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Weaver's larger-than-life presence will be seen in Camden Yards sculpture

ArtSculptureBaseballBaltimore OriolesBrooks Robinson

As a manager, Earl Weaverappeared larger than life, piloting the Orioles to four American League pennants and the 1970 world championship. So it seems only fitting that his statue, which will be unveiled Saturday at Camden Yards, will be taller than the Birds' Hall of Fame skipper.

Weaver is 5-foot-7. His sculpture is 7 feet tall. Standing beside the bronze likeness, Weaver will have to look up to himself — as will most everyone else.

"You ain't kiddin'," said Weaver, 81. "Even LeBron [James] will have to look up to [the statue]. I guess there will be a lot of kids looking up at me, too, and saying, 'Who is this?'

"I just hope their dads and grandfathers have the statistics to show why I'm standing there."

You want numbers? Five times in his 17 years here, the Orioles won 100 games or more for the man known as "the little genius." Eleven times, they won at least 90. And Weaver's lifetime winning percentage (.583) ranks ninth all-time among baseball managers.

Clearly, the umpire-baiting, Raleigh-smoking, tomato-growing Weaver earned his place on a pedestal in the Garden of the Greats picnic area behind center field — alongside Frank Robinson, whose statue was unveiled in April, and soon-to-be-feted Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.

Though Weaver never played a game in the big leagues, "Earl is just as deserving as the players," Brooks Robinson said. "Just like Frank, Jim, Eddie, Cal and me, he will always be part of Orioles history, and the statue will elevate that."

Weaver's obsession to win is the stuff of legend.

"Not being in first place is not a pleasant experience," he'd say. "On my tombstone, just write, 'The sorest loser that ever lived.'"

His players fed off of Weaver's urgency.

"If he has to bite you to win a game, he will," pitcher Dennis Martinez liked to say.

Not that he ever did.

"Having Earl as manager gives us a four-game lead on anybody," pitcher Sammy Stewart once said.

"Earl was so serious about winning," Brooks Robinson recalled this week. "He used reverse psychology. When we were playing great, that was when he was on our backs — and when we weren't winning, that's when he was patting us on the back and telling us how great we were."

Weaver said the statue will show him with his hands in his back pockets, a more mellow pose than that of the dirt-kicking, rhubarb-starting manager many fans remember. In all, he was ejected from 98 games for everything from hurling bases around the ballpark to ripping up a rulebook in an umpire's face.

"Earl gave us a lot of laughs," Robinson said. "I remember, many times, standing on third base, laughing into my glove. I always laughed when he would yell at the umpires and have to turn his hat around, because he kept hitting them with the bill of his cap."

Weaver, who lives in Pembroke Pines, Fla., will attend Saturday's event — part of the 20th anniversary celebration of Camden Yards — with an entourage of nearly 100 friends and family members.

"I'm going to live the moment, and the moment is going to be great," he said. "Baltimore was my home for so long that this [ceremony] is very close to my heart. It's nice to still be alive and to see your statue, too. I just can't believe that people still remember me."

He said he has probably spent more time preparing his speech for Saturday than he did the Orioles' lineups, which he did after poring over statistical matchups — a game plan pioneered by Weaver that later became the norm.

"There are a lot of things to be touched on," he said of his speech. "When I was managing in Fitzgerald, Ga. [in 1957], I never thought it would come to this. I was just happy to be managing in Fitzgerald.

"Nobody goes through life without help, and I had mentors who aided me all the way. After 20 years in the minors and two decades in the big leagues, there are a lot of people to thank."

Though he has not yet seen the finished statue, Weaver was asked for his approval along the way.

"I had them tweak my cheeks a bit," he said. "At first, they were a little too puffy."

He'll receive a three-foot replica of the scupture, and everyone in attendance gets a miniature likeness of the little genius.

"I wonder how many of them will say, 'Hey, who's Earl Weaver?'" he said. "Let's see how many of those souvenirs are left under their seats, after the game."

Kidding aside, he admitted, the unveiling will bring him close to tears.

"This certainly ranks up there with being in the Hall of Fame," Weaver said. "I've got a plaque hanging there, and now, a statue here. What more can a guy ask, for chrissakes?"

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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