Weaver always had the fire, but Dalton always had faith

March 10, 1996|By John Steadman

CAREFREE, Ariz. -- Halfway up a mountain, where coyotes don't need a moon to strike up a howl and the desert hues paint a picture of breathtaking beauty, lives a prematurely retired baseball executive named Harry Dalton, who helped more than anyone else to shape the career that took Earl Weaver to the summit and, ultimately, Hall of Fame accreditation.

When Dalton, driving home from the post office in tiny downtown Carefree, heard a radio report that Weaver had been elected to the highest honor the game bestows, he screamed a one-word reaction: "Sensational!"

As quickly as Dalton could dial the telephone to Weaver's residence in Pembroke Pines, Fla., the man who picked him to become manager of the Orioles in 1968 was extending the kind of congratulations that mean so much when coming from an old and genuine friend.

Weaver, talking later about the call from Dalton, was to say, "I told him that he, too, was in the Hall of Fame. And I mean it. I sure do."

According to Weaver's insistence, the Orioles officials responsible for his achievements were Dalton and the late Jim McLaughlin, who was the farm director when the team during the 1950s and '60s had one of the most productive of all minor-league operations.

Weaver, reacting to the Hall of Fame announcement, told reporters, "Without Harry Dalton and Jim McLaughlin, I wouldn't have made it. They gave me the chance. Without them, I couldn't have done any of this."

It's commendable of Weaver, on such a jubilant occasion, to want to pull Dalton and McLaughlin into the Hall of Fame with him. Dalton, asked for reaction to Weaver's public comment, said, "It's flattering but not true. Earl's ability took him there."

As Dalton and his wife, Pat, enjoy a life of leisure under the Arizona sun, they reflect often on the way it was in the formative years of the Orioles and the enjoyment they derived.

Dalton was to believe in Weaver and, in fact, put his own future on the line when naming him manager in midseason of 1968, replacing Hank Bauer. Some rival general managers questioned the move because Weaver, to them, seemed to lack control in heated situations and had never handled veteran players.

Appropriately enough, Dalton actually witnessed Weaver's first game as a minor-league manager in 1956. Farm director McLaughlin told Dalton, his assistant, to visit Knoxville, Tenn., and see if he could arrange a working agreement for the next season with the Southern League club.

The night before he arrived, Knoxville manager Dick Bartell, with an extensive major-league playing background, was fired.

Weaver, trying to hold on as an $800-a-month second baseman, was picked to succeed Bartell to finish the season. "I met Earl in passing that night," Dalton said. "When I got back to Baltimore, I told McLaughlin about Earl. Then he filled me in on how well he knew Earl's father in St. Louis when Jim was with the Browns."

It was McLaughlin's decision to send George Staller to manage Knoxville the next season. As for Weaver, he was hired to be in charge of Fitzgerald, Ga., in the Georgia-Florida League.

The Orioles' minor-league camp was in Thomasville, Ga., and there Dalton, in charge of the program, became impressed with Weaver. "He seemed well organized for a rookie manager," Dalton said.

"Maybe it was because he had been trained in the St. Louis Cardinals system and they had a reputation for knowing how to teach fundamentals. Earl had a good sense of camp routine. He was smart and had great enthusiasm."

But Dalton was given reason to wonder later about Weaver's combative manner. "That year in Fitzgerald he got heated up and charged into the other dugout. He went in alone to fight a whole team and got the hell beaten out of him."

Still, in so many other ways, the Orioles were impressed. He could manage and also lead. As Weaver won games in his climb from Fitzgerald, the lowest rung, to Rochester, the Orioles' top affiliate, Dalton continued to hold him in high regard. If he had a worry, it was that he might hurt his team by being so confrontational with umpires.

"With Elmira when the club was playing in Charleston, W.Va., he got in an argument and picked up third base and walked away with it," Dalton said. "You can't do that. I remember later flying to Springfield, Mass., and telling him I was interested in seeing him save his job."

Did he pay attention to the message? "Absolutely. We meshed with each other and he knew how much I thought of him," Dalton said. "At the same time, all of us in the farm department didn't want to take his spark away. That was important."

At what interval did he believe Weaver had the capabilities to advance to the big leagues? "During the time he managed Elmira. I began to think he had a chance to do the same thing with the Orioles. Then at Rochester I was sure of it."

But why -- specifically -- Weaver for the Orioles in 1968? Dalton didn't deliberate giving his answer.

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