Remembering the Earl of Baltimore

As noted in the About Me section of this website, I grew up as a fan of the Baltimore Orioles and bled orange and black from a very young age.

Although, as my mother recently pointed out, it is entirely likely that had the Washington Senators not left town first for Minnesota, and then for the suburbs of Dallas, my Baltimore Oriole fandom would not have come home to roost.

Instead, I would have been a Senators fan like my mother and grandfather had been before the team left town.

But, as fate would have it, when I was growing up in the suburbs of Washington D.C. the only baseball game in town was happening in Baltimore.

Growing up as a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, as I did, there were several faces of the franchise that helped shape opinions of the Orioles among the fan base.

The names and faces that one most identified with were determined mainly by when one first started following the team.

The Orioles had a long roster of notable players from Brooks and Frank Robinson to Boog Powell and Davey Johnson who took the diamond before I was born.

For me, the names most associated with the Orioles were Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Palmer, Rick Dempsey, Eddie Murray, and of course the leader of the bunch Manager Earl Weaver.

Earl Weaver’s retired number 4 at The Baltimore Orioles Spring Training home Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.
Photo by R. Anderson

Weaver recently passed away at the age of 82 while on a Fantasy Cruise for Orioles fans.

To think that a man so associated with the Orioles would spend his final moments in the presence of Orioles fans, despite having last managed the team over two decades ago, is a testament to the lasting impact that Earl Weaver had on baseball, as well as the Orioles who were the only Major League Team that he ever managed.

Weaver was a talented innovator of the game. He could even be called the father of sabermetrics if one were so inclined based on his extensive use of binders and match up tendencies that were far ahead of what his contemporaries in the other dugout were doing at the time.

In paying tribute to Weaver, former Milwaukee Brewers owner and current Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said, “Earl Weaver was a brilliant baseball man, a true tactician in the dugout and one of the key figures in the rich history of the Baltimore Orioles. Earl’s managerial style proved visionary, as many people in the game adopted his strategy and techniques years later. Earl was well known for being one of the game’s most colorful characters with a memorable wit, but he was also amongst its most loyal.”

The Earl of Baltimore, as he was known, led the Orioles to the World Series four times over 17 seasons winning the title in 1970. His .583 winning percentage ranks fifth among managers who served 10 or more seasons in the 20th century.

Earl Weaver finished with a 1,480-1,060 record and won Manager of the Year honors three times. Earl Weaver was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.

I only ever saw Earl Weaver manage the Orioles in person once during a 1986 Spring Training game at Orlando’s Tinker Field against the Minnesota Twins.

Earl Weaver retired at the end of the 1986 season and I had feared that I would never get a chance to see him in action again.

Fast forward three years, and I was fortunate enough to meet Earl at Tinker Field on December 17, 1989. After retiring from the Orioles for a second time, and like many retirees before him, Earl had found his way to Florida.

Ticket stub from the December 17, 1989 Orlando Juice versus the Gold Coast Suns Senior Professional Baseball League game where I met Earl Weaver. Photo by R. Anderson

On this particular day, Earl was managing the Gold Coast Suns of the Senior Professional Baseball Association (SPBA) against the Orlando Juice.

The SPBA was an eight-team winter baseball league based in Florida for players age 35 and over who had retired from MLB but still wanted to play ball. The league folded after a season in a half, but it lasted just long enough for me to realize a dream.

For me, Earl Weaver could have been managing a team of preschoolers in Tee Ball; it didn’t matter. What mattered was I was able to walk onto the field before the game and meet one of my early heroes.

We talked, he signed an autograph and it became the first of many brushes that I would have with sports figures, and other public officials through my career as a journalist and a fan.

Despite the ensuing years and other high-profile meetings, I still consider standing on the third base line of Tinker Field talking baseball with Earl Weaver one of my favorite baseball memories.

Looking back at it now, I realize how fortunate I was to have that experience. Although I have had field access to myriad events during my career as a journalist, I doubt in the heightened security times that we live in now that random fans would be able to walk onto any baseball field before a game and chat up the manager.

Getting to spend a few moments talking baseball with Earl Weaver on a professional baseball diamond was one of the highlights of my personal and professional career. To this day, I have the framed autographed baseball card I received that day hanging in a place of honor in my office.
Photo by R. Anderson

To this day, I have the framed autographed baseball card hanging in a place of honor in my office.  Other autographs lose their luster or stay hidden away but not Earl’s.

It sort of reminds me of the man himself. Earl Weaver was a larger than live personality who could not hide.

Earl was often shown on the nightly sports casts kicking dirt on umpires or having temper tantrums before getting ejected from a game.

However, those theatrics tended to overshadow the fact that Earl Weaver had many ideas and techniques that were ahead of their time 20 years ago, and have now become common place.

Earl was able to see his beloved Orioles reach the playoffs last year after a long drought.  I like to think that put a smile on the old school manager’s face.

Maybe he even went out in the backyard and kicked some dirt around his tomato plants just to feel like he was back on the field and part of the action.

I highly recommended searching for Earl Weaver vs. Umpires videos. There were some classics that make some of the theatrics of the WWE seem pale by comparison.  But what else would one expect from an original like that?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find some dirt to kick Earl Weaver style.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson