Hall of Famer and former Orioles manager Earl Weaver waves to… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
When he steps on the field at Camden Yards Monday to throw out the first pitch, Earl Weaver will do it without warm-ups. At 80, one doesn't mess with one's right arm.
"If I've got one throw left in me, I'm gonna to save it for the game," said Weaver, the Orioles' Hall of Fame manager.
The Orioles tabbed the popular Weaver to christen their home opener against the Detroit Tigers, hoping the club's storied past might rub off on current players. The foxy, feisty octogenarian managed Baltimore for 17 seasons, during which his teams won four American League pennants and a world championship in 1970.
Weaver agreed to take part in Monday's festivities at the behest of the team's owner.
"Mr. (Peter) Angelos asked me to do this, so I'll do it," he said. "Can I still get the ball to the plate? It's gonna be tough, unless I throw underhand, or left-handed. My arm is shot from throwing batting practice all those years (while managing) in the minor leagues. We didn't have coaches to throw BP back then."
The Orioles and Buck Showalter, managing in his first full season with the team, see Weaver as a valuable resource. A Florida resident, he attended spring training and addressed the coaching staff, at the manager's urging.
"Someone asked, 'What is The Oriole Way?' " Weaver said of the club's mantra during its heyday. "It's tough to explain. I told them that you create your program, and what Buck expects you to do in the big leagues, and start teaching it from the bottom up — so that when players reach the big leagues, everyone's on the same page."
Five times, under Weaver, the Orioles won 100 or more games, and only in his last season (1986) did they have a losing record.
Weaver likes what he has seen of Showalter, and not just because the two men bear a physical resemblance.
"He's going to be a hands-on guy who does his teaching on the field," said Weaver, who managed the same way. "And I don't think he'll put up with much stuff. All I asked of players was that they be on time, do the best job to their ability and never slack off."
Showalter and Weaver share an obsession to succeed, Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer said.
"Both men will say that 'players play the game,' but . . .both are extremely prepared and don't leave much to chance," said Palmer. "Earl pretty much covered the spectrum what you want in a manager. Pardon the expression, but he didn't have a whole lot of shortcomings."
Showalter hopes to continue learning from Weaver.
"I hope he gets there early enough to talk to us some more," he said. "It's not necessarily entertaining, but it's more of a reminder that things just don't happen by accident, They happen for a reason. He is sharp as a tack. You can hear the passion for the Orioles. I don't think anybody has more love for the Orioles and epitomizes success here than Earl."
That the scheming, umpire-baiting Weaver is locked onto the Orioles' radar doesn't surprise his former players.
"He represents a time in Orioles history that we all cling to," Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. said. "Earl is the greatest Orioles manager ever. He could motivate you in so many ways, from making you mad at him to letting you be."
Paul Blair called Weaver "a blessing" for the Orioles.
"If anyone deserves to throw out the first ball, he does," said Blair, the Gold Glove winner who patrolled center field for some of Weaver's best teams.
Weaver's tiffs with umpires are legend. To show his disgust with a call, he would scuff dirt onto home plate ("The umpire wasn't using it anyway"), tear up rule books and wear his cap backward to go nose-to-nose with arbiters.
"He'd be out there, screaming about a strike call, and I'd be in the (batter's) box thinking, 'I hope the umpire doesn't take it out on me,' " Ripken said. "But there was logic to Earl's thinking. He knew, somehow, that the managers who got the best strike zones were those that argued a lot. The umpires knew he was watching them."
Ejected 97 times, Weaver would head to the clubhouse in a huff, sometimes with a base tucked under his arm.
"Back then, the bases were strapped down," first baseman Boog Powell said. "To protest a call, Earl would get down on his hands and knees, unbuckle the leather straps – which was hard to do – put the base under his arm and carry it right into the locker room. We'd have to go out to the equipment shed and get another base.
"We laughed at Earl, but he knew the rulebook, inside-out."
Nowadays, that enmity is gone.
"I think the umpires get a kick out of seeing me," Weaver said. "Whenever I've come to Baltimore, Ernie Tyler (the Orioles' umpires attendant, recently deceased) would always bring me a box of balls to autograph for them.".
Former Orioles offered Weaver some tips on making his pre-game toss.