Earl Goes Out a Winner
Earl Weaver won his final contest, at least as much as it can be won. The Hall of Fame manager died aboard a cruise ship—it was an Oriole-themed cruise—on the day of the Orioles FanFest. I’m sure that the Baltimore Convention Center will see its share of tears, wept unashamedly by grown men who wouldn’t cry at their own father’s funeral. I suppose that’s because we come to accept that our parents are mortal, but somehow we cannot accept that our heroes are as well.
There’s a difference between colorful and flamboyant. It is because Earl was always the former and never the latter that he was so revered by Oriole fans. His intensity and on-field outbursts genuinely reflected who he was and were not part of a marketing plan to “brand” Earl Weaver, to use the modern terms. Earl expected every one of his players, from Chico Salmon to Frank Robinson to work hard in Spring Training and play hard in games. He put his players in positions where they were most likely to succeed in order to win games for the Baltimore Orioles. And it was always about the Orioles and never about individuals. As former outfielder John Lowenstein once said, “We have no stars on this team, but Earl lets us all shine a little.”
With the exception of Reggie Jackson, who played for the Birds in 1976, the Hall of Famers that Earl managed seemed to reflect his attitude. Jim Palmer expected to be on the mound when the 27th out was recorded. Cal Ripken expected to play every inning of every game. Frank Robinson thought no less of breaking up a double play than he did of hitting a home run. Perhaps Earl’s Orioles are best epitomized by a moment that occurred after the clinching Game 5 of the 1970 World Series. During a post-game interview, Frank Robinson took pains to point out how in the 3rd inning, Brooks Robinson had hit a ball to the right side in order to advance Merv Rettenmund to third. That was Earl’s Orioles: the superstar third baseman gave himself up for the team and the superstar right-fielder took pride in his teammate.
As for those of us who filled Memorial Stadium, we also took pride in the team. It was as if Earl made sure that the game would be played correctly for our sake. He made sure that, win or lose, we got our money’s worth.
It was truly heart-warming for those of us who were around then to witness the 2012 Orioles’ season because it had such a familiar feel to it. There was this little, white-haired guy in the corner of the dugout who missed nothing and demanded that the game be played the right way. It certainly seemed as if last year, every Oriole got to “shine a little,” and now we know that Buck Showalter is going to be around for a while having been given a five year contract extension. Buck had Earl speak to the players in Spring Training last year about what it means to be an Oriole. That the season was so successful is probably just a coincidence. And then again, maybe Earl worked his final act of Oriole Magic, and the torch was finally passed to a manager and a group of players who would keep it burning brightly.
Earl got to unveil his statue at Camden yards last year, the one that stands among his Hall of Fame players. He got to see the Orioles best season in 15 years. He died on the day of the Orioles’ FanFest. Earl Weaver went out a winner and that is no surprise.