O's legend Weaver speaks at HOF
Baltimore manager reminisces with fans at Cooperstown
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Fiery Orioles manager Earl Weaver could always excite a crowd with his confrontations with umpires. These days, more than two decades removed from the dugout, the "Earl of Baltimore" can still wow a crowd with his recollections of a lifetime in the game.
Weaver participated in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's ongoing Voices of the Game series on Sunday night. The event, part of the 2007 Hall of Fame Game Weekend, took place before a full house in the Hall's Grandstand Theater. Upon being introduced, the crowd made up mostly of Orioles fans -- in Cooperstown for Monday afternoon's big-league exhibition between Baltimore and Toronto -- gave the 76-year-old Weaver a standing ovation.
Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996, Weaver's 1,480 managerial victories, all with the Orioles, are currently 20th on the all-time list. He finished with a .583 wining percentage, five 100-win seasons, six American League East titles, four pennants and the 1970 World Series championship. And as his Hall of Fame plaque reads, Weaver "managed the Orioles with intensity, flair and acerbic wit for 17 seasons."
But as Weaver told the rapt Cooperstown crowd, if he didn't become a manager, the longtime Minor League second baseman is not sure what would have become of him.
"I was a good Double-A baseball player, mediocre Triple-A, and would have been a player on a last-place big-league club. I didn't have Major League talent to help someone become a winning team," Weaver said. "As I was playing Minor League baseball, watching the guys go ahead of me to the Major Leagues, I'm judging what they had and what I didn't have, and I realized I was going to be a little bit short of Major League talent.
"I left home at 17 years old to play professional baseball, so there weren't any other skills. I don't know what I would have done."
Luckily, after 9 1/2 years as a Minor League player, Weaver was given the opportunity to manage in the Orioles farm system in 1956. It took another 10 1/2 years as a Minor League skipper before Weaver was given his shot to manager in the big leagues with the Orioles in 1968.
After falling to the Miracle Mets in the 1969 World Series, Weaver won his one and only World Series the next year against the Reds. When asked what he remembers most of that five-game title run, Weaver responded with two words -- Brooks Robinson.
"I've never seen so many balls hit to a third baseman," Weaver said. "It just seemed like every single ball that Cincinnati hit would be to his left, would be to his right, diving catches, unbelievable plays. If you were lucky enough to go to the Orioles games every day, you'd see Brooks make those plays throughout the season, but never so many in a five-game series."
It was also during these early years that Weaver began to gain a reputation for his disagreements with the men in blue. In all, he ended his career with 98 ejections, an American League record. Whether it be covering home plate with dirt, tearing up a rule book, or turning his cap backwards to argue in an umpire's face, the footage of these outbursts is engrained in the minds of baseball fans everywhere.
In introducing his wife of 43 years, Marianna, to the Hall of Fame audience, Weaver explained, "She went through all of those 98 ejections and each time I'd come home and she'd tell me what a fool I'd made of myself and 'Don't do it again.' But it never seemed to stop."
Weaver did have some nice things to say about umpires, singling out Hall of Famer Nestor Chylack.
"The man never got a call wrong," Weaver said. "No matter how close the play, if Nestor said 'out', I'd say my player was out or if he said 'safe', I'd say that player was safe."
As a young manager with Elmira (N.Y.) of the Eastern League, Weaver made his first trip to the Hall of Fame on an off-day. Never at that time could he have imagined that one day he'd be one of only 16 managers, alongside such legends as Connie Mack, John McGraw and Casey Stengel, to be elected to the Cooperstown shrine.
"To be in that group is an honor, but I earned it. Number one, I had a lot of ballplayers that earned it for me. And that's the first thing a manager thinks of, is the guys that got him there, the players he had," Weaver said. "The other thing you've got to remember is that that manager picks those players. Managing is getting that team to coordinate and play together. That's what a manager has to do. Of course, you need the talent to do it, but you can teach that talent how to play baseball correctly."
Weaver was also asked about his thoughts on one of this year's Hall of Fame inductees, Cal Ripken Jr., who he managed when the longtime Baltimore shortstop made his big-league debut in 1981.
"He's just a baseball person from a baseball family," Weaver said. "His dad (Cal Sr.) caught for me in 1960, the year that Cal was born. Cal Sr. and I became close. And a year or two later, Baltimore offered Cal a managing job with the Orioles. He more or less followed me up the ladder, and he'd have the family with him all the time.
"As Cal Sr. managed some of those Minor League clubs, Cal Jr. would be the clubhouse guy. He knew baseball a lot better than some of the guys that had played four or five years of Minor League baseball," Weaver added. "But Cal, as a kid growing up, just knew the game, knew how to play the game, and wanted to play the game."
Bill Francis is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.