The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Earl Weaver: Strategy, Innovation, and 94 Meltdowns (pt.3)

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…continued from yesterday

Of the three books to his credit, it’s Weaver on Strategy that has left the greatest impression on baseball minds since its publication in 1984. It’s packed with insights and observations from Weaver’s career, but there are also ten laws that delineate his managerial philosophy. Two of them prove his preference for big plays and big innings: The easiest way around the bases is with one swing of the bat; and, If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get. He has two laws for pitching, one of which justifies his use of the four-man rotation; the other designates long relief as the best place for a rookie pitcher. He addresses defense by noting that the key step for an infielder is the first one—to the left or right, before the ball is hit. Weaver even has a law for dealing with his constant nemeses: The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager, because it won’t hurt the team if he gets thrown out of the game.

Though his laws are sound, Weaver was best known for his succinct managerial philosophy: Pitching, defense, and the three-run homer. The catch phrase was as short as the man himself and packed every bit as much punch thanks to his ability to stack the Orioles year after year with players to supplement the threepronged attack. Weaver’s pitchers won 20 games on 22 occasions (six went on to win the Cy Young Award), his fielders won 34 Gold Gloves, and his clubs were in the top five in home runs in the American League 11 times. All told, it was enough for him to pile up a .583 winning percentage, six division titles, four pennants, and the 1970 World Series championship.

If you watch the Haller clip on YouTube long enough, you’ll hear the assailed umpire make a comment that cuts deep beneath Weaver’s bristly façade. It comes after Weaver, once again in Haller’s face, promises that it is he who will be remembered when all is said and done; it is he who will be in the Hall of Fame. Haller smugly inquires, “What are they gonna put you in the Hall for? Fuckin’ up World Series’?”

Haller is most likely referring to Game 2 of the 1979 Series when Baltimore and Pittsburgh were tied 2–2 in the bottom of the eighth. The O’s had runners on first and second base; John Lowenstein was at bat. If Weaver had called for a bunt, the Orioles would have been in excellent position to plate one or more runs to keep the pressure on the Pirates. Instead, Lowenstein hit into a double play and erased both base runners. The next batter grounded out. Pittsburgh scored a run in the top of the ninth and then held on to win 3–2 and tie the series at a game apiece. The victory gave the Pirates a much needed toehold in the Series before they eventually overcame a 3-games-to-1 deficit to claim the championship. If ever there was a time for Weaver to stray from his “pitching, defense, and three-run homer” philosophy, it was probably then. I doubt the lesson was lost on the astute Weaver. Perhaps it was the genesis for his sixth law: Don’t play for one run unless you know that run will win a ballgame.

Unfortunately for Weaver, that wasn’t the only World Series gaffe to which Haller could be referring. Weaver took criticism for having Boog Powell play throughout the ’71 Series despite suffering an injury that caused obvious pain every time he was at bat. Powell was a crucial part of the O’s slugging attack, but he hit an anemic .111 for the Series, going 0-for-4 and striking out twice in Game 7, when Baltimore fell to Pittsburgh 2–1.  The Orioles may have been done in by Weaver himself that day when he charged out of the dugout in the first inning and pulled a ruse that perhaps only he would pull:  He complained that Pirates pitcher Steve Blass wasn’t lining up properly on the mound.  The objection was sustained—home plate umpire Nestor Chylak told Blass he had to adjust.  Instead of climbing into Blass’ head, though, Weaver had inadvertently given him a breather and a chance to focus and collect himself.   Blass was wild before that, having walked Don Buford, but settled in to throw a four-hit complete game.9

Though Haller ejected Weaver five times, the two were merely enemies. There was another umpire who was easily Weaver’s archenemy: Ron Luciano. Their feud went as far back as the minor leagues. (It was Luciano who had tossed Weaver three games in a row in Elmira.) Weaver couldn’t stand Luciano’s flamboyant style, and at one time even threatened to fine any Oriole player who talked to Luciano during a game. Luciano once described Weaver’s approach to the game as religious; his outrageous behaviors, then, were a reaction to an umpire’s sacrilegious actions. Weaver never could convert Luciano. Instead, Luciano exorcised Weaver from games on seven different occasions once they both reached the major-league level. Luciano’s description was neither his final word on Weaver nor his most acerbic. In a sports-themed book published shortly after his retirement in 1980, Luciano was asked to rank the five toughest managers he had to deal with.10 He listed Weaver in the first four spots (the fifth spot was Frank Robinson, though Luciano noted that Robinson was Weaver’s protégé). Later in the same book, Luciano commented that Weaver never forgets and held grudges that made him even more difficult to deal with. He cited a controversial call he made at the plate late in his career, recalling, “Earl charged out of the dugout, screaming that that was the same call I’d blown at Elmira in ’66.”11

Many players, including Robinson and Weaver’s long-time staff ace Jim Palmer, insisted that Weaver never held grudges, so perhaps it was only with umpires.12 Those same players, especially Palmer, commented that heated confrontations, blow-ups, and even the hurling of equipment were not uncommon in the Orioles dugout as Weaver and his players dealt with each other but that, once it was over, it was over. Weaver never continued to stir the pot. Weaver even claimed in Weaver on Strategy that he didn’t believe in grudges. “They’re stupid,” he wrote, “and nothing good comes from them.”13

One pitch after I had brought the Earl Weaver situation to my buddy’s attention, Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez called for the play. Dan Uggla baited lefty Manny Parra, but Hanley Ramirez was too late breaking for home and was gunned down 1-3-2. Given Weaver’s reputation, I had a feeling about what he might have said to Gonzalez for playing for one run, much less doing it so early in the game.

Of course, there’s a chance Weaver would have said nothing. On the same radio show when he described his patented first-and-third double steal, he said he doesn’t watch much baseball nowadays (and only a few innings at a time when he does) because he can’t stand to see the way the game is coached and played. He finds greater satisfaction with his weekly (and highly competitive) golf game and in growing tomatoes where he has retired in south Florida. So perhaps Weaver doesn’t mind so much what’s on YouTube. His position in the Hall of Fame is just as permanent as the notorious clips in orbit around cyberspace, and, if nothing else, they reinforce how the man himself suggested he be remembered when his time comes—as The Sorest Loser Who Ever Lived.

Written by seeker70

January 24, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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