Weaver treats Hall vote like a missed putt

Sun Staff

There was no good news for Earl Weaver on the18th green at the Bonaventure Country Club yesterday.

A 15-foot birdie putt made Weaver and his partner go deeper into theirpockets -- and then the former Orioles manager found out he did not make theHall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Former Detroit Tigers andCleveland Indians pitcher Hal Newhouser and ex-American League umpire Bill McGowan were chosen.

On the surface at least, the birdie putt had the most noticeable effect."You picked a hell of a time to make a birdie," he said to Sid Wright, aregular member of Weaver's Tuesday foursome (he has had a group for mostweekdays since retiring in 1986).

And later, to his partner, Sam Fapore, Weaver admonished: "You jinxed uswhen you said we halved the hole [after Weaver had made his putt for a par]."

To which Wright added his own postscript: "You never tease an alligatorwhen you're still standing on the log."

Wright's partner and fellow winner was John LaPonzina, a managing partnerat Bonaventure. The four rotate partners every week and talk trash to eachother as much as any regular public parks foursome.

But when the golf match is over, they revert to just being friends. "I'veplayed golf with a lot of celebrities," said Wright, who is originally fromCanada and has lived in Florida for the past 22 years, "and Earl is as down toearth as any of them. He's aggressive, and he's a fierce competitor, butbeyond that he's a regular guy."

Wright and LaPonzina have known Weaver since shortly after he first boughta home in south Florida. "He's a character, he's feisty," said LaPonzina. "Weyell and scream and call each other all kinds of names, but then it's allforgotten."

On the day that he was first eligible to go into the Hall of Fame, nothingchanged for Weaver. His golf match went on as scheduled, there were no advanceplans to celebrate or commiserate.

In his retirement, it was just another day at the office. Not completelyroutine, mind you, but nothing out of the ordinary.

"It's a little bit of a disappointment, I have to say that," said Weaver,who otherwise displayed no such emotions. "When I was told what it took to getin [survive a screening committee and then collect 75 percent of the vote],and how hard it is to do it the first year, I tried not to get myself tooexcited.

"I'd like to get in someday, I'd have to admit that. Dead or alive it hTCwould be an honor," he said, "but it would be nice if it happened while mymother was still alive."

If others found a touch of irony in the fact that an umpire, McGowan, waschosen over Weaver, he wasn't among them. "Not at all," said Weaver. "Iunderstand he died the year [1954] he retired -- and he still had to wait 38years.

"Leo [Durocher] didn't make it either -- I guess you just have to stand inline. I understand I didn't make the top four. It's still an honor just to beconsidered."

McGowan and Newhouser will be inducted along with Tom Seaver and Rollie Fingers at Cooperstown, N.Y., on Aug. 2.

Under the veterans committee jurisdiction, Weaver falls into thenon-playing category, with managers, baseball officials and those who playedin the old Negro Leagues.

Durocher, William Holbert, who was president of the National League morethan 100 years ago (1876-1882), and Leon Day, a veteran of the Negro Leagueswho lives in Baltimore, were others who were said to have had strongconsideration.

"There was support for Earl," said a Hall of Fame official after theresults were released, "but it was his first year on the ballot."

Weaver said his events of the day were not affected by the Hall of Famevoting, regardless of the outcome. "I have to admit that I did think aboutit," he said, "but as far as affecting my golf game -- no.

"It's no different than when you go on the baseball field -- you puteverything else out of your mind," said Weaver. The pending election resultsdidn't affect his game -- he's a 12-handicap and shot an 81 -- only hiswallet. "I played pretty good and lost money," he said.

And after a brief visit to the lounge (for two non-alcoholic beers) Weaverwent home to keep a pre-arranged date -- to play tennis. In the process, hemanaged to lose a triple-header.

He and his wife, Marianna, played one set against daughter Kim and formerSun baseball writer Ken Nigro -- losing, 6-4. "We had them on the ropes, butEarl let up," said Marianna.

"Not only that, but I had to fix him [Nigro], too," said Weaver.

If nothing else, it was one of the more interesting days of Weaver'ssplendid career -- even if he did get beaten by a former umpire and anex-sportswriter.

Some managers will tell you it can't get any worse that that.

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