Weaver's day one of glory for all O's

March 06, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Davey Johnson didn't hear the announcement. Andy Etchebarren relayed the good news to him in the Orioles' dugout, while Elrod Hendricks staged his own private celebration in the bullpen, chuckling to himself and saying a little prayer.

Earl Weaver, Hall of Famer.

Hendricks didn't share the moment with any of the players in the bullpen -- "They wouldn't have known who I was talking about," he groused. Rest assured, they'll learn. They'll learn, because the sons of Earl Weaver are back to restore the Orioles to their former glory.

For more than a decade now, the Orioles have tried to recapture the Weaver magic, even luring old No. 4 out of retirement in 1985. How fitting that in the year he'll be inducted in Cooperstown, they're set to revive with his rightful heir as manager.

Cal Ripken Sr., Johnny Oates, Frank Robinson -- none was capable of becoming the next Weaver. Johnson, on the other hand, is almost there with him. Since 1960, the two highest winning percentages of managers with 775 or more wins belong to Weaver (.583) and Johnson (.573).

"There's a strange sort of feeling that it's similar to my experience in the Earl days," Cal Ripken said yesterday. "It comes from the impression he left on all the people who played for him. Davey has his own ideas, his own ways. But there's a similarity to both styles."

Johnson, of course, played second base for the Orioles from 1965 to '72. Hendricks, the bullpen coach, and Etchebarren, the bench coach, platooned at catcher from '68 to '71. Pitching coach Pat Dobson spent two seasons under Weaver, and was one of his four 20-game winners in '71.

Forget the Orioles' 4-1 exhibition loss to St. Louis yesterday -- Johnson and his coaches were in buoyant moods afterward. Hendricks said he was as happy as he was the day his first son was born. Johnson lingered on the field, happily talking about Earl.

"You learn from everyone you play for," Johnson said. "But I'd say 70-80 percent of the stuff I try to do I approach the way Earl did. The way he handled players, getting a lot of guys in, the way he handled a pitching staff, the way he created matchups late in the game, all the things you try to do like he did."

Johnson paused.

"I tried to start kicking bases," he continued, smiling. "That didn't work. My first game in the National League, I kicked dirt on an umpire. That got me a one-game suspension and a letter from the league president, saying 'We don't do things like Earl around here.' "

Weaver received 91 career ejections -- he joked last night that of all the thousands of calls umpires made in games he managed, they were only wrong that many times. It bothers him that he is remembered for his tantrums. But it was his fighting spirit that made the Orioles so great.

He managed 17 seasons, winning six division titles, four league titles and one World Series (yes, Joe Altobelli matched that total). The best way to judge a Hall of Fame candidate is to ask, did he dominate his era? Weaver did, compiling the fifth-highest winning percentage this century among those who managed 10 or more seasons.

"I came into the league in '79," said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, who was then with the Chicago White Sox. "The Orioles were the club that always found a way to win. His feisty style kept that club on a competitive edge."

If Johnson can instill that same spirit in this team -- a team so flat and uninspired in recent years -- then maybe the meek shall inherit the earth. Already, you can see the difference. The Orioles are good, and they know it. They reflect a manager who learned from the master. They've got swagger.

Even now, with the game so different, with the salaries so outrageous and the new ballparks so prominent, the Orioles are still Weaver's team. Johnson and general manager Pat Gillick played for him at Elmira in the early '60s. Everything that is good and constant about this club started with Earl.

He's the one who stuck with Ripken through an awful rookie slump, then moved him from third base to shortstop, launching a Hall of Fame career. He's also the one who spent two years trying to persuade the club to draft Hendricks, who is now in his 28th year in an Orioles uniform, a franchise record.

"He was the only person in the world who believed I could play in the big leagues," said Hendricks, whom Weaver first managed in Puerto Rico. "This man, to me, is like a father. I have that much respect and love for him. I never really told him that until he retired. But everything I own, everything I have, I owe to him."

Ripken expressed similar gratitude, and Weaver returned the praise of his players, saying he couldn't have succeeded without them. Former Orioles GM Hank Peters, a member of the veterans committee, put it best. "He's got a big ego, but he's very humble," Peters said. "He knows where he came from."

Fitzgerald, Ga.; Fox Cities, Wis.; Aberdeen, S.D. -- those were three of Weaver's stops during his 12 years managing in the minors. As Johnson delighted in recalling yesterday, he certainly wasn't going to make it to the Hall of Fame as a player.

"He was a little second baseman in the Cardinals' organization," Johnson said. "He said he would drive in 100 runs a year, score 100 runs a year, he could pick it, never make an error. In reality, he never made it to the big leagues.

"He always talked about how he had Marty Marion and everyone ahead of him, how that was the only reason he didn't make it. But he loved the game of baseball. You just loved to play for him. His bark was worse than his bite. You had to know him, grow up with him."

Even now, he defines this franchise.

Weaver represents all that the Orioles were.

Johnson, all they can be. TC Pub Date: 3/06/96

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