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Earl Weaver dead at 82

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Earl Weaver, the feisty Hall-of-Fame Baltimore Orioles manager and persistent Yankee nemesis died late Friday night of an apparent heart attack while on an Orioles’ fantasy cruise in the Caribbean. He was 82.

Loud, profane, egotistical, belligerent, confrontational, Weaver never denied being any of those things, but they were merely part of the makeup of what best described the Hall-of-Fame Baltimore Orioles manager: Winner.

In baseball’s manager annals, Weaver, who piloted the Orioles to six division titles, four American League pennants, five 100-win seasons and one World Series championship from 1968-86, ranks seventh all-time in winning percentage (1,480-1,060, .583) and first among managers whose careers began after 1960.

The “Earl of Baltimore” was one of baseball’s most colorful characters, an irascible and volatile 5-foot-6 “gnome” whose arguments with umpires and even his own players, like Hall-of-Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, are the stuff of legend. Weaver’s 97 ejections rank third on the all-time list behind Bobby Cox and John McGraw and to the best of anyone’s knowledge he never apologized for any of them. When asked one time by Orioles outfielder Pat Kelly if he wanted to participate in team chapel and “walk with the lord,” Weaver famously replied: (“No thanks. I’d rather walk with the (bleeping) bases loaded.”

Born in St. Louis, Aug. 14, 1930, Weaver signed to play professional baseball with his hometown Cardinals in 1948 and spent 12 years in their minor league system as a light-hitting second baseman, rising as high as Double A ball, before turning to managing in 1956. Legendary Orioles farm director Jim McLaughlin, who knew Weaver’s father from St. Louis, hired him to manage in the Baltimore system in 1957 and, from there he worked his way up the chain to Triple A Rochester by 1966. While in the minors, Weaver was credited with developing what became known as “the Oriole way” after Baltimore GM Harry Dalton gave him the responsibility for organizing all the fundamentals workouts for the Baltimore farmhands below Triple A. In 1968, he was brought to the big club as first base coach and on July 11 was named by Dalton to replace Hank Bauer as their manager.

On his election to the Hall of Fame in 1996, Weaver said: “Without Jim McLaughlin and Harry Dalton, I wouldn’t have made it. I couldn’t have done any of this.”

Weaver led the Orioles to a 48-34 record the rest of ’68, then took them to the American League pennant in ’69, winning 109 games, before being upset by the Miracle Mets in the World Series. That was the start of three straight AL pennant seasons for Weaver in which his teams, led by Hall-of-Famers Frank and Brooks Robinson, slugging first baseman Boog Powell, elite defensive shortstop Mark Belanger and a stalwart starting pitching rotation of perennial 20-game winners, Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar, won 109, 108 and 101 games. In 1970, he won his only World Series, defeating the Cincinnati Reds in five games.

Throughout his managing career, Weaver, who was fond of saying the secret of his success was, “pitching, defense and the three-run homer,” was famous for his eschewing of the sacrifice bunt and giving up an out. “When you play for one run, that’s usually all you get,” he snarled, adding: “I have nothing against the bunt in its place, but most of the time that place is in the bottom of a long-forgotten closet.”

Even his often disgruntled players came to grudgingly admit Weaver was a brilliant strategist who had a knack for getting the most from them and putting them in position where they could best succeed. Long before the advent of computers, he was the first manager to make extensive use of matchups, keeping in his desk drawer a box of index cards that detailed the performance of his hitters against every opposing pitcher. When a player, upon noticing he wasn’t in the starting lineup, came into his office for an explanation he would say simply: “Sorry, pal, There was nothing I could do. The cards got you today.”

Weaver was also a pitchers’ manager, his staffs routinely leading the league in complete games. He allowed his starters to call their own games, maintaining they knew more about themselves and what was working for them than he did. With Palmer, he had a love-hate relationship in which he and his staff ace traded barbs throughout their time together in Baltimore and after it. Said Weaver in 1980: “See these gray hairs? Every one of ‘em has No. 22 on it.”

For all his success as a manager, however, Weaver will probably most be remembered for his volcanic behavior on the field and his constant run-ins with umpires in which invariably he would turn the bill of his cap around so he could get as close to their face as possible. Suspended six times, some of Weaver’s classic antics included shredding the rulebook on the pitcher’s mound and storming out to home plate umpire Bill Haller – who had just called a balk on Oriole pitcher Mike Flanagan with one out in the first inning – and screaming: “You and your crew are here for one reason – to (bleep) us!” That one was immortalized for the ages as Haller wearing a mike at the time.

Weaver retired after the 1982 season but, 2 ½ years later, was lured back by Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams. Referring to his two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, Weaver cracked: “I came back because, quite frankly, Raleighs have gone from $6.50 a carton to $8.00 in the in the time I’ve been away and I’ve been on a fixed income. It was a matter of watering the well a little.”

By then, however, the Orioles had decayed into a second division team and after finishing seventh in 1986, Weaver walked away again, this time for good. “I feel sorry for Mr. Williams, who was so good to me and wanted to win so badly,” he said. “I gave it my best shot. But I don’t know how many years I have left and I want to enjoy them.”

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