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Beyond tantrums, was hidden Weaver

There's a side of Earl Weaver few people have seen, far removed from theman remembered for kicking and screaming his way through 17 seasons managingthe Orioles.

Weaver could be menacing and rude. Umpires ejected him 98 times. He feudedwith his players -- just about everyone he managed fought with him at leastonce.

But there's an Earl Weaver who sat in his office and wept when he had torelease a player. There's the man who would go out of his way to meet fanswhen he really didn't have the time, and the manager who would feed stories toanxious reporters as deadline approached.

He could go at it with a player, then hours later put him in the lineupand assure him everything was fine.

Weaver says his friends are few, yet a legion of past players andacquaintances say they are proud to know him because he's a good person andnot 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 coachfor Weaver. "He gets his feelings hurt a lot easier than people know. Hereally has not changed. He's always been this way, but he never let a lot ofpeople into the other side of Earl."

His temper could push him to the brink of losing control. Weaver's tiradesagainst umpires could be costly: His players say some umpires made callsagainst the Orioles to spite the manager. Weaver provoked confrontations withhis players, too, but didn't hold a grudge.

One night in the mid-1970s, Weaver yelled "home run or Rochester" thefirst 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, andhe threw Weaver down the steps leading to the clubhouse. Grich had to berestrained from further damage, but Weaver quickly forgot the incident andGrich returned to second base, where he started for the next six seasons.

Weaver once instructed a reliever, who was throwing poorly at the time, towarm up in the middle innings while Jim Palmer was on the mound, just to get areaction out of his starter. Palmer and Weaver argued on the mound and Palmercussed him out every inning, but he pitched a complete game, the Orioles wonand there were no hard feelings.

In 1977, Weaver and Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson were oftenmad at each other. Robinson no longer was starting, but in the 10th inning ofa rainy, April weeknight game against the Cleveland Indians, Robinson had apinch-hit, three-run homer to win the game.

Despite the insignificance of the victory, Weaver later said that home runwas the second-biggest thrill of his career, surpassed only by winning the1970 World Series.

Weaver respected players who argued back. In fact, he listened to theirside, players say.

In 1971, Weaver feuded with Don Buford because he wanted the leadoffhitter to take more pitches. After much debate and a wager, Buford convincedWeaver that pitchers wouldn't walk him to get to the heart of the Orioleslineup. Weaver let Buford swing away, and he responded with 19 home runs, thesecond-most by a leadoff man in Orioles history.

"I love Earl and appreciate the things he let me do," said Buford, now theOrioles 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 itwas forgotten. That was outstanding."

His players have called him the greatest amateur psychologist around. Hecould mix negative reinforcement and slight praise, motivating his playerseither way.

Some players, such as Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray, didn't needprodding. Weaver knew others, like a young Cal Ripken, would respond topositive feedback. He frequently checked on Ripken to instill confidence as hemoved through the minors.

"He protected you in the media," Ripken said. "He protected you in thefront 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 wasraised in a tough section of St. Louis. As a small 12-year-old, he was playingbaseball against 16-year-olds. Weaver, who turns 66 on Aug. 14, would getteased and beat up because of his size.

"I got in a lot of fights as a kid, and because I had some baseballability, I was always playing with guys three or four years older," saidWeaver, generously listed as 5 feet 8 in Orioles publications. "So whenever Igot 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," Weaversaid. "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 hisplayers. Fighting himself.

"He told me a long time ago how tough it was for him as a kid," Hendrickssaid, "not having much and getting jumped and everything. So he had to betough. It didn't just happen by accident. He's always felt like he had todefend himself in life because basically he's had to battle for everythinghe's owned."

Boog Powell first played with Weaver in the minors in 1959, when Weaverwas still young enough to be a player/manager. They rose together through thesystem, and eventually Powell played for Weaver in Baltimore.

"Earl is a very caring human being underneath the facade, underneath allof the BS and the carrying on," Powell said. "And we all knew that. We feltlike family, and when I left here, I felt like I had left my family. Youalways 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 morethan 30 years, said he often would see the manager's eyes well up with tearsbefore he released a player.

"I would worry about releasing a guy night and day," said Weaver, who'dgive a released player leads on a new job, even though he might come back tohurt the Orioles. "It hurts inside, especially a guy that gave you greatservice. But I had to be the guy that told them. I didn't want them to hear itfrom 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 alonewith their two dogs.

She said: "I always used to think if everybody could see him around thosedogs they'd be amazed at how gentle he could be."

Winning moves

In 17 years with the Orioles, Weaver's clubs won six division titles, fourpennants 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 onelosing season. Three times, Weaver was Manager of the Year. He won at least100 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 keptMurray in the majors when others thought he should go back to Triple-A. Heplatooned John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke in left field in 1982, and theycombined to hit .292 with 45 homers and 140 RBIs. He had a knack for findingrole players such as Benny Ayala and Terry Crowley, who would sit on the benchwithout complaint and produce when called on. Past players and coaches stillspeak 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 perfectedmy baseball judgment both through the 10 years I played in the minors and my10 years managing there."

Weaver preached fundamentals and worked his team hard during springtraining 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 theother 24 guys expect you to say something, no matter who that player was. Thatsatisfies everything."

Superstition and statistics

He was superstitious, too. Weaver would rest his foot against a good-luckpole 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 thisday, he puts his left sock on first. Weaver would talk to himself during thecourse of a game, apparently never realizing every snide comment was audibleto his players.

"I wish I would have had a tape recorder in the dugout when he would thinkout loud," Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson said. "He didn't realize hewas doing it, but he could say some funny things, and no one took it as beingserious or malicious. It was always an upbeat and easy atmosphere with Earlmanaging."

Weaver was one of the first managers to use statistics on how each of hishitters 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 LeagueChampionship Series, when he didn't have stats on California Angels relieverJohn Montague. Pitching coach Ray Miller was ordered to call public relationsdirector Bob Brown and get the sheet on Montague.

Weaver noted that Lowenstein was 2-for-3 lifetime against Montague with ahome run. Lowenstein's 10th-inning, pinch homer won the first game.

One day, Weaver walked up to Miller and said, "Ray, Benny Ayala. Don'tforget that, Benny Ayala." That night, Ayala hit an eighth-inning pinch homer.Weeks later, Weaver mentioned Crowley to Miller; this time, Crowley got agame-winning hit.

"It just made sense to me in those days . . . to know if I had a hittersitting on the bench in a situation that was hitting that pitcher good,"Weaver said. "So I made up my lineups accordingly."

Common goals

Weaver wasn't always right. He pushed current Orioles manager DaveyJohnson to play in 1971, even though Johnson repeatedly said he was badlyhurt. Johnson's numbers declined drastically, and, after a trade to theAtlanta Braves, who treated his sore shoulder, Johnson came back to hit 43homers in 1973.

The Orioles were slumping in 1974 and held a players-only meeting, duringwhich they decided to ignore Weaver's signs and installed signals of theirown. The players said Weaver's love of the three-run homer was incompatiblewith their roster. They went on to win 26 of 31 games and advanced to thepostseason.

"Any difference we ever had was overshadowed by the fact that his teamsalways won," Palmer said. "We always had a common goal. We sometimes let ourpersonalities get in the way of that, but not for any length of time. Ienjoyed our relationship, even though there was some tension."

Weaver's tension with umpires caused problems as well. Former pitcher MikeFlanagan said he often would throw a pitch right down the middle and theumpire would turn to the dugout, catch Weaver's eye, then call the pitch aball. Flanagan said in such cases he would urge the umpire between innings toeject Weaver the next time he spoke out, and often they would.

Weaver, who was suspended five times, often ranted with his hat turnedbackward and his foot primed to kick up dirt. But when he saw former umpireMarty Springstead on the field before the All-Star Game in Philadelphia inJuly, Weaver sprung to his feet like a little kid. A smile flashed across hisface.

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 adoubleheader in Detroit and the first inning of the second game. But when theOrioles honored Weaver at Camden Yards recently, Springstead was there to seehis old buddy.

"His record speaks for itself," Springstead said. "The guy's a winner. IfI'd have owned a baseball club at that time, he's probably the guy I would'vehired."

Weaver is still fighting.

Last year, Weaver took a cruise with Brown, the Orioles former publicrelations director, and they faced each other in the semifinals of thepingpong 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 beata 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. Whenit came time to present the trophy, he gave it to the kid. He's got his heartin the right place."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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