By Jason LaCanfora
August 4, 1996
Weaver could be menacing and rude. Umpires ejected him 98 times. He feuded with his players -- just about everyone he managed fought with him at least once.
But there's an Earl Weaver who sat in his office and wept when he had to release a player. There's the man who would go out of his way to meet fans when he really didn't have the time, and the manager who would feed stories to anxious reporters as deadline approached.
He could go at it with a player, then hours later put him in the lineup and assure him everything was fine.
Weaver says his friends are few, yet a legion of past players and acquaintances say they are proud to know him because he's a good person and not because he's being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., today.
"He's a very sensitive person," said Elrod Hendricks, a player and coach for Weaver. "He gets his feelings hurt a lot easier than people know. He really has not changed. He's always been this way, but he never let a lot of people into the other side of Earl."
His temper could push him to the brink of losing control. Weaver's tirades against umpires could be costly: His players say some umpires made calls against the Orioles to spite the manager. Weaver provoked confrontations with his players, too, but didn't hold a grudge.
One night in the mid-1970s, Weaver yelled "home run or Rochester" the first two times Bobby Grich, recently promoted from the Triple-A Red Wings, came to bat. When Grich returned to the dugout, a shouting match ensued, and he threw Weaver down the steps leading to the clubhouse. Grich had to be restrained from further damage, but Weaver quickly forgot the incident and Grich returned to second base, where he started for the next six seasons.
Weaver once instructed a reliever, who was throwing poorly at the time, to warm up in the middle innings while Jim Palmer was on the mound, just to get a reaction out of his starter. Palmer and Weaver argued on the mound and Palmer cussed him out every inning, but he pitched a complete game, the Orioles won and there were no hard feelings.
In 1977, Weaver and Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson were often mad at each other. Robinson no longer was starting, but in the 10th inning of a rainy, April weeknight game against the Cleveland Indians, Robinson had a pinch-hit, three-run homer to win the game.
Despite the insignificance of the victory, Weaver later said that home run was the second-biggest thrill of his career, surpassed only by winning the 1970 World Series.
Weaver respected players who argued back. In fact, he listened to their side, players say.
In 1971, Weaver feuded with Don Buford because he wanted the leadoff hitter to take more pitches. After much debate and a wager, Buford convinced Weaver that pitchers wouldn't walk him to get to the heart of the Orioles lineup. Weaver let Buford swing away, and he responded with 19 home runs, the second-most by a leadoff man in Orioles history.
"I love Earl and appreciate the things he let me do," said Buford, now the Orioles assistant director of player development. "You could go toe-to-toe, face-to-face and cheek-to-cheek with him, and, no matter what, the next day it was forgotten. That was outstanding."
His players have called him the greatest amateur psychologist around. He could mix negative reinforcement and slight praise, motivating his players either way.
Some players, such as Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray, didn't need prodding. Weaver knew others, like a young Cal Ripken, would respond to positive feedback. He frequently checked on Ripken to instill confidence as he moved through the minors.
"He protected you in the media," Ripken said. "He protected you in the front office. It was my experience that he battled for you in every respect."
Growing up tough
Weaver's combative nature took shape in his childhood years. ++ He was raised in a tough section of St. Louis. As a small 12-year-old, he was playing baseball against 16-year-olds. Weaver, who turns 66 on Aug. 14, would get teased and beat up because of his size.
"I got in a lot of fights as a kid, and because I had some baseball ability, I was always playing with guys three or four years older," said Weaver, generously listed as 5 feet 8 in Orioles publications. "So whenever I got in a fight, I got beat up."
Weaver left home shortly after graduating from high school.
"I signed at 17 years old and didn't have no further education," Weaver said. "So baseball was what I was educated in, and I decided to stay in that."
He paid his dues as a minor-league player and manager for 20 years, fighting all the way. Fighting the opposition. Fighting umpires. Fighting his players. Fighting himself.
"He told me a long time ago how tough it was for him as a kid," Hendricks said, "not having much and getting jumped and everything. So he had to be tough. It didn't just happen by accident. He's always felt like he had to defend himself in life because basically he's had to battle for everything he's owned."
Boog Powell first played with Weaver in the minors in 1959, when Weaver was still young enough to be a player/manager. They rose together through the system, and eventually Powell played for Weaver in Baltimore.
"Earl is a very caring human being underneath the facade, underneath all of the BS and the carrying on," Powell said. "And we all knew that. We felt like family, and when I left here, I felt like I had left my family. You always knew that Earl would do anything in the world he could for you."
The hardest part for Weaver was telling someone he was no longer needed. Pat Santarone, a former Orioles groundskeeper and friend of Weaver's for more than 30 years, said he often would see the manager's eyes well up with tears before he released a player.
"I would worry about releasing a guy night and day," said Weaver, who'd give a released player leads on a new job, even though he might come back to hurt the Orioles. "It hurts inside, especially a guy that gave you great service. But I had to be the guy that told them. I didn't want them to hear it from anybody but me. Two or three days before it happens, you don't sleep. That was one of the reasons I retired."
On such occasions, stepdaughter Kim Ross found it best to leave him alone with their two dogs.
She said: "I always used to think if everybody could see him around those dogs they'd be amazed at how gentle he could be."
In 17 years with the Orioles, Weaver's clubs won six division titles, four pennants and the 1970 World Series. He compiled a .583 winning percentage, ninth all-time. His teams won 100 or more games five times. He had just one losing season. Three times, Weaver was Manager of the Year. He won at least 100 games three consecutive seasons (1969 to 1971) -- only two other managers, Connie Mack and Billy Southworth, accomplished that feat.
Weaver moved Ripken to shortstop, made Buford an everyday player and kept Murray in the majors when others thought he should go back to Triple-A. He platooned John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke in left field in 1982, and they combined to hit .292 with 45 homers and 140 RBIs. He had a knack for finding role players such as Benny Ayala and Terry Crowley, who would sit on the bench without complaint and produce when called on. Past players and coaches still speak of the gift Weaver had for leaving spring training with the best team, not necessarily the best 25 players.
"I want to take some credit for that," Weaver said. "I think I perfected my baseball judgment both through the 10 years I played in the minors and my 10 years managing there."
Weaver preached fundamentals and worked his team hard during spring training until every relay throw was crisp and all cutoff plays were exact, yelling like a drill sergeant. His philosophy was simple.
"Make a mistake once, fine," Weaver said. "Make a mistake twice, accident. But don't make that mistake over and over. One guy makes a mistake, and the other 24 guys expect you to say something, no matter who that player was. That satisfies everything."
Superstition and statistics
He was superstitious, too. Weaver would rest his foot against a good-luck pole in the Memorial Stadium dugout and order anyone near it to clear out. When the Orioles were winning, Weaver never looked at a clock. And to this day, he puts his left sock on first. Weaver would talk to himself during the course of a game, apparently never realizing every snide comment was audible to his players.
"I wish I would have had a tape recorder in the dugout when he would think out loud," Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson said. "He didn't realize he was doing it, but he could say some funny things, and no one took it as being serious or malicious. It was always an upbeat and easy atmosphere with Earl managing."
Weaver was one of the first managers to use statistics on how each of his hitters and pitchers did against every other player in the league. Those "Weaver Stats" are now commonplace.
Weaver went crazy in the first game of the 1979 American League Championship Series, when he didn't have stats on California Angels reliever John Montague. Pitching coach Ray Miller was ordered to call public relations director Bob Brown and get the sheet on Montague.
Weaver noted that Lowenstein was 2-for-3 lifetime against Montague with a home run. Lowenstein's 10th-inning, pinch homer won the first game.
One day, Weaver walked up to Miller and said, "Ray, Benny Ayala. Don't forget that, Benny Ayala." That night, Ayala hit an eighth-inning pinch homer. Weeks later, Weaver mentioned Crowley to Miller; this time, Crowley got a game-winning hit.
"It just made sense to me in those days . . . to know if I had a hitter sitting on the bench in a situation that was hitting that pitcher good," Weaver said. "So I made up my lineups accordingly."
Weaver wasn't always right. He pushed current Orioles manager Davey Johnson to play in 1971, even though Johnson repeatedly said he was badly hurt. Johnson's numbers declined drastically, and, after a trade to the Atlanta Braves, who treated his sore shoulder, Johnson came back to hit 43 homers in 1973.
The Orioles were slumping in 1974 and held a players-only meeting, during which they decided to ignore Weaver's signs and installed signals of their own. The players said Weaver's love of the three-run homer was incompatible with their roster. They went on to win 26 of 31 games and advanced to the postseason.
"Any difference we ever had was overshadowed by the fact that his teams always won," Palmer said. "We always had a common goal. We sometimes let our personalities get in the way of that, but not for any length of time. I enjoyed our relationship, even though there was some tension."
Weaver's tension with umpires caused problems as well. Former pitcher Mike Flanagan said he often would throw a pitch right down the middle and the umpire would turn to the dugout, catch Weaver's eye, then call the pitch a ball. Flanagan said in such cases he would urge the umpire between innings to eject Weaver the next time he spoke out, and often they would.
Weaver, who was suspended five times, often ranted with his hat turned backward and his foot primed to kick up dirt. But when he saw former umpire Marty Springstead on the field before the All-Star Game in Philadelphia in July, Weaver sprung to his feet like a little kid. A smile flashed across his face.
Springstead, an AL ump from 1965 to 1986, ejected Weaver 11 times, including twice in 30 minutes, in the ninth inning of the first game of a doubleheader in Detroit and the first inning of the second game. But when the Orioles honored Weaver at Camden Yards recently, Springstead was there to see his old buddy.
"His record speaks for itself," Springstead said. "The guy's a winner. If I'd have owned a baseball club at that time, he's probably the guy I would've hired."
Weaver is still fighting.
Last year, Weaver took a cruise with Brown, the Orioles former public relations director, and they faced each other in the semifinals of the pingpong tournament. Brown eased up with a five-point lead late in the game, and Weaver came back to win. Weaver informed Brown he was a "choker" then beat a youngster in the final.
"I felt like if I had beat the kid, they'd probably throw me overboard," Brown said. "But Earl beat him. He wouldn't lose for the sake of losing. When it came time to present the trophy, he gave it to the kid. He's got his heart in the right place."
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