At the hot molten core of Earl Weaver was passion, which was his greatest gift to baseball in Baltimore. Ballgames were won by Eddie Murray crushing one into the cheap seats or Jim Palmer mowing them down from the top of his little hill. But ballgames mean nothing if the heart isn't involved.
For 17 seasons, Weaver brought heart. He stirred the juices. He seemed to
capture all the ragged emotions of an entire community that embraced his
ballclubs. The record says he goes to Cooperstown now, to baseball's Hall of
Fame, for the 1,480 victories, for the pennants and the world championship.
But the record doesn't quite capture the Vesuvian spirit of the man.
At Memorial Stadium, he stood in his little corner of the Oriole dugout
and waited for the world to turn against him. A pitch that missed by inches,
and Weaver was hollering abuse. A close call at second, and he was pouncing
out of the dugout on those abbreviated legs, on his way to being thrown out of
91 games -- 91! Added together, more than half a season! More than the
combined total of all the other major league managers of Weaver's era!
Here's the remarkable part of it: If you stood in Weaver's little corner
of the dugout (I did; I wanted to see the world through Earl's perspective),
you had maybe the worst view of anybody in the entire ballpark. He was below
ground level, and the field slanted back to the dugouts. He was looking
uphill, at an angle. There was no way to distinguish a ball from a strike, no
way to see clearly if a tag was made or missed on the base paths.
But, somehow, Weaver knew. And, in an instant, he was on the field in a
rage, cap turned around, feet kicking dirt, fingers poking in the direction of
umpires' eyes, reddened face screaming language that couldn't be heard because
the roar of the delighted home crowd drowned out everything.
One night, a Washington television station secretly put a microphone on an
umpire named Bill Haller. I still have the tape. Haller signals a balk on an
Orioles pitcher, and a furious Weaver, sounding like a man on the brink of a
myocardial infarction, accuses Haller of missing the call and subsequently
putting his finger on Weaver.
"Don't you ever put your finger on me," Weaver screams, "or I'll knock you
right on your [bleep]." Haller says he never touched Weaver, and then
commences the following shrieked dialogue. Bear in mind, these are grown-ups
doing the shrieking:
Weaver: "You're lying."
Haller: "No, you are."
Weaver: "You're a liar."
Haller: "You're a bigger liar."
Weaver: "No, you are."
Haller: "You're a liar, Earl."
Weaver: "No, you are."
From the stands, none of this could be heard. Up there, it seemed a
miniature war zone on the field and Weaver was the grand protector of the home
turf. He wouldn't give in. He wouldn't let his ballclub, his community, be
It was the era when George Steinbrenner was beginning to pour staggering
money into his New York Yankees, while the Orioles prided themselves on being
"the best team money can't buy." Weaver, the little guy, seemed the embodiment
of this tag for a city that saw itself as puny and undernourished next to the
wealthy, big-market ballclubs.
On any given night, he brought electricity to the ballpark. Such
excitement has never arrived at the new Oriole Park, where the yuppies read
the Wall Street Journal and chat on their cellular phones between pitches and
the ballclub, taking its cue, has strolled through placid, underachieving
On that October day in 1991 that they played the final baseball game at
Memorial Stadium, John Lowenstein, the philosopher-outfielder, stood outside
the Orioles dugout and said almost all his memories of the game were tied to
Weaver -- including the first American League playoff game in 1979, when
Weaver sent Lowenstein in to pinch hit and he lofted a game-winning home run.
"I got two quick strikes on me," Lowenstein remembered, "and I call time
out and step out of the batter's box. I look over in the dugout, and there's
Earl smoking a cigarette. I'm thinking, 'Hey, I don't want to embarrass
myself. There's people all over the world watching me.'
"So I hit this fly ball to left. I'm thinking, 'Great, maybe it'll get a
runner in.' And then I hear this tremendous roar. It's out of there, my God!
And I'm rounding second and I see some little guy come running on the field,
out past the third-base line, out toward shortstop. It's Earl! I go, 'Hey,
Earl.' His arms are out. And he's got his cigarette in his mouth."
That was Earl. They'll put him in the Hall of Fame for his victories and
his pennants and his title. But we know better. What Weaver brought the game
was passion, which we remember long after any final pitch has been thrown.