Passion was Weaver's greatest gift

At the hot molten core of Earl Weaver was passion, which was his greatestgift to baseball in Baltimore. Ballgames were won by Eddie Murray crushing oneinto the cheap seats or Jim Palmer mowing them down from the top of his littlehill. But ballgames mean nothing if the heart isn't involved.

For 17 seasons, Weaver brought heart. He stirred the juices. He seemed tocapture all the ragged emotions of an entire community that embraced hisballclubs. The record says he goes to Cooperstown now, to baseball's Hall ofFame, 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.

He raged, he burned. He sat in his little corner of the dugout with thespirit of the little loner who refuses to let the big city slickers put oneover on him. He'd been too long in the minor league tank towns to let thesemajor leaguers cheat him, and he retained the outsider's edginess to the veryend.

At Memorial Stadium, he stood in his little corner of the Oriole dugoutand 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 pouncingout of the dugout on those abbreviated legs, on his way to being thrown out of91 games -- 91! Added together, more than half a season! More than thecombined 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 cornerof 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 belowground level, and the field slanted back to the dugouts. He was lookinguphill, at an angle. There was no way to distinguish a ball from a strike, noway 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 arage, cap turned around, feet kicking dirt, fingers poking in the direction ofumpires' eyes, reddened face screaming language that couldn't be heard becausethe roar of the delighted home crowd drowned out everything.

One night, a Washington television station secretly put a microphone on anumpire named Bill Haller. I still have the tape. Haller signals a balk on anOrioles pitcher, and a furious Weaver, sounding like a man on the brink of amyocardial infarction, accuses Haller of missing the call and subsequentlyputting his finger on Weaver.

"Don't you ever put your finger on me," Weaver screams, "or I'll knock youright on your [bleep]." Haller says he never touched Weaver, and thencommences the following shrieked dialogue. Bear in mind, these are grown-upsdoing 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 aminiature war zone on the field and Weaver was the grand protector of the hometurf. He wouldn't give in. He wouldn't let his ballclub, his community, becheated.

It was the era when George Steinbrenner was beginning to pour staggeringmoney 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 embodimentof this tag for a city that saw itself as puny and undernourished next to thewealthy, big-market ballclubs.

On any given night, he brought electricity to the ballpark. Suchexcitement has never arrived at the new Oriole Park, where the yuppies readthe Wall Street Journal and chat on their cellular phones between pitches andthe ballclub, taking its cue, has strolled through placid, underachievingsummers.

On that October day in 1991 that they played the final baseball game atMemorial Stadium, John Lowenstein, the philosopher-outfielder, stood outsidethe Orioles dugout and said almost all his memories of the game were tied toWeaver -- including the first American League playoff game in 1979, whenWeaver 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 timeout and step out of the batter's box. I look over in the dugout, and there'sEarl smoking a cigarette. I'm thinking, 'Hey, I don't want to embarrassmyself. 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 arunner 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 andhis pennants and his title. But we know better. What Weaver brought the gamewas passion, which we remember long after any final pitch has been thrown.

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