COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.—Earl Weaver had to be perfect.
He wouldn't have it any other way.
Since learning of his election in March, Weaver dreamed of the afternoon when he would join the immortals of baseball in the Hall of Fame. He spent the following months writing and rewriting his speech -- rehearsing it "at least 100 times."
Weaver paced back and forth in the minutes leading up to 2: 30 p.m. yesterday, bubbling over with nervous energy and counting down the moments until the ceremonies started.
Weaver was going to stand before his St. Louis boyhood heroes Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial, thousands of fans and 31 other Hall of Famers, and the speech had to be perfect.
No excessive emotional displays. No mistakes. The same expectations Weaver set for his players during the 17 years he managed in Baltimore.
But before Weaver could speak, the fans took over. Chants of "O-R-I-O-L-E-S" rang out. Others screamed, "We love you, Earl." Weaver almost choked up.
"Please don't make me cry now," Weaver said. "I don't want to cry. Thank you, thank you."
Then Weaver explained how he felt.
"I have a tremendous feeling of humility, and this comes from the fact that I am standing in front of the greatest baseball players and baseball people who ever lived," Weaver said.
"From the time I was real young right to this day, these were the people I looked up to, idolized and worshiped. How could any baseball fan not be humbled to be included in this group of gentlemen? Believe me, it's overwhelming."
Weaver was driven to perfection as a manager and had just one losing season in Baltimore, his last in 1986. He was voted Manager of the Year three times. Weaver is one of three managers to post three consecutive 100-win seasons, and his .583 winning percentage is ninth all-time.
He managed six Cy Young Award winners and Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson and Jim Palmer, who all sat behind their old manager on the stage yesterday overlooking a smattering of fans decked out in Orioles' orange and black.
Weaver, who turns 66 next week, said he began trembling on stage when he thought about the legends of the game sitting back there, but even then he didn't shed a tear.
He went on to thank the Orioles organization, including former general manager Harry Dalton, who offered Weaver his first managing job. Weaver thanked his players and coaches for helping him reach the pinnacle of baseball success. He even praised the umpires, who were most often the target of Weaver's temper.
Weaver, the 13th manager inducted into the Hall, reserved special thanks for his family.
"I'll tell you, it really gets you when you start talking about the family," Weaver said after the ceremonies concluded. "Leaving your wife at home, missing the kids' graduations and proms. Those are the things you were sorry about."
His son, Mike Weaver, one of 22 family members present, said he understood the sacrifices his father had to make for his career.
"I'm one of the proudest people in the world," Mike Weaver said. "He worked so hard for so many years, not only in Baltimore, but in the minor leagues. He's so deserving of this. I'm just so proud. Proud is the word."
A special bond between Weaver and the Orioles fans also was evident at the ceremonies, where Jim Bunning, Bill Foster and turn-of-the-century Orioles manager Ned Hanlon also were inducted.
Busloads of Baltimoreans made the 350-mile trip, many of them wearing old-style Orioles jerseys and caps from Weaver's era. Weaver T-shirts with his No. 4 were on the chests of fans throughout the crowd.
Grandparents and grandchildren played catch in the huge stretch of grass reserved for fans. Many fans sprawled out on Orioles blankets, and Orioles umbrellas created shade from the sun.
"Earl led the Orioles when I was just getting into baseball," said Ed Lawrence, who was born and raised in Baltimore. "He was our manager, and we won. He represents Oriole baseball. He's the best we had."
Weaver, introduced yesterday as "The Earl of Baltimore," closed his speech by acknowledging the fans and the city he called home for parts of three decades.
"Let me tell you I'm proud of my record. I'm proud of the fact that I was even considered to be in the Hall of Fame, let alone voted in. And I'm proud of the fact that I spent my whole major-league career in one city. I would like to thank the wonderful fans of Baltimore for letting me stay."
Again the fans erupted, smothering Weaver in cheers. He never slipped up, he never broke down and Weaver was in the Hall of Fame.