Former Orioles manager Earl Weaver dies at 82

January 19, 2013|By Mike Klingaman and Peter Schmuck | The Baltimore Sun

Earl Weaver penned his own epitaph.

“On my tombstone just write, ‘The sorest loser that ever lived,’ “ he once said.

Weaver, the Orioles’ chain-smoking, umpire-baiting, tomato-growing manager who led the team to four American League pennants and the 1970 world championship in his 17 years here, died late Friday night while on a baseball-themed cruise. The Orioles confirmed his death Saturday morning but did not release a cause.

The Hall of Famer, who lived in Pembroke Pines, Fla., was 82.

“Earl Weaver stands alone as the greatest manager in the history of the Orioles organization and one of the greatest in the history of baseball,” Orioles owner Peter Angelos said in a statement.

Brooks Robinson, the Hall of Fame third baseman, called Weaver’s passing “a terrible day. I loved that guy. He made every player who ever played for him a better player.”

Weaver piloted the Orioles from 1968 to 1982, and again in 1985-86, earning nicknames like “the little genius” and “the Earl of Baltimore.” His teams won 1,480 games and lost 1,060, and his lifetime winning percentage (.583) ranks seventh all-time and fifth among managers in the modern era who managed 10 years or more. Five times, the Orioles won at least 100 games for Weaver, who was 5-feet-7 but stood taller in his players’ eyes.

“Earl was one of a kind,” said Hank Peters, the Orioles’ president and general manager from 1975 to 1987. “He was little, but he produced mighty results. He had the ability to get so much out of his players. He was the master at giving them the opportunity to do their best. His record attests that he made the right moves.”

One of the game’s great strategists, Weaver was also a visionary and a genius at maximizing a 25-man roster’s potential. In his pocket, he carried index cards with “the minutiae of the American League on them.” He loved players who got on base and hit home runs. He abhorred small-ball strategies that wasted outs. And he trumpeted these theories long before they were brought into Hollywood vogue.

“Having Earl gives us a four-game lead on everybody,” pitcher Sammy Stewart once said

Weaver's death came on the eve of the team's annual FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center.

“It’s a sad time, but at the same time, Earl would say,’I hope it won't mess up FanFest,’ “ Orioles manager Buck Showalter said at the event, where Weaver's No. 4 hung from behind the stage. “Every time I look at an Oriole now, it’s going to be missing a feather without Earl.”

Born and raised in St. Louis, Weaver signed with the Cardinals in 1948 and kicked around the minor leagues as a light-hitting second baseman. In 1957, at age 26, he joined the Orioles’ organization as player-manager of their Fitzgerald, Ga. rookie club, and gradually progressed. He quit playing in 1960, never having made the big leagues.

Early on, Weaver’s fiery temperament struck the Orioles’ brass.

“He’s colorful and aggressive,” Harry Dalton, then Baltimore’s farm director, told The Sun in 1961. “Once he charged an opponent’s dugout with a flying tackle, hit a post and wound up in the hospital with a shoulder separation. But he has mellowed some lately, and that is good.”

In 11 years of managing in the minors, Weaver won three pennants, placed second on five occasions and never finished out of the first division.

Promoted to the parent club as first-base coach in 1968, he became the Orioles’ sixth manager that year and made his debut on July 11, replacing the fired Hank Bauer. His salary was $25,000 — half that of his predecessor.

“We took a chance on him,” said Frank Cashen, then the Orioles vice president. “Weaver was a rogue, in the best sense of that word. Making him manager was probably the smartest thing we ever did. In my opinion he was the best manager in baseball – twice hired, twice retired, and never fired.”

Weaver won his first game, 2-0, over the Washington Senators as Dave McNally pitched a two-hitter and Boog Powell stole a base.

The Orioles, then 43-37 and in third place, rose to second and finished 91-71.

Three straight American League pennants followed and, in 1970, the Orioles won their second World Series, defeating the Cincinnati Reds, four games to one.

Afterward, at an awards dinner, Weaver said, “The Orioles made me. I didn’t make the Orioles.”

Powell remembered Weaver as “a fierce competitor who understood the innermost workings of the game. Earl knew the rulebook, forwards and backwards – and, sometimes, he tore it up too.”

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