Baltimore Orioles

Weaver treats Hall vote like a missed putt

There was no good news for Earl Weaver on the 18th green at the Bonaventure Country Club yesterday.

A 15-foot birdie putt made Weaver and his partner go deeper into their pockets -- and then the former Orioles manager found out he did not make the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Former Detroit Tigers and Cleveland 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, a regular member of Weaver's Tuesday foursome (he has had a group for most weekdays since retiring in 1986).

And later, to his partner, Sam Fapore, Weaver admonished: "You jinxed us when 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 alligator when you're still standing on the log."

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

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

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

On the day that he was first eligible to go into the Hall of Fame, nothing changed for Weaver. His golf match went on as scheduled, there were no advance plans to celebrate or commiserate.

In his retirement, it was just another day at the office. Not completely routine, 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 get in [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 too excited.

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

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

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

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 the non-playing category, with managers, baseball officials and those who played in the old Negro Leagues.

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

"There was support for Earl," said a Hall of Fame official after the results 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 Fame voting, regardless of the outcome. "I have to admit that I did think about it," he said, "but as far as affecting my golf game -- no.

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

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

He and his wife, Marianna, played one set against daughter Kim and former Sun baseball writer Ken Nigro -- losing, 6-4. "We had them on the ropes, but Earl 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's splendid career -- even if he did get beaten by a former umpire and an ex-sportswriter.

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