Beyond tantrums, was hidden Weaver Earl: Fiery ex-Orioles manager is best known for ranting at players and umpires. But as he steps into Hall of Fame, there's another, more sensitive, side to recall.

August 04, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

There's a side of Earl Weaver few people have seen, far removed from the man remembered for kicking and screaming his way through 17 seasons managing the Orioles.

Weaver could be menacing and rude. Umpires ejected him 98 times. He feuded with his players -- just about everyone he managed fought with him at least once.

But there's an Earl Weaver who sat in his office and wept when he had to release a player. There's the man who would go out of his way to meet fans when he really didn't have the time, and the manager who would feed stories to anxious reporters as deadline approached.

He could go at it with a player, then hours later put him in the lineup and assure him everything was fine.

Weaver says his friends are few, yet a legion of past players and acquaintances say they are proud to know him because he's a good person and not because he's being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., today.

"He's a very sensitive person," said Elrod Hendricks, a player and coach for Weaver. "He gets his feelings hurt a lot easier than people know. He really has not changed. He's always been this way, but he never let a lot of people into the other side of Earl."

His temper could push him to the brink of losing control. Weaver's tirades against umpires could be costly: His players say some umpires made calls against the Orioles to spite the manager. Weaver provoked confrontations with his players, too, but didn't hold a grudge.

One night in the mid-1970s, Weaver yelled "home run or Rochester" the first two times Bobby Grich, recently promoted from the Triple-A Red Wings, came to bat. When Grich returned to the dugout, a shouting match ensued, and he threw Weaver down the steps leading to the clubhouse. Grich had to be restrained from further damage, but Weaver quickly forgot the incident and Grich returned to second base, where he started for the next six seasons.

Weaver once instructed a reliever, who was throwing poorly at the time, to warm up in the middle innings while Jim Palmer was on the mound, just to get a reaction out of his starter. Palmer and Weaver argued on the mound and Palmer cussed him out every inning, but he pitched a complete game, the Orioles won and there were no hard feelings.

In 1977, Weaver and Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson were often mad at each other. Robinson no longer was starting, but in the 10th inning of a rainy, April weeknight game against the Cleveland Indians, Robinson had a pinch-hit, three-run homer to win the game.

Despite the insignificance of the victory, Weaver later said that home run was the second-biggest thrill of his career, surpassed only by winning the 1970 World Series.

Weaver respected players who argued back. In fact, he listened to their side, players say.

In 1971, Weaver feuded with Don Buford because he wanted the leadoff hitter to take more pitches. After much debate and a wager, Buford convinced Weaver that pitchers wouldn't walk him to get to the heart of the Orioles lineup. Weaver let Buford swing away, and he responded with 19 home runs, the second-most by a leadoff man in Orioles history.

"I love Earl and appreciate the things he let me do," said Buford, now the Orioles assistant director of player development. "You could go toe-to-toe, face-to-face and cheek-to-cheek with him, and, no matter what, the next day it was forgotten. That was outstanding."

His players have called him the greatest amateur psychologist around. He could mix negative reinforcement and slight praise, motivating his players either way.

Some players, such as Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray, didn't need prodding. Weaver knew others, like a young Cal Ripken, would respond to positive feedback. He frequently checked on Ripken to instill confidence as he moved through the minors.

"He protected you in the media," Ripken said. "He protected you in the front office. It was my experience that he battled for you in every respect."

Growing up tough

Weaver's combative nature took shape in his childhood years. ++ He was raised in a tough section of St. Louis. As a small 12-year-old, he was playing baseball against 16-year-olds. Weaver, who turns 66 on Aug. 14, would get teased and beat up because of his size.

"I got in a lot of fights as a kid, and because I had some baseball ability, I was always playing with guys three or four years older," said Weaver, generously listed as 5 feet 8 in Orioles publications. "So whenever I got in a fight, I got beat up."

Weaver left home shortly after graduating from high school.

"I signed at 17 years old and didn't have no further education," Weaver said. "So baseball was what I was educated in, and I decided to stay in that."

He paid his dues as a minor-league player and manager for 20 years, fighting all the way. Fighting the opposition. Fighting umpires. Fighting his players. Fighting himself.

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