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Former Orioles manager Earl Weaver dies at 82

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

Weaver’s run-ins with arbiters — he was ejected 98 times — were legend. He screamed. He swore. He kicked dirt on home plate and, on several occasions, tore bases from their moorings and gave them the heave-ho before getting one of his own.

“Wherever Earl is now, I’m sure the umpires are saying, ‘Oh no, here he comes,’ “ Powell said.

Caricatured by the media, Weaver seemed not to care. Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd said his raspy voice, refined by years of smoking unfiltered Raleighs, resembled “a Cuisinart set on ‘puree’ when the umpires blow a call.”

But Weaver’s theatrics were well-planned, said Rich Garcia, former AL umpire.

“He knew the drill. Earl didn’t want his players thrown out [for beefs], so he stepped in and got thrown out himself,” Garcia said.

“In my eyes, he was an icon of the game, and some of his strategies helped umpires. Earl didn’t want his pitchers throwing at guys because he didn’t want other teams doing the same. He didn’t want anyone getting hurt because he felt his 25 guys could beat anyone else’s.”

Weaver retired in 1982, declaring that there was more to life than baseball. “I didn’t want to wake up dead some morning in the Oakland Hyatt Hotel,” he said, adding that “I don’t know if I’m mean enough to manage anymore.”

On Sept. 19, a crowd of 41,127 showed at Memorial Stadium for “Thanks, Earl Day.” President Ronald Regan sent a congratulatory telegram. The Orioles retired Weaver’s No. 4 jersey, making him only the second big league manager to have his number retired (after Casey Stengel of the New York Yankees).

In his speech, written on those dog-eared index cards, Weaver said:

“Little did I know 15 years ago, how deeply attached I’d become to this city. I came here in 1968 when urban areas were being demolished by riots and fires ... but, after the turmoil subsided, it didn’t take me long to find out I was in a baseball town.

“The warmth and understanding you fans show professional athletes is hard to believe.”

Weaver thanked his family for “putting up with a mind completely dominated by my job for some 35 years” and the club for putting up with a “moody, irrational and sometimes rude individual.”

He thanked players for their exploits that “allowed me to keep my job” and said, “I will carry the memory of this day to my grave. I’m a very lucky man.”

Then he took a ride around the field in a 1954 Pontiac convertible and blew the fans a kiss.

It would be a bittersweet farewell. Weaver bowed out with a season-ending, 10-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers for the division championship. Twently minutes after the game, 40,000 fans hollered him back onto the field, where Weaver turned to the crowd and, arms extended, spelled O-R-I-O-L-E-S as fans shouted it out.

Two and a half years later, Weaver returned, at the behest of Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams, in mid-1985 after the firing of Joe Altobelli. The Birds finished fourth as Weaver managed them down the stretch, winning 53 and losing 52.

He retired for keeps after 1986, when the Orioles (73-89) finished seventh in the AL East. It was the only losing season in Weaver’s 17 years with the club.

He was always a fan favorite, and the Orioles faithful got several opportunities to let him know that during the course of the Orioles’ 2012 season. Weaver returned to Baltimore repeatedly to take part in the special series of statue unveilings in the center field plaza at Camden Yards, including one that was dedicated to him on June 30.

He showed his softer side during his acceptance speech, applauding the other great Orioles there who are immortalized in bronze, and dozens more who helped him become a managerial legend.

“What comes to mind is, 'Thank God those guys were there, and thank God we won 100 games three years in a row so I could come back for a fourth year,’ '' Weaver said. “And thank God for the fourth [team] that won enough games for me to come back for the fifth year … and on to 17.”

Weaver was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996. Two years later, at 68, he suffered a heart attack while watching television at his home in Florida. He quit smoking after that.

Jim Palmer, the Orioles’ Hall of Fame pitcher who had many a go-round with his manager, said that he heard of Weaver’s death at 3:30 a.m. Saturday from Scott McGregor, another Orioles pitcher. McGregor was on the same Orioles-theme cruise with Weaver.

“I didn’t get much restful sleep after that,” Palmer said.

Weaver straddled no fences in his life, Palmer said.

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