Orioles fans everywhere today are coming to learn of the passing of “The Earl of Baltimore” – longtime Orioles skipper Earl Weaver. I heard of it through a text message while driving to FanFest this morning.
Probably the first picture in most minds of Weaver is that of an aggressive argument with umpires; and yes, there were quite a few! Earl got tossed a total of 94 times over his 17 years – placing him 3rd all-time on the ejections list.
But Weaver was a great baseball mind, and that is how he should most be remembered. He is the godfather of “The Oriole Way.” Though it was Hank Bauer who actually managed the World Champions 1966 Orioles, it was Earl who took them through the incredible seasons of ’69,’70, and ’71 … and many other successful campaigns thereafter.
It was Buck Showalter who especially today shared reflections on the impact of Weaver. Buck invited him to spring camp to talk to the players, saying today that Earl kept repeating to the guys to “be brilliant in the basics.”
These days, around Orioles circles, I most often hear Weaver cited as the champion of the 3-run homer. The funny thing is that I was alive and following the Orioles rather intently over his managerial years, and I don’t recall him talking about that very much. He was more about situational baseball and match-ups and doing all the little things well. Weaver was in fact a groundbreaker in these matters, and among those enriched by that thought process was me! As I reflect on it, I was educated in the minutia of baseball by following the team and his leadership in my formative years. Earl was indeed ahead of the times. As I reflect back to why college coaches I had would make mistakes that were clearly and obviously wrong-headed to me, I now see that they did not have the experience I had of watching, listening, reading, and learning from a brilliant baseball mind. My coaches were still a product of a very staid and traditional way of playing the game in a one-size-fits-all mode.
Earl Weaver was of course the source of an abundance of great one-liners and quotes… many of which could never be repeated in mixed company. I’ll share one that I suspect few have heard, since it comes from my world – where I’m the pastor of a church. Former Orioles outfielder Pat Kelly had come to a strong faith as an Orioles player. After his career was over, he became a very gifted and sought-after speaker in the evangelical church community. Not long before his sudden death in 2005, he spoke at a dinner event at my church. He talked a lot at dinner about Earl Weaver and his fiery leadership. Pat told me that, after his faith conversion, he said to Earl, “Skipper, I’ve come to faith in Christ and I’m walking with the Lord now.” Without any pause, Weaver replied, “Oh really? I’d rather that you walk with the bases loaded!”
The Orioles community is certainly really pleased to have successfully included Earl in the monument court at Camden Yards, and to have been able to do it before his passing. But the other passing that has happened is the passing of The Oriole Way of the Weaver era to The Oriole Way of the Showalter era. This was symbolized well by the first pitch of the 2011 season being thrown from Earl to Buck. That is how it should be; that is how it is; that is how it will be. The Orioles are back, even if Earl is gone.