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Original Issue


Little Earl Weaver, who played and managed in the minors for 20 years, was ready when his chance came to manage the Baltimore Orioles

Who is Earl Weaver?" people asked back on July 11, 1968, much as they once asked, "Who is Harry Truman?" or, "Who is Spiro Agnew?" July 11, 1968 was the day Weaver became manager of the Baltimore Orioles. A little more than a year later Weaver was in the World Series, and 31 million people watched as he became the first manager in 35 years to be thrown out of a Series game by an umpire.

Through all the anonymous years Weaver was out on baseball's ill-paid fringes. He started playing as a kid on the downtown sandlots of St. Louis during the years when the Depression was dissolving into a world war, the years when the big names around Sportsman's Park were Terry Moore and Enos Slaughter and Marty Marion. Earl was stubby with square little hands, and he could never hit the ball beyond the nearest outfielder but baseball was his life. His father ran a dry-cleaning shop in the basement of the family house right in the heart of the city, and on the steamy summer afternoons father and son would take the streetcar to Sportsman's Park and yell for the Cardinals.

"From the time I was 7 or 8 I didn't want to do anything but play baseball," Earl Weaver says today, sitting in his manager's office, with the clatter and bang of the players in the locker room drifting through the doorway. "Though I could've listened to what the teacher said a little bit more when I was settin' there in the classroom. And I wish I would've, because it's the only time in your life that knowledge is given to you so easily, when it's so easy to accept and file away in your brain so it's there for the later years."

A ritual pinochle game played by the manager and his three coaches is about to start—a two-hour time-killer until the team is due out on the field for batting practice—but Earl Weaver remembers something else. "Watching Marty Marion [pronounced Merion in Weaver's downriver accent], I got interested in infield play. And then my body itself dictated that I should be an infielder because if you're gonna be a first baseman you gotta be big, and a third baseman gotta hit the ball outa the ball park, and outfielders the same thing. My body just dictated I should be an infielder—a shortstop or a second baseman—only I didn't have the good arm to play big-league shortstop."

He played in the Khoury Leagues in St. Louis and on two city championship teams in high school. The scouts liked Weaver, and five clubs offered to sign him, but the Cardinals were Earl's team, and their $2,000 bonus was all the persuasion he needed. In 1948, not yet 18, he was off to the all-night bus rides and the dirty uniforms and the locker rooms that smelled worse than the stockyards in Omaha and St. Joe and the other way-stops. For 20 years it was like a continuing geography lesson, winters in the Caribbean and Florida, aqsummers in Georgia or Texas or upstate New York, wherever the club sent him. In the few months of his off season he worked as a hod carrier or on an oil rigor as a car salesman. In 1951 the Cardinals brought him lo spring training for a look, but there was a fellow named Red Schoendienst playing second for St. Louis, and Weaver went back to the bus leagues.

In 1956, his ninth year in the minors, the Knoxville manager was fired late in the season, and Weaver, at 26, was given the job. It was a last-place team, but soon he was managing in the Baltimore Orioles' farm system, and from 1959 through 1967 his teams, with only one exception, finished either first or second every year. "We were well aware that Earl had a chance to be a major league manager," says Harry Dalton, Baltimore's general manager, "but we were also aware that he would probably have to spend five years longer in the minors than someone else because no one had ever heard of him." In 1968, 17 years after that spring training cup of coffee with the Cardinals, Weaver put on his second major league uniform, this time as a Baltimore coach under Manager Hank Bauer. He was 37, and he carried the big-league mark of authority on his 5'7" frame—a ballooning waistline. In practice he hit fungoes to the players, and the life in baseball had never been quite so sweet—no lineups to fill out, no reports to the home office, no troubled athletes to comfort. For a time he could spend his spare time with Marianna, the tiny dark-haired lady he had met and married while he was managing at Elmira. The way Weaver figured, if he could just hang on with Baltimore for five years he would be eligible for the major league pension plan.

So Earl coached first base and stayed out of the way of Bauer, who seemed a little distant—not hostile, just not friendly. Once Bauer did ask Weaver to do something about "the frame of mind" of Boog Powell, Baltimore's enormous first baseman. Earl kind of hung around Powell, a strong silent type, and wondered what to do. "I didn't actually do anything," he said later. "Oh, I talked hitting with Boog and rooted for him—like I did all the others. One time I asked him if maybe closing his stance would help. But he said no, he didn't want to change his stance, since he had been doing good hitting that way before."

During the All-Star break that first year in Baltimore the ground suddenly shook under Earl Weaver. He was spending the three days at home with Marianna, playing gin rummy and cooking an occasional meal of short ribs and noodles, his favorite dish. He and Marianna were lying by the pool on Wednesday when the phone rang. It was Harry Dalton. "How would you like to take over the team?" asked Dalton, who was calling from Kansas City, where he had flown to fire Bauer. Weaver said O.K. It had always been that way in baseball. They told him to do something, or asked him to, and he would do it. If you are an infielder with a weak bat and not much of an arm, you learn to do what you can.

"Is that good?" Marianna asked when he told her the news.

"Yeah," Earl told her. "We'll make more money."

"Good," she said.

Weaver is like that sometimes, showing you the flip side. Umpires bring it out more often than other people, and thus Earl has a large reputation among ballplayers and journalists as a part-time kook. It makes you wonder how much rebel seethes beneath the surface of this outward conformist who patiently waited in line all those years.

"There was the time," Weaver recalls, "when I got off the greatest line I ever come up with. I can't remember the umpire's name, and I'd like to, because he'd get a kick out of it when he reads it. It happened in the International League, and our dugout was at first base. The other team was hitting, and the batter took a swing at the ball. It was one of those half-swing calls that are very hard for an umpire to see, and he missed it. He called it a ball. Now I say, 'Gosh-darn,' or something to the effect that we don't even get a strike when he swings. I said, 'They must have changed the rules.' I said, 'You guys got your own rule book?' I said, 'I'd like to read your rule book someday.' Well, the umpire hollered over at me, 'Can you read?' Just about that time the pitcher threw the ball and the batter hit it, and the umpire was running to first base, and I yelled, 'Not your rule book because it's written in Braille.' He stopped right there, with the play going on, and hollered, 'Get out of here, Weaver.' I walked up and said, 'Now you're going to throw me out. You say something to me you think is funny, and I say something back to you I think is funny and I'm thrown out of the ball game.' He said, 'That's right. Go ahead, get out of here.' "

Another time, in Charleston, W. Va.: "The umpire was on third base, and there was a ball hit down the third-base line, and he called it foul or fair—I forget what it was, but it went against my ball club. I argued with him, and finally he threw me out of the ball game. So when he threw me out I picked up third base and took it with me. I said, 'You might as well play without it. That base don't mean nothing, anyway. You're not using it. There's no foul line or anything.' I took the base off the field with me. There was no malice intended," he adds.

There is less of that sort of thing in the majors, Weaver explains, because the umpires are better and there is less need to get on them for mistakes. However, as World Series watchers can testify, things do happen. Here, slightly truncated, is Weaver's version of the well-publicized incident with Umpire Shag Crawford during the fourth Series game with the Mets.

"Early in the game he called Powell out on strikes. The ball looked a little outside to me, and when Powell come in to the dugout I said, 'Where was the pitch?' Boog said it was about six inches outside. A little later, with them up, there was a pitch on a 1 and 2 count to Donn Clendenon that was close. I don't know if it's a strike or a ball, but it could have been called a strike. He called it a ball. Two and two that made it, and Clendenon hit the next pitch out of the ball park to put the Mets ahead 1-0. I hollered at Crawford, 'It never fails, miss one and it shows right up.' He turned around and gave me a pretty dirty look.

"O.K. We come in to bat the next inning, and Mark Belanger was the first hitter. The first pitch to Belanger was definitely a ball. I can see this from the dugout. It's low and outside, and our club stood up and hollered 'hey-ey' real loud, because they're all mad about the other thing. Everybody on the bench hollering, and Hendricks right next to me hollering as loud as he could. The whole club was hollering. My voice couldn't have been heard over anybody else's, because we hollered in unison. Crawford ripped his mask off and come runnin' and got about halfway in between home plate and the dugout. He's hollerin' at me, and everybody's hollerin' at him, and I don't know what he said. It could have been 'Hendricks, you say one more word, you're out of here' or 'Weaver, you say one more word, you're out.' It was probably directed at me, but I don't know. So I run up the stairs, and Crawford turned around and started walking back to home plate. I hollered, 'Shag!' He didn't answer, and I quickened my step and hollered, 'Hey, Shag!' When I got to home plate I said, 'Shag,' and he said, "You're out of the ball game.' I said, 'Out of the ball game? What for?' This is a World Series, and he's been instructed to use good judgment. He said, 'You're up here arguing balls and strikes." I said, 'I'm not up here arguing balls and strikes. I came up here to find out what you said.' He said, 'You've heard all that I'm going to say. You're out of the ball game.' "

"What did you do for the rest of the game?" Weaver is asked.

"I can't tell you that," he answers, with a sly grin.

Weaver can sit there in his office or on the dugout bench, one stubby little leg folded over the other, and the words tumble out one after another, while the visiting journalists laugh and scribble their notes. Entertaining the reporters, which Weaver does as pleasantly and willingly as anyone south of Casey Stengel, is almost as vital to the ephemeral art of managing a baseball team as winning—though not quite, as Weaver makes clear when he states his credo: "Winning is everything." He played on pennant winners his first four years in the minors, and he has won four pennants as a manager, including last year's with the Orioles. It was his "great enthusiasm and optimism and exceptional knowledge of the game and its tactics" that impressed Dalton, who was growing up as an executive in the farm system while Weaver was learning to manage. After the Orioles dropped from world champions in 1966 to sixth a year later, Dalton brought Weaver in as a coach "to have him in the wings in case Bauer ever left." After Bauer left, or was pushed, Weaver moved the club from third place, 10 games out, to a respectable second-place finish. His first full year, of course, was a runaway, with Baltimore winning 109 games and losing only 53, moving into the lead on the eighth day of the season and never relinquishing it.

Billy Hunter, the infield coach who serves as Weaver's chief of staff, played on the superb Yankee teams of the 1950s but he says, "I thought our club last year was the best team I've ever been on, position for position. And they get along together." Hunter gives most of the credit for team morale to Weaver, who "kept the team loose." He cites the kangaroo courts the Orioles usually staged after a victory. Frank Robinson presided, wearing the remnants of an old mop over his head as a peruke. There were various awards such as a broken bat handle for the weakest swing of the game and an old beat-up shoe for the biggest gaffe on the base paths. "Some of the guys made funny speeches," says Relief Pitcher Pete Richert, "and it got to be a way where you could point out a guy's faults without a lot of resentment. It was a good safety valve, but you could only do it when you're winning."

Baseball, like war, is about 95% waiting around and 5% action, which is one reason baseball players are the laziest-looking athletes in sport. "They're funny," Hunter says. "About the only thing they talk about when they're away from the park is baseball, but when they're at the park they talk about everything else, from last night's movie to what a great night they had in Rochester last summer." But not with Weaver around. He may be in the middle of a sentence, but those darting eyes can see a yawn around a corner, and if it is during a game he will be up asking, "What's the count on the batter?" If you don't know, the next scene is either 30 lashes with the tongue or kangaroo court. The Orioles, under Weaver, keep their attention on the game. One afternoon during spring training, Catcher Andy Etchebarren came from the clubhouse and announced that Kentucky was trailing Jacksonville by nine points in their televised NCAA basketball playoff. "Yeah," Weaver snorted, "and we're only 3 and 2 in the winter league." Etchebarren has served under Weaver in both the minors and the majors, and he got the point. "He'll chew you out," Andy explained, "but only for doing something dumb. The next minute he's forgotten about it, except you better not do it again."

To hear Weaver tell it, managing in the major leagues is a routine mental exercise and considerably easier than in the minors. When he took over the Orioles, he says, "All I did was change from a five-man to a four-man pitching rotation and used two spot starters, with Richert, Watt and Hall as short relief. I put Don Buford in the lineup as a regular outfielder, platooning Paul Blair and Curt Blefary. Against left-handed pitching, Blair played center with Buford in left; against righthanders, Blefary was in left and Buford in center." The only person who complained about the platooning arrangement was Blefary, who was soon traded off to Houston. When one of the players told Weaver that at least nobody ever felt "half-assed" about him, Weaver quipped, "Blefary does. He likes me a little and dislikes me a lot."

"The main thing," Weaver says, "is to keep the players enthusiastic. When I walk in the clubhouse, I holler, 'Today's the day we have to win. We have to win the ball game today. That's all we have to do. Whatever we did yesterday don't count.'

"The other things are just part of the job. You can put on a hit-and-run that works. You can also put on a hit-and-run that backfires. You can't really get too satisfied with yourself if something works, because you know that tomorrow the same play's not going to work. You don't want no credit for it when it does work because that's part of the job, and when it doesn't work you don't want anybody blaming you, either.

"Opening day last year we were involved in an extra-inning game, and I did something that was very unusual. I put on a squeeze play with two strikes on the hitter, and it backfired. If the hitter could have gotten the ball on the ground, it would have made me really look good on opening day, because it was a situation where if the ball goes on the ground the run crosses the plate and everybody goes home. Well, the guy that was batting happened to miss the ball, but I don't want him blaming me, because it would all have been to his credit if he hit the ball on the ground. These are just things you're supposed to do, and they've got to be successful more often than not. Because if they're not, you're not winning your share, you're not helping your club.

"Switching the pitcher, getting the pitcher out of there at the right time, is an all-important part of managing. I bring in Eddie Watt at the end of the ball game to try to get out two hitters. If Watt happens to fail to get his two and a left-handed hitter walks up there, I go get him out and bring in Richert. But that's part of the job, and you don't expect any credit for that. You really don't.

"If you concentrate on it, you can figure out the moves another manager is going to make 97% of the time, and he can figure out my moves 97% of the time. I'm fortunate in being on this ball club, because the ability and talent that I have sitting on the bench can keep the other manager from making a move at a certain time. Like I can think about putting in Eddie Watt, and I know that if I do they're going to bring in a lefthander off the bench. But I can say to myself, well, that lefthander can't hit Eddie Watt either, so I might as well go get Eddie Watt. That's ability in what you have sitting there. Another manager might not be able to make a move because he knows I can bring a Hendricks in or a Davie May and really upset the applecart.

"There are some managers in the league, and I'm going to name Al Dark to start with—in fact, he's the only one I'm going to name—that you never are able to nail against the wall. Dark has always got a right and left pinch hitter sitting there unless you go into extra innings. And most of the time he's got a right and left in the bullpen. Here's a guy that you're just not going to get down to the eighth or ninth inning and have him out of ballplayers. One of the tough guys to manage against."

Frank Robinson, who has managerial intentions of his own, points out a facet of Weaver's technique that all his players endorse. "The man made it a complete club," Robinson says. "He has 25 players, and they all come out to the park knowing they may be used. You know—pinch-run, pinch-hit, pitch to one man, catch an inning, go in the outfield late in the game." Weaver says, "They sit on the bench they rot."

"He treats everyone the same," Robinson continued. "No favorites. I don't care if you've been in the majors for 15 years or this is your first, you're all the same. I think that's great. It makes for a good feeling on the ball club. People thought we might be down after losing the World Series, but I'll tell you why we can't be down. Weaver won't let us. People think we might be complacent, but there's no way we can be complacent with Weaver around."

Weaver won't even let himself become complacent. It pleases his bubbly humor to tell what happened last fall when he was finally losing his anonymity after the Orioles had run off with the American League pennant. Earl and Marianna visited a nightclub to hear Brenda Lee sing and, sure enough, she saw him and stopped the show to introduce him. "Ladies and gentlemen," she cried, "there is a sports celebrity in the audience—the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Earl Warren."