There I was, sitting in my car in the parking lot of the Virginia Avenue Sheetz yesterday ... wiping away some tears.
I knew they would come, but when they did, they came from out of the blue.
A friend had just texted to me, “ESPN in the article about Weaver referred to him as the ‘Duke of Earl’.”
“Probably some fuzzy-faced intern,” I thought to myself, “who wasn’t even alive when Earl last managed.”
So, even though I knew my friend knew, I texted back, “The Earl of Baltimore,” and that’s when it hit me. Earl Weaver was gone. The manager of our team, the Baltimore Orioles, had died on an Orioles fantasy cruise ship. Hopefully, he died happy, doing something he loved doing — like taking somebody’s money at the card table.
I’ve been messaging with my friends all day about Earl. We all grew up with Earl Weaver. None of us ever met him, but we know him. None of us ever spent a moment with him, but we love him.
If I may, I would like to run a column I wrote about The Earl of Baltimore that appeared in this space on Sunday, July 1, 2012.
When left-hander Ross Grimsley was acquired by the Baltimore Orioles prior to the 1974 season, he came from the National League with the reputation of being a spitballer. During spring training he was specifically told by Orioles brass that there would be none of that here. Orioles pitchers do not throw at opposing hitters and Orioles pitchers do not load up or cut the ball. Orioles pitchers pitch the proper way — The Oriole Way. And why not? They had produced a dozen 20-game winners in the previous six years.
Fast forward to a September game in which the Orioles were battling their way to the American League East title (it happened quite frequently in those days, kids). Grimsley, who would win 18 games his first season in Baltimore, was on the mound and he was in a jam. The Orioles needed the game (they eventually beat out the Yankees by two games) and it had clearly reached its most critical juncture.
Out from the dugout walked the Orioles’ pitching coach George Bamberger, no doubt, to remedy a certain flaw he had detected in Grimsley’s pace or delivery. This is what the Orioles’ brilliant pitching coach told Ross Grimsley: “Earl said if you know how to cheat, he wouldn’t wait one pitch longer.”
And that, friends, was the essence of Baseball Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, the greatest manager in Orioles history and one of the greatest managers in baseball history, who was immortalized yesterday with the unveiling of a seven-foot statue at Camden Yards.
Weaver is likely better known to the YouTube generation for his classic confrontations with umpires, once saying, “The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager because it won’t hurt the team if he gets thrown out of the game.”
Over the course of his 17-year career, Earl made sure his team wasn’t hurt 97 times, including once in 1969 when he became the first manager in 34 years to be tossed from a World Series game.
In Baltimore, though, Weaver was better known for his battles with his own Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, although the two shared more of father-prodigal son relationship than either one would ever admit. The two met in 1967 after Palmer developed a sore arm and was sent to Triple A Rochester where Weaver was managing. In 1969, Palmer was back with the Orioles after Weaver had become their manager and they remained together until 1982, when Weaver retired for the first time.
In its review of Palmer’s hilarious book, “Palmer and Weaver: Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine,” Publishers Weekly reported, ”Superficially, they were vastly different: Palmer was cerebral, tall and handsome; Weaver was emotional, short and not so handsome. Yet they had their similarities: stubbornness and single-minded devotion to winning. They fought in the clubhouse, on the field, in the press, but their mutual will to win helped the Orioles be the most successful major-league team of the ’70s.”
Palmer famously said, “The only thing Earl knows about pitching is he couldn’t hit it.”
Weaver, no wallflower himself, once said, “The Chinese tell time by ‘The Year of the Horse’ or ‘The Year of the Dragon.’ I tell time by ‘The Year of the Back’ and ‘The Year of the Elbow.’ This year it's the ‘Year of the Ulnar Nerve.’
“Someone once asked me if I had any physical incapacities of my own. ‘Sure I do,’ I said. ‘One big one — Jim Palmer.’ ”
Weaver, whose autobiography was titled, “It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts,” always said, “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three-run homers,” and that is how the Orioles played and won, five times winning 100 games or more, 11 times winning at least 90, six AL East titles, four pennants and the 1970 World Series. Weaver’s lifetime winning percentage of .583 ranks ninth all-time among baseball managers.
If there was a knock on Weaver it was that he lost three World Series, but that wouldn’t be a problem many managers would mind having.
After the Orioles had lost the 1979 World Series in seven games, Weaver credited the victorious Pittsburgh Pirates for his club’s inability to hold a 3-1 lead in games at home. “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock,” he said. “You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”
Weaver announced his retirement prior to the 1982 season, and after the Orioles lost the final game of the year to the Milwaukee Brewers in what was essentially the division championship game, despite a 10-2 game having been decided early, not one fan in sold-out Memorial Stadium would leave until they could say goodbye to Earl Weaver.
Finally, Weaver came out, followed by the rest of the Orioles, to say goodbye to the fans. And for the next 45 minutes, the Earl of Baltimore waved goodbye for what we all believed to be the final time. Through a deafening and continuous roar, none other than the great Howard Cosell described on ABC Television one of the most emotional and heart-warming moments in Orioles history:
“You are bearing witness to one of the most remarkable scenes maybe that you will ever see in sports. Yes, the fans have stayed. They have stayed to cheer and to honor the retiring manager of the Birds of Baltimore. A man, who in 15 years, has become an absolute legend.
“The defeat will hurt ... there’s Harvey Kuenn over to congratulate him, and Earl Weaver is crying. And you can understand why. Very rarely has there been a scene like this, if ever.
“These people of this city, a city that has become a beautiful city under a brilliant mayor, with an inner harbor equivalent of Boston. And there’s Edward Bennett Williams, the owner, the great criminal attorney. And there they are standing and chanting, all of them, in unison.
“And the sign says it all, ‘Goodbye Earl.’ And you deserve it. You’ve been one of the greatest managers in the history of the game.”
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org