One Umpire Calls Him 'Baseball's Son of Sam' but Earl Weaver Is Also the Game's Best Manager
10/08/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT
10/08/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT
'I had to admit I wasn't good enough for the majors—it broke my heart'
He's goofy," says umpire Larry Barnett. "He can't control himself—ranting, raving and screaming. Every time he comes out of the dugout, it's as if he's been shot from a cannon."
Earl Weaver, Baltimore Orioles manager, denies he's anything like that, of course. "I'm the most passive, forgiving person—a true Christian," he says with a straight face. "I feel the way God feels." That bit of theology will be news around the American League.
During the 11 years he has run the Orioles, Weaver, 49, has won more games than any other manager (1,091) and been thrown out of more (74). Earl is not one for going quietly. Once he took third base with him to the locker room. Earlier this season when he was ordered off the field, he managed the team from the dugout toilet until he was spotted peering out the door between pitches. In August he was suspended for three days for publicly denouncing umpire Ron Luciano, whose colleague Jim Evans in turn called Weaver "baseball's Son of Sam." "Earl would like to win every game 11-0," says Baltimore coach (and former slugger) Frank Robinson, "but he doesn't panic when things get tight."
Since he took over the Orioles in 1968, Weaver's teams have finished below second only twice and won the World Series, three pennants and five division titles. The Orioles swept the American League East this season, even though they hired only three so-so free agents. Meanwhile their main competitors, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, were trying to sign up every unindentured star they could throw money at. This week Baltimore begins a five-game playoff against the Western Division champs to decide the American League pennant.
Weaver has been in or around baseball almost all his life. In St. Louis, his father ran a dry cleaners that catered to the Cardinals and the Browns. The Browns became the Orioles when the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954. Young Earl loved to help carry out the players' dirty uniforms. "They belonged to Leo Durocher, Pepper Martin and Ducky Medwick," he says, still in awe. "By the time I was 11 or 12,1 was seeing 100 games a year and second-guessing the manager."
As a player, Weaver never got to the majors. He spent nine years as a minor league second baseman, before he was hired in 1956 as player-manager for a Class A club in Tennessee. Weaver quickly benched himself. "I had to admit that I wasn't good enough," he says, "and it broke my heart. But I learned to judge a ballplayer's capabilities the hard way—by having to recognize my own incapabilities."
Weaver now keeps an extensive file on all his players (how each has done against every opposing pitcher in the league), often rearranging the Orioles lineup, game-to-game and inning-by-inning. That kind of treatment often annoys players; on the other hand, Weaver is known for taking their side against the Orioles' sometimes penurious management. "The majority of players like Earl," Robinson says. "They all respect him."
Weaver's approach is not total calculation. He'll wear the same sweat shirt for days or use the same pencil to make out his lineup card if the team is on a winning streak. During games he paces the dugout or sits on his hands just to calm down.
Away from the ballpark he is equally intense. In 1972 he stalked a sports-writer from the Baltimore News-American, repeatedly spitting in his face because he was angered by the man's reporting.
Weaver only seems to relax around the three-bedroom home in suburban Baltimore he shares with second wife, Marianna, and stepdaughter, Kim, 20, a college junior. (Three children by his first marriage are grown; none is connected with baseball.) At home Earl most enjoys a lush vegetable garden that was supposed to help him cut down a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit. Weaver has refused to give up smoking altogether. "I don't want to deprive myself of anything," he explains, "that will make me more irritable."