First off, a big pat on the back goes out to all Baltimore Orioles’ fans for setting a new franchise record of 18,000+ at FanFest yesterday. That stat is a great tribute to the 2012 season, and it shows a lot of optimism for 2013. However I’ll talk more about FanFest at another time. The fact is that the mood was dampened a bit by the early morning news of the passing of former Orioles’ manager and National Baseball Hall of Famer Earl Weaver. Weaver was on an Orioles’ legends cruise in the Carribean, and died of an apparent heart attack on board.
Before this goes any further, my deepest of condolences go out to all who knew and loved Earl. It has to be a tough pill to swallow for his children, grandchildren, etc., to know that he was so far away from home when he passed away. Having said that, I won’t bore anyone with stats such as his 97 ejections (still an American League record). Everyone knows who Earl Weaver was in Birdland and beyond. Even non-Orioles fans know this, as the guy isn’t in the Hall of Fame for nothing. However in losing someone like Weaver, a piece of the Orioles’ community passes on as well.
Earl Weaver was the architect of the greatest era in franchise history. However perhaps more importantly, his demeanor and stature seemed to symbolize the relentless attitude of the old blue collar town in which he managed. I’ve always seen Baltimore as the little guy who’s forced to fight with one hand tied behind his back for no apparent reason. That’s “the Earl of Baltimore.” He was the ultimate of characters in a game noted for it’s characters. Yet if you put him in a room with the likes of contemporaries of his time, they’ll probably find a way to say that he doesn’t belong. If you put the city of Baltimore in a room with Washington DC, New York, Chicago, Boston, and LA, those cities would probably find a way to argue that Baltimore doesn’t belong. It was a match made in heaven from the beginning.
At 32, I have vague memories of Weaver’s second stint with the Orioles in the mid-1980’s. At that time of course, he was already a legend of the game and it didn’t take a genius to know that he probably wouldn’t be around for long. I remember having a conversation with one of my cousins just prior to the post season last year, and she told me that she felt that the Orioles’ return to glory was bringing “old Baltimore” back in a way. I can’t really put my finger on what “old Baltimore” is (as opposed to “new Baltimore”), but I know exactly what she meant. Earl Weaver was part of “old Baltimore,” not just because he came and won a lot of baseball games, but because of the way he symbolized the community.
It was poetic justice that the Orioles unveiled the six sculptures to Oriole Hall of Famers last season, one of which of course was Weaver. In the end, it provided a bit of a farewell tour or sorts for Weaver and the fans. However perhaps more importantly, the true poetic justice was that he got to see the organization he loved so much return to it’s rightful place as a winning team. With that said, it’s also worth mentioning that what the Orioles did last year is thought of throughout the baseball community as a fluke. Most people assume that this was a franchise that just got lucky and struck gold for one season. In his heyday, that would put Earl in a feisty mood that would fire him and everyone around him up.
I could go on and on, but then this article would end up being as long as one of Weaver’s legendary arguments with umpires. However the fact is that Baltimore and the entire baseball community lost one of it’s best ambassadors in Earl Weaver. As if that wasn’t enough, St. Louis Cardinals’ great Stan Musial died yesterday as well. They’re fielding one heck of a team up there! Once again, I offer my most sincere of condolences to the Weaver family. Those are the people who know and will miss the real Earl Weaver. However the baseball community knew and loved “the Earl of Baltimore.” And he’ll be missed terribly. I suppose it goes without saying that the Orioles will have some sort of tribute on their uniforms all season in 2013, as is the custom throughout sports in these situations. However the greatest tribute that the 2013 Orioles could pay to “the Earl of Baltimore” would be to win. Therefore with this tweet yesterday, I sent out what I thought the theme of 2013 should be for the O’s: #Win4Earl. Rest in peace Mr. Weaver; you’ll be missed.