COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Earl Weaver stood there for just an instant before he felt like he was home.
He felt it when the gang from Baltimore roared their "O" during the anthem. He felt it when the guy bellowed, "We love you, Earl," and he heard the accents out of Highlandtown and Pigtown and Brooklyn, and it sounded like the voices out of Section 34 at Memorial Stadium and it looked like the faces of the guys who did shift work at Sparrows Point or nursed a late beer on Greenmount Avenue and made his Orioles the heart of their lives.
They were his people, working class Baltimore folks who came up the way he did, with nobody handing him anything, and before the cheering could get out of hand, he leaned into the microphone, and said, "Please don't make me cry, now."
"Earl," a voice cried, and then, "Eaaarl."
"I don't want to cry," Weaver said.
"We love you, Earl," another voice cried.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Earl Weaver said.
He was home now. Baseball's Hall of Fame was embracing him, and after 20 years in all the minor league tank towns, after 17 big league seasons, after pennants and playoffs, and teeth-baring fights with umpires, and after all the anxieties of the past weeks, it should be clear sailing now. But his voice was hoarse and halting. He started, stopped and started again.
"I'm gonna try to do this without too much emotion," he said.
Too late, Earl, too late. They can talk about Earl Weaver's 1,480 victories and his pennants and his World Series win, but always, the thing that he brought to this game was naked emotion, raw passion, and it was too late to turn it away now.
He said he was humbled, overwhelmed, had feelings of thanksgiving. He declared his love for his wife, Marianna, "who listened to me rant and rave and took care of broken water heaters, broken plumbing ...and my kids who understood why Dad wasn't there for graduation or prom night."
He even had a kind word for men "who very seldom receive credit for a job well done ... the umpires." The crowd roared. This is the man chased from more games than all other managers of his era combined -- 91 ejections, the equivalent of more than half a season.
"They never let their ire affect their next call," he said. "They must have made a million calls when I managed, and got 'em all right except for the times I disagreed."
And all those who'd driven here from Baltimore, who remembered those tirades, who'd cheered him from the bleachers and talked about him at work all those mornings-after, they roared again, because he was talking about moments out of their own lives too.
He remembered 28 summers ago, when Harry Dalton and Frank Cashen went to Jerry Hoffberger, owner of the club, and said, "Hire this guy."
"It took a lot of guts" to give him a chance, Weaver said. "If they knew how nervous I was, they might have had second thoughts."
Not likely. For there was Hoffberger sitting in the sunlight a few rows away yesterday, and he was beaming. He remembered those days of Weaver, victories of Weaver, feuds, and he laughed.
"He was just about the most determined guy you ever saw," Hoffberger said. "I remember [general manager] Harry Dalton said, 'This is the guy.' But Earl had gotten thrown out of three straight games at Elmira. I said, 'How can he manage? He can't even stay in the dugout long enough.'"
Hoffberger smiled at the memory. "But you know something?" he said. "He was smart. And he was a tough guy, but he wasn't a martinet. He could cry with the best and laugh with the best of them."
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Yesterday, Weaver did a little of both. He remembered his parents, and he recalled childhood days in St. Louis. And he remembered the ball players who had carried him to this moment, named Brooks and Frank and Boog, and Cal and Eddie, and Palmer, "with whom I had more arguments than I had with my wife."
In his yesterdays, Weaver had been a man of barely contained fire. In this moment, he found grace. He told today's players to "appreciate the talents you've been blessed with ... the fans look up to you, root for you, and pray for you. Give them your respect and thank them for your support."
And the noise came again, the roar from all those who spent their nights watching Weaver's Orioles in action, who lavished all the love they could find, and sometimes wonder in the modern era, do the ball players understand the place they hold in fans' hearts.
Weaver knew it. He boiled and raged all those years. But he loved it too.
"Thirty-five years flew by so fast," he said. "I didn't even know I was getting older."
The crowd grew quiet and Weaver paused for a beat or two. "I'm proud of my record," he said, "and proud of just being considered for the Hall of Fame. And I'm proud I spent my whole career in one city, and I thank the fans of Baltimore for letting me stay."
They roared for him again then, roared from a hillside pasture in upstate New York, but it felt like Memorial Stadium, and it sounded like all of the neighborhoods of Baltimore, and it felt, for Earl Weaver, like home.