. "Sure the Orioles have had good players, but Baltimore is so small it has to be a winner to draw." Since Weaver took over the Orioles in '68, only one other major league team, the Red Sox, has been higher than .500 every year. And no other team has won 90 games or more as often.
Weaver swears that he isn't tired of the game, but 33 years of it are wearing. The unsettled baseball existence shows on his face. Actually, it's two different faces, the one lined far beyond its years, the other ruddy and bright-eyed and topped with that full helping of salt-and-pepper hair he so admires.
It's not just the pressure in the dugout. There's an old expression in baseball that says day games after night games are the toughest to endure. Earl twisted the real truth into that once. He said, "The hardest thing in baseball is a day game after a day game." He has drunk a lot of gin on his nights off. Hotel rooms are invariably convenient to hotel bars. One of the few rules Weaver has for his Orioles is that the hotel bar belongs to the manager.
Earl's drinking has been the only cause he has ever given his superiors for concern. There was one nasty, publicized incident in 1973 when a Maryland state trooper stopped him for speeding. Weaver called the young officer, whose face had chicken-pox scars, "crater face" and, after giving a statement, pushed the open police-car door so hard that it became unhinged. Usually, though, the drink fosters no such rancor, just larger doses of his earthiest badinage, louder spoken.
Here is Weaver last year with some friends, dining out in Minnesota, telling tales that get funnier and cruder. Comedy, as Steve Martin has said, is not pretty; Steve, meet Earl. Finally, Weaver rises and, addressing his table (and just about everyone else in the restaurant), inquires, "Where's the——toilet?"
A gentleman at the next table leans over to Earl. "In your mouth, sir," he says.
Those Orioles who don't care for Weaver usually object to two things. One is the publicity, the extra credit he gets. But that's hardly his fault; he can't be blamed for the excesses of the press or for those in his own organization who often sell the product with the manager's name billed ahead of the title of the show: "Come out and see Earl Weaver's Orioles!" Beyond that, it's only his barroom antics that upset some of the troops.
Yet Weaver is more in control of his temper now than he used to be. To a man, those who have known him a long time declare that he is "mellowing." Always, too, there has been, amid all his barbed criticism, his little-recognized kind and diplomatic side. No one is a greater fan of Weaver than Reggie Jackson, who believes that his excellent '76 season in Baltimore was greatly influenced by the manager's ardor. "Earl makes you think you're better than you are," Jackson says. "He always builds you up. I learned to respect him as a manager and then admire him as a man."
Nor could anyone have been more mature or gracious than Weaver was after the Orioles' defeat in the seventh game of last fall's World Series. On top of everything else, President Carter showed up in the clubhouse, as misplaced as any local pol trying to squeeze into the athletes' limelight. Worse, Carter commiserated with Weaver on the death of Earl's mother. It was, of course, the mother of Pittsburgh Manager Chuck Tanner who had just died. Weaver handled the awkward situation with great sensitivity—as upset as he was in defeat—and is reluctant even to discuss the incident lest it bring more embarrassment to the President.
Mostly, it seems, Earl's extremes are only a matter of his having been in the game for so many years that he no longer remembers where the dugout ends and the rest of the world picks up. There is, really, no good reason why any manager should hold grudges, because he has the great luxury of having a new game every day, a fresh lineup card to write out. And better yet, there are umpires. If all of us had umpires to scream at, to kick dirt on, we wouldn't have to hold grudges either. Unfortunately, in the rest of society, authority figures must be treated gingerly; either that or you lose your job or get thrown in jail.
Earl is told: all you middle-aged managers look so odd wearing young men's uniforms. "Yeah," he replies, "but I'd look even sillier arguing with an umpire if I were wearing a suit."
See? It isn't the managing that obliges managers to dress in little-boy costumes. It's the arguing. You put on a child's knickers, and you can rant and rave and stay young and healthy. Maybe the reason some umpires are especially hard on Earl is because they understand, somehow, that even if they throw him out, he's using them for his well-being. Can't touch him.
Having been only a minor-leaguer, Weaver probably has an advantage over managers who were more successful as players. Never having been coddled—or been very good, either—Earl naturally thinks in terms of the team. An exchange with the young Bobby Grich best illustrates this. Grich was a heralded Oriole rookie, to be bolstered and stroked, but soon he fell into a slump and Weaver yanked him for a pinch hitter. Grich, angry, slammed his bat down. "How can I get any confidence if you take me out?" he demanded.
Weaver shot back, "I don't give a——if you ever get any confidence. I just need somebody to get me a base hit."
Often as not, the players repay their sarcastic manager in kind or otherwise. Catcher Rick Dempsey hurled his shin guards at Weaver once—and Earl chucked them back. Weaver and Palmer have enjoyed a running argument for so long that they have become reminiscent of Ralph and Alice Kramden, agreeing only to disagree. "It's his confidence," Palmer explains. "You take somebody like Sparky Anderson. His pitchers can't talk back to him about pitching. The beauty of Earl is, he's not afraid to deal with problems, right out in the open."
For Earl, Palmer is the perfect foil. Palmer made the majors as a teen-ager and has since won more than 200 games. Weaver scratched out a .267 in the low minors. Palmer, an underwear model, is not only tall and handsome, but tanned all over—not the two-tone tan that Weaver and most white ballplayers have.
Look out, Palmer, Earl has hatched a new booby trap. Weaver is sitting in the dugout, smoking a Raleigh, before the game. He's got a good crowd around him. Palmer, unsuspecting, comes out. "Well, there he is, folks," Earl rasps, "the great Jim Palmer, winner of 204 games."
Palmer stops on the top step. He has bitten. He almost made it, but he's been snared. "Now Earl," he says, "as much as you know stats—it's 227 wins."
Earl blows smoke. "Two-oh-four since '68," he says. "I only count the——ones you win for me." Palmer smiles, shaking his head in admiration.
This isn't to say Earl wins 'em all. One of his most spectacular skirmishes with Palmer took place two seasons ago when Juan Beniquez, whose average then was what the players call an Interstate figure (in low numbers), blooped a damaging handle-hit double off a Palmer fastball. In the dugout after the inning, as Palmer passed by, Earl rasped out of the corner of his mouth. "The rest of the——league is throwing sliders to——.167 hitters."
Palmer blew up and stomped off toward the clubhouse, Weaver in pursuit jumping up and down like Rumpelstiltskin right after they found out his name. Calm now, Palmer turned and said, "Why, Earl, I've never seen you so tall."
For once, Weaver was unable to utter an appropriate dirty word. Worse, when Beniquez came up later, Earl ordered Palmer's successor on the mound to throw sliders, and Beniquez hit one for a solid triple. "To my great titillation," Palmer says. Earl was so beside himself that the next day he called a special team meeting just to ask one semi-rhetorical question. "How many of you guys don't want to play here?" he inquired. Then, pointing dramatically at Palmer: "Because that one guy over there doesn't want to play here." The whole team was fighting back laughter.
Earl doesn't call many meetings. Here is the folk wisdom on that: "If you're winning, there ain't no——reason to call a meeting. If you're losing, and you call a meeting, and you lose again, then what the——are you going to do?" It's also true that he's much harder on a player when he makes a mistake in victory than in defeat. Losing, Earl knows, is frustrating enough. He understands.
Beneath it all, he loves ballplayers. Adores them. God knows he tried long enough to be one himself. Oh, sure, Earl likes playing the diamond genius. If the Orioles lose, say, 6-5, he'll declare, "I got 'em enough runs," without bothering to acknowledge that he pushed the pitching buttons, too. A successful pinch hit? "I had the gun loaded."
But Earl's vanity is properly directed. Some managers are forever in competition with their players. Weaver is never jealous of his troops. Reggie Jackson was not Earl's rival when he was with the Orioles, but a loaded gun in Earl's belt. So what if the players make more money? "They got their agents, I got mine," Weaver says. Fight one of them? They're younger and bigger—"I'd probably get killed." Earl doesn't want to be the best Oriole or the most famous Oriole. He wants to be the best manager, the most famous manager. They all need each other. Or, as Earl said once, "In order to do what we have to do, we have to keep doing what we've done in the past."
The 1979 Series belonged to Earl—until the fifth or sixth game. Till then nobody even knew there was a fellow named Willie Stargell in uniform. For that matter, until the fifth or sixth game, nobody was altogether sure there were two teams playing, inasmuch as the Series seemed to consist largely of Earl pushing buttons and kibitzing with the press.
There was something wonderful about him. He worked. In a world gone haywire, leaderless, Earl was a genuine pilot, a skipper. Somewhere, at least, somebody was in charge. "I had the gun loaded." Righthanders. Southpaws. Kiko Garcia. Earl Weaver for President. There was, in fact, a certain Trumanesque quality to him. He had simple reasons for what others wanted to complicate. He put salt in his beer. He talked normally to Howard Cosell. Hey, it's all Elmira. Even when he lost, which he did with dignity, there was left the impression that he hadn't been beaten, but that fate had interceded against him. Weaver is the guy who once, at the conclusion of a rhubarb, picked up third base and departed with it, right? Yep. Top that. In all your life, with all its frustrations, how many times did you want to walk away with, so to speak, third base? Well, Earl did it.
His discovery by the world at large was a bit belated, but the delay was understandable. His first three Series belonged to others: the Mets owned the world in '69; '70 was a private recital by Brooks Robinson; '71 by Roberto Clemente. Moreover, in those early years of his reign, nobody could look beyond the Robinsons, Boog Powell, the myriad 20-game winners; Weaver was dismissed as a mere retainer, an organization man. Now that there are people who claim Weaver is overrated, it's hard to recall that for so long he was overlooked.
His early triumphs also came at a time when the Yankees were down and the National League was thriving, and so a disproportionate amount of attention was devoted to the other league. More than that, baseball was out of fashion. Vietnam and crime in the streets seemed to stimulate interest in sports of speed and authorized violence. But baseball is a slower, more convivial exercise, full of numbers and banter and second-guessing. Earl is just right for the game. The other famous manager of these times, Billy Martin, is forever getting involved in controversies that have nothing to do with the sport itself. Earl, on the other hand, is only incidentally the manager of the Orioles. He is The Manager. Earl Weaver is Baseball.
Yet, oddly, the question that has begun to surface about Weaver is one that usually pops up in other sports with fewer games: Why can't he win the big one? Weaver has lost three of the four World Series he has been in, two in the seventh game; and he dropped the only one of his six American League playoffs to go the full five games. His teams have blown early advantages in all three Series and both playoffs that the Orioles have lost, but they've never come from behind to win a postseason series. Is there a flaw? Does Weaver somehow fail to rise to the occasion after going at such an intense pitch all year? Does he overmanage in a crisis? Does he, in fact, panic? Why start Cy Young winner Mike Flanagan in the fifth game last October when the Orioles were ahead 3-1 and Flanagan pleaded he was too tired to pitch?
Weaver has reasons. Always, he says, have a reason. In Flanagan's case, he had Palmer and Scott McGregor waiting. Three chances to win one game with Flanagan, Palmer and McGregor. How could he know the whole team would stop hitting, would get impatient, would start swinging at bad 2-0 pitches, grounding the other way, instead of waiting the Pirates out? Yeah, but who got impatient first? Who sent Flanagan in for the kill before he was ready? And how, if only subconsciously, did this affect the players and Weaver? Certainly, they—and he—might not believe he is a genius, but such is his aura that when he makes a mistake, it looms large. Something has gone wrong.
By the end of the Series, Weaver was whipped. The man who thrives on enthusiasm was nearly defeatist for public consumption and frankly so in private. "I don't have a good feeling about this one," he allowed grievously just before the seventh game.
Even then it was close. If McGregor doesn't throw the high curve to Stargell for the home run, the Orioles might win it, 1-0. They do that, maybe they don't start bad this year. Win the Series, there'd be no questions, no doubts. There'd be, instead, talk of dynasty, of the Orioles' having the momentum coming into the '80s. Momentum beats reasons. Momentum is next to godliness. Instead, the Orioles seemed unsure of themselves. Did something happen? Did they stop believing in themselves when they blew the 3-1 lead? Did they stop believing in Weaver?
Significantly, perhaps, Weaver began to grouse that 1980 was starting to remind him of '72. That was the season after the Orioles traded Frank Robinson and nobody could hit. It was also the year after the Series in which they blew a 2-0 lead in games to Pittsburgh and lost it all in the seventh game at home. In '72 Earl's Orioles had their worst record ever (80-74).
The main difference is that in '72 everybody kept saying: Will the Orioles come out of their slump? In '80, people asked: Can Earl bring them out of their slump? Well, can you, Earl?
Earl says a dirty word. It isn't easy being a certified——genius.