01/19/2013 2:20 PM ET
Weaver was an extraordinary manager and man
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
Let's begin with the day Earl Weaver's pitching coach, Ray Miller, went to grab a copy of the lineup card. As Miller glanced at the names, Weaver spoke up.
"Benny Ayala," Weaver said.
Miller looked at the card and checked the lineup Weaver had written down. No Benny Ayala. Had there been a mistake?
"You don't have him in the lineup, Earl," Miller said.
"Benny Ayala," he repeated.
That night, Weaver summoned Ayala from the bench late in the game and watched him hit a game-winning home run. Yes, he called it three hours before the first pitch was thrown. Weaver had played the game in his head, had gone through the potential late-game match-ups and was hoping for one in particular.
When a certain reliever -- the one Weaver had been hoping to see -- walked to the mound, he had Ayala ready. And that was how one of Weaver's 1,480 victories came to be.
As Ken Singleton said, "It's pretty comforting to know your manager is two steps ahead of the guy in the other dugout."
Weaver, who died Saturday at 82, was wildly popular in Charm City. He was a little rooster of a man, charming and profane, combative and absolutely brilliant. His genius was in not just the game -- although he knew it better than almost anyone -- but in knowing people and what motivated them.
He was the first manager to extensively use pitcher-versus-hitter match-ups in his lineups and bullpen decisions. He was also one of the first to announce that bunting -- that is, giving away outs -- was dumb.
"When you play for one run, you usually get one run," he said.
Weaver wanted pitching, defense and three-run home runs.
Tony La Russa, among others, studied Weaver's tactics and picked his brain about everything from lineups to motivating players. In 17 seasons, Weaver won four American League pennants and a World Series. He did it with great players --Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, etc. He also put average players --Terry Crowley, Gary Roenicke and, yes, Ayala -- in position to occasionally do great things.
It was Weaver's idea to shift Cal Ripken Jr. from third to short. The Baltimore front office thought it was a terrible idea because Ripken was bigger and stronger than virtually any shortstop in history. Weaver believed it would work because he knew how Ripken was driven to succeed, and how positioning and smarts can help overcome limited range. And, well, Weaver loved having a shortstop who'd hit 25 home runs.
Today, as news of Weaver's death circulates through baseball, there are dozens of people -- Eddie Murray, Palmer, Scott McGregor, Al Bumbry, Crowley -- who believe they've lost a huge influence in their lives.
Weaver's role in making the Orioles one of baseball's cornerstone franchises can't be overstated. The Oriole Way began with Weaver and Cal Ripken Sr. developing a binder of rules and recommendations dealing with everything from the development of pitchers to how to position cutoff men.
For about 20 years, the Orioles were smarter and more efficient than almost any franchise in the game. They prided themselves on doing more with less, and Weaver was critical to their success.
He was also one of the great characters in the game. He was funny and caring one minute, annoying and testy the next. It's fair to say his players despised him at various times. In fact, it's fair to say he occasionally annoyed a lot of people.
After one particularly tough loss, Weaver chewed out the visiting clubhouse guy in Milwaukee over, well, sliced tomatoes.
"Who taught you how to slice tomatoes?" Weaver screamed.
With that, Weaver summoned the poor guy to a table, grabbed a knife and showed him the proper way to slice a tomato.
One of his favorites was a part-time player named Pat Kelly, a deeply religious man, so much so that Weaver tried to play him on Sundays hoping the Lord would see such a move favorably. There was the time Kelly asked to use Weaver's office for his Sunday pre-game chapel service.
As Weaver vacated his office, Kelly heard him muttering.
"Earl," Kelly asked him, "Don't you want to walk with the Lord?"
"I'd rather walk with the bases loaded," Weaver snapped, cackling with laughter.
Once, when he had pitcher Mike Flanagan working on holding runners on, Weaver was dancing off first base. As Flanagan delivered a pitch to the plate, Weaver screamed, "I just stole second off you."
This went on a couple more times, and on a hot Miami day, Flanagan lost his temper. After Weaver loudly announced he'd just stolen second again, Flanagan screamed, "Yeah? Well, how'd you get on first in the first place?"
When Flanagan won 23 games in 1979, Weaver surprisingly named his veteran, Palmer, to start Game 1 of the playoffs against the Angels.
Upon being informed of Weaver's decision by reporters, Palmer said, "Hold it. I'll go talk to Earl. It has to be Flanny."
Palmer disappeared into Weaver's office, and moments later, the manager was heard screaming, "Well, why don't you telephone [Angels manager] Gene Mauch and set up his rotation, too?"
Umpires sometimes tired of him, too. Weaver had a raspy voice, and occasionally just to irritate him, they'd pretend not to hear his constant screaming.
"What's that, Earl?" they'd yell back at the dugout.
Weaver would scream even louder, or attempt to, which only made his voice raspier.
"Sorry, Earl, I can't hear you," the umpire would yell back.
All that said, Weaver's players understood how lucky they were to have someone so brilliant and so competitive, someone who -- beneath the bluster -- had an incredibly soft heart.
When a sportswriter informed Weaver late in a season that a certain player still needed more at-bats to qualify for a bonus, Weaver grimaced.
"I wish you hadn't told me," Weaver said. "Now I'm going to have to get it for him. I have to do it for him and his family."
Weaver had broken into the Minor Leagues in 1948 and spent 14 seasons there, getting as far as Triple-A for only a handful of games. He made so little money that he supplemented his income by servicing parking meters during the offseason back home in St. Louis.
Reporters loved Weaver. He was painfully honest, always available and always respectful. He was also hilarious.
"Line us up and shoot us," Weaver announced after a particularly tough loss. "That's what we deserve."
Another time, a reporter entered his office to find Weaver being interviewed by a high school girl.
Actually, he'd taken the tape recorder from the girl and was interviewing himself.
"Now you want to ask me about the pitching," Weaver said. "Well, we've got Mike Boddicker and Scott McGregor and ..."
After one game, he saw a young woman reporter furiously scribbling down his quotes.
"Stop writing!" he screamed.
"This isn't the good stuff," he said.
Minutes later, he's offering opinions on everything from pitching to fast food to the best way to grow tomatoes.
But the young woman was still too scared to write anything. Seeing this, he said, "Hey, you'd better get all this down. this is the good stuff."
Weaver once gave a young reporter his 10 rules for being a good baseball writer, telling him, among other things, "Get rid of that Big Chief tablet and get a real notebook."
He was hilariously superstitious. He had his lucky spot in the dugout, his lucky shoes, his lucky this and that.
Weaver had a cigarette pocket sewn into the inside of his uniform top and would slip down the dugout to grab a smoke during close games.
When the Orioles summoned him to see the rough clay version of the statue that was unveiled last summer, he was overcome with emotion upon seeing the outline of the cigarette pocket.
"You got it just right," he said, choking back tears.
Okay, here's another good one.
All heck broke loose at the end of a doubleheader in Cleveland when a ball got stuck in a tarp in the bottom of the ninth inning. As the Orioles' outfielder tried to retrieve it, three Indians circled the bases and Cleveland won the game.
As the Indians celebrated and headed to the home clubhouse, Weaver walked to home plate with a copy of the rulebook.
He went over the ground rules -- once, twice, three times -- finally convincing the umpires that they'd allowed one too many Indians to score.
The Indians were summoned back from their happy clubhouse, and an hour or so later, Weaver had another of this 1,480 victories in the books.
When Miller, the pitching coach, joined Weaver's staff, he was told that part of his job would be keeping a rulebook with him at all times.
Miller was told to study the book, to take notes and to know it inside and out because there'd be times Weaver would want an interpretation and he needed it to be precise and fast.
Sure enough, after about a month on the job, Weaver goes out to argue a call. When the umpire tells him to get lost, Weaver waves for Miller to bring the rulebook out.
Weaver opened the rulebook and began to scream at the umpire. When the umpire still refused to change the call, Weaver began to ceremoniously tear up Miller's precious rulebook and throw the scraps in the air.
Those who studied photographs of Weaver and the umpire jawing in the newspapers the next morning might have noticed that Miller was on his knees frantically picking up pieces of the rulebook, in which he'd kept his notes.
Weaver retired at the end of the 1982 season, then was lured back for the '85 and '86 seasons. Ten years later, he became the 12th of 19 managers inducted into the Hall of Fame.
On that sunny afternoon in Cooperstown, as thousands of Orioles fans stood and chanted his name, Weaver was overcome by emotion. For a lot of people, those chants reminded him of all those hot summer nights at Memorial Stadium, when the place was rocking and the O's were cruising back to the playoffs.
That day, though, was just about Weaver, and he admitted to feeling a mixture of emotions as he listened to one of the soundtracks of his life.
"Don't make me cry," Weaver kept saying.
A lot of people who care about baseball in Baltimore are crying on this day, shedding tears for the little man who lived an extraordinary life and gave them so much joy.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.