Another title for Weaver: Manager in Hall of Fame Committee also picks Hanlon, who led Orioles in 1890s

March 06, 1996|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Earl Weaver, the umpire-baiting, dirt-kicking, tomato-growing manager who led the Orioles to four American League pennants and a world championship, was elected yesterday to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"I'm elated," said Weaver. "There are so many people to thank -- Brooks and Frank and Boog and Blair and Buford -- so many who made it possible.

"I loved managing those kids. I always thought, 'Let me manage as long as I can, and when I get run out of town, let me become a scout.' "

That never happened.

Weaver will enter Cooperstown with "Foxy" Ned Hanlon, another Orioles manager who guided Baltimore to three straight National League titles in the 1890s; former pitcher Jim Bunning, a 224-game winner; and Negro leagues star Bill Foster. Induction ceremonies are Aug. 4.

Hall of Fame officials said it was the first time two managers representing the same city were elected together.

"It's a feather in Baltimore's cap," said Hank Peters, for- mer Orioles general manager and a member of the selection committee. "There wasn't much doubt that Earl deserved to go. And Hanlon was much the same innovative-type manager.

"Both were ahead of their times in the way they did things. It's fitting that they should go in in tandem."

Weaver, 65, who was playing golf near his Florida home when he got the news, refused to leave the course until he'd finished the round nearly three hours later.

"Competition is competition," he said. "That's how I get my thrills.

"When I heard the news, my knees got weak and I could hardly hold the golf club."

He bogeyed the hole, but won the match.

Weaver's peers and former players toasted the vote.

"He won almost 1,500 games, he had one losing season and he was never fired," said former Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, who was let go by the Tigers last year. "Earl walked away on his own, and a manager should cherish that more than anything else."

Weaver's lone world championship, in 1970, came at Anderson's expense, when the Orioles defeated Cincinnati's Big Red Machine, four games to one.

"Earl was Earl," Anderson said. "He never tried to be Casey Stengel or Walter Alston. He was a great leader because he was fearless.

"So many people in life are afraid. Earl stood his ground on everything. He wasn't always right, but he never ran. What more can you ask of a guy?"

Weaver managed the Orioles from 1968 to 1982 and was coaxed out of retirement to lead them again in 1985 and 1986. In 17 years, his teams won 1,480 games and lost 1,060 for a winning percentage of .583 -- fifth all-time among managers of the modern era.

"The vote is a validation of how good he really was," said Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. "It's like a USDA meat approval. He's just gone from 'choice' to 'prime' -- though I never really thought of Earl Weaver as a tenderloin."

Palmer -- who, along with Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Reggie Jackson, is one of four Hall of Famers managed by Weaver -- had campaigned openly for his manager, sending veterans committee members a two-page letter (single-spaced) praising his candidacy. The committee, composed of five Hall of Fame players, five sportswriters and broadcasters and four baseball executives, selected from a ballot of 20.

"Earl was the best manager of his era," said Palmer, who, as a player, had a fractious relationship with Weaver. "He was scrappy, loyal and never held a grudge. He knew what buttons to push, and he wasn't afraid to push them.

"He was never afraid of losing his job, though he managed most of his career with one-year contracts. He was fearless. He never left spring training with a 'political' roster. No player made the team because the front office wanted him there. These were 25 pieces of Earl's puzzle and his alone."

One of those pieces was an infielder from Aberdeen who, thanks to Weaver, endured a rocky beginning to his major-league career.

"I'm glad that I had the opportunity to start out with Earl," said Cal Ripken Jr. "He was a little intimidating at first, but he showed a lot of confidence in me. I started off 9-for-73. A less-experienced manager might not have stuck with me as long.

"Once I got my feet on the ground, he moved me to shortstop, which significantly changed the direction of my career. Looking back, my career might never have gotten off the ground without the strength of Earl Weaver."

Like Hanlon, Weaver won three consecutive league pennants (1969 to 1971).

Hanlon, a cunning strategist and deft trader, turned a floundering Orioles team into one of the legendary clubs of the 19th century. A short, stocky man not much taller than 5-foot-8 Weaver, Hanlon took over a National League team that had finished 54 1/2 games off the pace in 1892, swapped for three future Hall of Famers (Willie Keeler, Hugh Jennings and Joe Kelley) and won a pennant two years later.

"I'm floored," said Edwina Reeve of Lutherville, Hanlon's granddaughter, on learning of his election. "I'll bet Foxy Ned is up there now saying, 'I've got this thing worked out.' "

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