Weaver: The Revered ‘Earl of Baltimore’

Over 14 seasons as manager, Earl Weaver’s Baltimore up six division titles, four pennants, and one World Series championship. Weaver, a career minor-league player, became the revered “Earl of Baltimore” while fighting with umpires, his own players and the English language.

Weaver’s father owned a dry-cleaning shop in St. Louis, taking care of the Browns’ and Cardinals’ uniforms. Earl began roaming the clubhouse at Sportsman’s Park when he was 6 years old and signed his first professional contract at the age of 17. Both hometown teams wanted him, but the Browns offered a $2,000 bonus only if he stuck in the minors; the Cardinals offered $1,500, no strings attached. Weaver became a Cardinal farmhand.

As a 5-foot-7-inch second baseman, never came close to a big-league at-bat. He had a weak arm and little power, plus a belligerent streak that infuriated umpires and opponents. By his 26th birthday, his playing career behind him, he reluctantly took over as manager of the last-place Smokies.

In the fall of 1956, Weaver was prepared to leave baseball. But an assistant in the Orioles’ farm system, Harry Dalton, offered him a job as Class D manager. Under manager and general manager Paul Richards, Baltimore was building one of the majors’ strongest farm systems. Richards indoctrinated minor-league managers and instructors to teach the game’s fundamentals the same way throughout the organization. Weaver later said Richards and George Kissell, longtime coach in the Cardinals system, were his most important teachers. After four seasons managing low-level teams, he was put in charge of the minor-league spring camp in 1961.

But the young manager’s temper threatened to torpedo his career. His rages at umpires prompted at least two league presidents
to call Dalton and demand that he muzzle his wild man. But, he was a winner. The Orioles promoted Weaver to their top farm club in 1966. After he led the club to a pennant and a runner-up finish, he was brought to Baltimore to coach in 1968. When the Orioles, who had fallen from their 1966 championship to sixth place and a losing record the next year, manager Hank Bauer was fired at the All-Star break and Weaver was promoted to the job. He put a sign on the clubhouse wall: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

In 1969, Baltimore ran away with the American League East title. The Orioles moved into first place in the season’s ninth game and stayed there. After a 109-53 regular season, Baltimore swept the Twins in the first American League Championship Series and won the opening game of the World Series against the “Amazin’ Mets.” But they lost the next four and Weaver achieved the distinction of being the first manager ejected from a World Series game in 34 years.

He was famous for his devotion to statistics tracking head-to-head match-ups between pitchers and hitters, something other managers either claimed to keep in their heads or ignored. He was not a player’s manager; he harangued and argued with many of them. Still, Frank Robinson said, “He does the best job of any manager I’ve ever known at keeping 25 ballplayers relatively happy.”

However, Weaver reserved his worst tirades for umpires. His confrontations with them were the stuff of legends. He never stopped agitating from the dugout and his 94 ejections rank fourth all-time among managers. Weaver, ever the soul of logic, explained, “You’ve got to tell a guy when he’s wrong.”

In 1980 the Orioles won 100 games for the fifth time in Weaver’s tenure (they won at least 90 in seven other seasons), but finished three games behind the Yankees.

Although he was only 51, Weaver announced that 1982 would be his last year. Retirement was his own idea, but GM Hank Peters later said he thought Weaver was slipping. Weaver’s last season was over, but the crowd of 51,642 wouldn’t go home. They shouted, “Earl, Earl!” When the little manager finally came back onto the field, he contorted his body to spell “O-R-I-O-L-E-S.”

He was enticed back as Orioles manager a few years later, however, when a $500,000 salary was dangled in front of him. At his first game back on June 14, a big crowd chanted, “Weaver! Weaver!” But the Orioles collapsed. They went 14-42 the rest of the way to finish last for the first time in their history. Weaver’s first losing season mercifully ended, there were no curtain calls. Weaver returned home to Miami and made his retirement stick this time.

Weaver was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996. In 2010, some 40 years after the Orioles’ 1970 World Series victory, surviving members of the team were honored at the Orioles’ new ballpark. When the 79-year-old Weaver took the lineup card to home plate before the game, umpire Bob Davidson ejected him.

(Written by Warren Corbett)