The image of Earl Weaver dying on a cruise ship doesn’t fit. Just more proof we can’t choose the time or place of our own demise. In a world where all things happened appropriately the crusty old Baltimore Orioles manager instead would have keeled over as he kicked dirt on some home plate umpire at a ballfield somewhere.
On other hand, Weaver was on the cuirse ship because of an Orioles-connected event. Weaver, 82, seemed like one of those guys who might live forever. He was just too ornery to die, some might say. Weaver was grumpy, tough, sarcastic, witty, and boy did he want to win. He presided over the Orioles’ glory years and that’s what got him into the Hall of Fame.
Weaver managed the Orioles from 1968 to 1982 and again in 1985 and 1986. He was the boss for 2,540 games and his teams won 1,480 of them. On Weaver’s watch the Orioles won four pennants and a World Series and were always in contention. Weaver’s teams won .583 percentage of their games. The Orioles were the only Major League team that Weaver managed and he supervised the Orioles for 17 seasons.
As great as his players were, from Jim Palmer to Eddie Murray, Weaver’s strong-willed personality kept them in line and while he could be volatile he was very popular with Baltimore fans. He thought big, believing in the three-home homer rather than the hit-and-run and sacrifices. A statue of Weaver stands at Camden Yards and Sunday there were roses and carnations placed next to it as a memorial. His No. 4 uniform jersey has also been retired.
Weaver was not perceived to be in poor health and evidence that he was not was the fact that he signed up to work and talk on the cruise with baseball fans. Weaver’s death coincided with the Orioles’ annual team off-season weekend fan festival, so patrons who came to cheer for the current team were shocked to learn of his passing.
At 5-foot-6, Weaver was not of large physical dimensions, but he made sure he was not ignored because of the loudness of his voice. He seemed to get a kick out of giving umpires grief and they got back at him by throwing him out 0f games. Weaver’s roar could not be heard much beyond the first few rows of a stadium, but his face could be red, as well as read, from a mile away. When Weaver was displeased by a call he became quite animated and could be seen from right field jabbing his index finger at the ump.
Weaver liked to be seen as put-upon, but he drummed up his own woes with umpires. Weaver’s wrangles with umpires were legendary. He referred to one ump as blind. another as “the worst one,” and still another as “not smart enough to remember the rule book.” He said if one of the umps ever touched him without his blue uniform on, Weaver would consider it assault and Weaver put him into Johns Hopkins Hospital.
While he won enough of them, Weaver said managers don’t win games during the long pennant race, but with off-season acumen. “A manager wins games in December,” Weaver said. “He tries not to lose them in July.”
Weaver was from St. Louis and he wanted to play in the majors, but never made it. His genius was on display in the dugout the way he deployed players, not at the plate with him swinging. If there was one thing Weaver regretted in life it was the Orioles going pennant-less all of these years since 1983. He would have loved to have stuck around to see Baltimore qualify for one more Series.