When I was putting together my story on Earl Weaver after his death Friday night I knew I wanted to talk to Jim Henneman, the former Sun baseball beat writer and current Orioles official scorer who is our unofficial beat historian. All of us Sun writers look up to Henny and love hearing the stories of the Orioles' glory days.
Henneman first met Weaver back in 1959 in Georgia at the Orioles' minor league camp. He covered Weaver throughout the Hall of Famer's big league managerial career.
In fact, Henneman had one of the coolest story assignments of all time. Weaver knew he was retiring (for the first time) during the 1982 season. So Henneman asked if he could spend the final day with Weaver – pick him up at home, take him to the park, drop him off at home that evening, etc. – and Weaver agreed. That agreement, though, was early in the season
Then things changed. The Orioles made a spirited run at the first-place Milwaukee Brewers, and headed into the final series of the year trailing the Brewers by three games with four left between the two teams at Memorial Stadium. (And the Orioles won the first three, setting up a winner-goes-to-the-playoffs showdown in the Sunday finale).
Henneman knew his story would no longer be a priority for Weaver as the manager attempted to make the postseason in his swan-song campaign, so he told Weaver they could forget the idea. But Weaver said he had made a deal, and he stuck with it – allowing Henneman incredible access on one of the most memorable regular season games in the history of the franchise.
I asked Henny on Saturday for his favorite Earl story, and he joked that there weren't many clean ones he could tell. But, after a moment, he chose a pretty interesting one that showed another side of Weaver – one that involved New York Yankees skipper Billy Martin, with whom Weaver shared a bitter rivalry.
It all started on May 29, 1977 in the eighth inning of a close game between the Orioles and Minnesota Twins at Memorial Stadium. Down 2-0 with two outs and runners on second and third, Weaver ordered Mike Flanagan to pitch around the dangerous Dan Ford and load the bases for the even more dangerous Larry Hisle.
Hisle singled and drove in a run to give the Twins a 3-0 lead. Ken Singleton hit a two-run homer in the ninth, but the Orioles couldn't score again, so Hisle's RBI proved to be the game-winner.
Afterward, reporters asked Weaver why he chose to load the bases for Hisle, and Weaver admitted that he had screwed up. That he thought he was walking Hisle to get to Ford, not the other way around.
"Not a whole lot of managers would admit to making that kind of mistake," Henneman said.
Well, it didn't go unnoticed. Weaver took a lot of heat for the miscue. One day, about a week later, the clubhouse phone rang. It was Martin, and he was sassy.
He said the Yankees were playing the Twins, and he wanted some advice. He said they were having trouble getting Ford out. Or was it Hisle? Who should they walk for whom?
"Basically, Billy was yanking Earl's chain," Henneman said.
One can only imagine how well Weaver, who hated to lose, took that one.
The funny thing is, Henneman said, about three weeks after the Hisle incident, Weaver had a chance at the ultimate revenge. One June 16, 1977, Martin and his star outfielder Reggie Jackson got into a huge blowup in the Yankees' dugout at Fenway Park – it was captured on national TV – when Martin pulled Jackson out of right field (for former Oriole star Paul Blair, by the way) after Jackson loafed after a fly ball that went for a double.
The two had a heated conversation, Martin went after Jackson and they had to be separated.
After that game, Henneman remembers goading Weaver while the two were at the ballpark together in Toronto.
"I said, Earl, 'You don't have [any guts] if you don't call Billy and say, 'Billy, why are you having problems with Reggie? Reggie was always a good guy here [in Baltimore in 1976]. I never had any problems with him,'" Henneman said.
It seemed like the perfect opportunity for Weaver to turn the screws on Martin, to pay him back for the needling about the Hisle screw-up.
"And Earl laughed, but he wouldn't do it. He just wouldn't do it," Henneman said. "He actually had a soft spot for people."
In fact, Henneman remembers what Weaver said was the toughest thing he ever had to do as a manager. And it really had little to do with a win or a loss.
"He said the hardest thing was to pinch hit for Brooks Robinson [at the end of Robinson's career]," Henneman said. "Earl was a very sentimental guy about those kinds of things. He would say, 'You think it's easy to pinch hit for Brooks or Lee May, guys like that? I don't want to be the guy to take them out of the lineup.'
"Those are the things I'll always remember about Earl."