Between games, a tribute fit for an Earl

April 20, 2013|Peter Schmuck

Let's be honest. It isn't really that hard to tug at the heartstrings of a Baltimore sports fan. This is a town where nostalgia lives full-time, so Saturday's Oriole Park tribute to Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver couldn't help but strike the right note.

Weaver probably took a break from arguing with the Big Umpire in the Sky to listen in while Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, Rick Dempsey, Buck Showalter, National Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson and Earl's son, Mike Weaver, remembered the greatest manager in the history of the Orioles franchise.

"We loved Earl, and I'm sure he loved us,'' Robinson said. "He probably loved us a little more when we won a few games for him. I think that the players here today will tell you that we all butted heads with Earl every once in awhile, but we admired him. That's for sure. ... I think even the other teams that we played against realized, 'Hey, those guys have the best manager in the league.' They knew that.""

The ceremony included testimonials from all and ended with Mike Weaver throwing the ceremonial first pitch to Dempsey.

"To the baseball world, he was a Hall of Famer,'' Mike Weaver told the crowd. "To you, the fans of Baltimore, he was an icon — the Earl of Baltimore — not only the on-field general, but the leader of the organization. The Oriole Way, into which he was indoctrinated coming through the farm system, became his way. And as the many years passed, his way became the Oriole Way.

"To us, our family, he was also a leader — someone any of us could turn to any time. He was always there for us. To me, he was just 'Dad.'"

It was nice that the Orioles decided months ago to stage this special evening for Earl's wife Marianna and his family, friends and fans, but it was even nicer that we all got to see so much of Weaver last year during the "Legends Celebration Series.'' He was present for each of the six statue unveilings in the Orioles Legends Sculpture Park behind center field, including — of course — his own on June 30.

"It's wonderful that the Orioles put this together,'' Robinson added after the ceremony. "You know, we had the funeral down in Florida, but this is nice. I saw a lot of guys I haven't seen in a long time who came back. It was just a wonderful tribute to Earl.

"I tell you what, we got a lot of laughs out of that guy and he bumped heads with a lot of people, but we all respected him. We knew he was a great manager and we loved him."

The Orioles have honored Weaver several times since he passed away on a baseball-themed cruise on Jan. 19. He was honored on that day at Orioles Fanfest in a variety of ways. The Orioles also noted his passing with a highlight film during pregame ceremonies for their home exhibition opener at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla., and turned the first-pitch ceremony on Opening Day at Oriole Park into a poignant memorial to their Hall of Fame manager.

That ceremony didn't actually include a first pitch. Instead, the ceremonial first ball was simply laid next to the pitching rubber while the Orioles remembered all the people connected to the team who had passed away over the previous year, then paid special tribute to the "Earl of Baltimore."

It was a nice touch, but it wasn't the original plan. The Orioles intended to honor the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens by having a prominent member of the team throw out the ceremonial first pitch, but head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco declined the honor because of previous commitments.

Maybe there was more to it than that, since the Orioles and Ravens were involved in a scheduling controversy that resulted in the Ravens having to open next season in Denver instead of Baltimore, but Opening Day was a big success and so was Saturday night's ceremony.

There were a couple of unforeseen circumstances that forced a change in the script. Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer were scheduled to speak, but Robinson had to cancel for personal reasons and Palmer had to back out because his wife was ill. But Ripken stepped in to pinch hit, which was another nice touch if you think about it.

"Earl gave me my opportunity,'' Ripken said. "In 1982, as most of you can remember, I was 3-for-5 on Opening Day, including a home run in my first at-bat, a double, a great day. And then I went 4 for my next 63 and Earl had me in the office every single day trying to pump me up. But thinking back on it, he played me every day at third base and many managers in many situations would not have had the guts to put me in there and allow me to play. So I owe a debt of gratitude for Earl for keeping me in there.

"I only played for Earl for a very short time, but I wish I would have played for him forever."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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