Earl Weaver, a Hall-of-Fame manager for the Baltimore Orioles, passed away while on a cruise. He was 82. This one hurts because it’s one of those people who was always around during my formative years. Baseball was the first sport I attended as a spectator and the Orioles were the local team.
One of the things people remember most about the “Earl of Baltimore” were the tirades against umpires.
I had the privilege of viewing a few of those myself, including an awesome “plate burial” in September of 1981 in a game against the Oakland A’s that I remember like it was yesterday. Too funny; Tony Armas was up, and Tim Stoddard missed with a 2-2 pitch the entire Baltimore team thought was strike three. The next pitch, Armas hit into the bullpen, and the Orioles exploded. Rick Dempsey threw a ball into the upper deck behind the plate, and Weaver just came out and calmly spread dirt across the plate.
I think I especially remember that game because some guy named Ripken came up to pinch hit. My sister and I were in despair because he was clearly overmatched; waving at three pitches to end the game. I’ve heard he got better.
My sister, when she was a big baseball fan, would take me, and we would watch the Orioles at old Baltimore Memorial Stadium. Those were the days when Baltimore was a working-class city, and demanded a working-class product. There weren’t many superstars in Baltimore during the Weaver years but the teams the Orioles fielded were sound, superb and knew how to play the game. The Orioles were in position to win consistently.
And Weaver was such a huge part of that; to the point people stated he couldn’t win the Big One. To win the Big One, you have to get to the Big One and Weaver did that four times. Few remember the Orioles were the team that played the “Amazin” Mets in 1969, or the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates. Weaver was the manager of those teams, and somehow crafted a squad that defeated the Cincinnati Reds but lost in a tough, highly competitive World Series to the Roberto Clemente-led Pirates. I believe the last game Clemente played was against the Orioles in Baltimore; a Game Seven 2-1 loss against the Frank Robinson-led Orioles.
Weaver’s battles with Hall-of-Famer Jim Palmer were legendary. Palmer liked to say the only thing Weaver knew about pitching was, he couldn’t hit it. I’m sure Palmer is one of the greats weeping over the passing of Weaver. Sparky Lyle, Yankees reliever, Cy Young award winner, wrote about Weaver in the book “Bronx Zoo”. It was a not-so-pleasant experience with Weaver, where Earl would yell at the opposing pitcher to “get that shit of yours over”. Lyle acknowledged Weaver won, and mostly due to his abrasive style. He and Billy Martin loved to embarrass each other with archaic rules. One night, Mike Flanagan was pitching well, but with one sleeve shorter than the other. Martin told the umpire about it and the trainer had to come out with scissors to cut the long sleeve. Weaver disappeared down the tunnel to smoke. Ha! Those were the days when players and managers were expected to know the rules, instead of making them up as they went along like they do now.
Weaver was one of those baseball men who knew when to say when. He retired in 1982, when the Orioles were trailing the Milwaukee Brewers by three games with four in Baltimore to be played. My sister and I attended a doubleheader which Baltimore swept. The Orioles won the Saturday game, so the Sunday game was for the division championship. That Sunday, Jim Palmer got shelled, the Orioles lost and Earl retired. The next year, the Orioles won the World Series with Joe Altobelli as manager. Altobelli got fired, and the Orioles brought back Weaver. It was never the same. A lot of Weaver’s guys left, or retired and the pitching staff was never the same.
I think Earl had heard no one had ever gotten kicked out of an All-Star Game. So he did.