February 28, 2004
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The fight and fury of Earl Weaver is all gone. The
Hall of Fame manager admitted as much yesterday, when he made his annual stop
at Orioles camp to pick up his spring training tickets and shake a few hands.
Short and sweet: That about describes Weaver's visit -- and, strangely, after all these years, it describes Weaver, too.
"I had a lot of happy years, but managing is not easy. It's not fun. You're always stepping on someone else's toes. You have to be that kind of person. When you have to release a person like Lee May, things like that started to get to me," Weaver said.
In other words: No way Weaver comes back and does what oldsters like Frank Robinson or Jack McKeon do.
"That's their choice. They enjoy it. I kind of got a little soft-hearted at the end. When you have to sit a player like Brooks Robinson on the bench, that got to me. I don't want any part of that heartache," he said.
"Besides, I don't know about McKeon or Frank, but I have a lot of doctors' appointments I have to take time to go to," he said.
Weaver did want to spend a few minutes with the new skipper of an organization now deeply committed to returning to the Oriole way of Weaver's pennant-winning, 100-win years. So the old manager and the new one, Lee Mazzilli, sat together in the dugout for a few minutes during morning drills.
"How can you not want to talk to Earl?" Mazzilli said.
Mostly they compared notes, agreeing that crisp workouts and clear expectations are good ways to keep players focused and productive.
"I don't have any advice for him. All managers in the major leagues are going to use what they've learned from past managers," Weaver said.
What kind of manager will Mazzilli turn out to be?
It's one of the most interesting story lines of the spring and coming season, as scrutiny comes and defining moments arise. There's a ways to go in the process, especially as Mazzilli, Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan have to make decisions on several important fronts.
Who's going to be in the starting rotation behind Sidney Ponson? Mazzilli said he wants to use anyone who's ready, anyone who can help the Orioles win.
What's going to happen at second base, where Jerry Hairston might think it's his job to lose except that Brian Roberts offers versatility as a switch-hitter?
Whether or not the Orioles decide to trade one of the second basemen might influence the decision of whether to keep Mark McLemore as a very versatile backup, or, if both second basemen make the roster, what do you do with Jack Cust, B.J. Surhoff, Marty Cordova, David Segui or the Rule 5 player, Jose Bautista?
"We're set in a lot of areas, but it's more like we have to find a guy to take out of spots," Mazzilli said.
"We have to let it play out," he said.
For a prologue on the Mazzilli years, Orioles fans can watch TV the next few days and see a new ad featuring the new Orioles manager. It's a funny bit about how eager Mazzilli is for the season to start.
Mazzilli is filmed inside an empty, snow-covered Camden Yards, yelling at a phantom umpire for blowing calls.
Seeing the spot, one thing's immediately apparent: Mazzilli is a great actor, a smooth operator who knows when to thicken the Brooklyn accent and how to spice his speech with hand gestures straight out of Little Italy.
Still, he's no Earl Weaver -- and we mean that in a positive sense.
Weaver is the American League leader in ejections with 91, not to mention four suspensions. But for all the cap-backward, chin-to-chin screaming he did with the umps, it was a picnic compared with the way he relentlessly beat on players.
"Earl was hard on players, hard on his staff," Orioles vice president Flanagan said yesterday, which has to be the greatest understatement of the past two centuries.
A famous quote about Weaver -- among many -- defines a hard-driving, critical leader who poked and provoked his players to perform: "You know Earl. He's not happy unless he's not happy."
If Weaver barked his way through the clubhouse, Mazzilli is 180 degrees the opposite. Hired to be as much a motivator and a communicator as a game tactician, the 48-year-old New Yorker appears to be making it a priority to build relationships that establish him as a solid, compassionate but expectant leader.
Unlike Weaver, it's easy enough to detect soft spots in Mazzilli, who said he's already not looking forward to trimming the roster, making cuts.
"Are you kidding me? You're dealing with players' livelihoods. You're dealing with their families. You have to have compassion for people. At the same time, you have to put the best people on the field. It's not easy, unless you don't care about people," Mazzilli said.
It took Earl Weaver almost eight years after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame to admit his heart ached having to make the tough decisions that go along with being a big league manager. Stepping on toes comes with the territory, just like screaming and yelling at umpires and needling and provoking his players came with Weaver's territory.
Now it's a new era starting for the Orioles, with Weaver happy to let Mazzilli take a crack at it.
"I don't have any contact with the front office. He just came out of nowhere, but I'm very interested. He's very well regimented. He's running some very good drills, working on a good schedule. This brings back some memories," Weaver said.
For all the good memories, you could tell the old manager had a few that weren't so good. It's a great job. Mazzilli, like so many coaches, was aching for his chance. Now comes the test of a lifetime: doing the job, living it.
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