Earl Weaver, the former Orioles Hall of Fame manager who died Friday night, left those around him with such great memories and stories, that it was hard to get them all in for the one story I did Sunday.
So here are some of the leftovers.
My most personal one came last year in Sarasota during spring training. Weaver was at the Ed Smith complex to talk Buck Showalter and his coaches. He was sitting in the lobby near the clubhouse, waiting by himself. So I went up to chat with him.
I had interviewed Weaver several times before. But this one wasn’t an interview. It was just talk. I was kind of picking his brain, about Buck and the current Orioles (who were coming off a 69-win season).
He broke down several of the players for me. At one point, he told me he was curious to see what Chris Davis could do with a lot of at-bats, thought he could put up some nice power numbers if he got a lot of playing time (and Davis did, of course, in 2012).
The conversation turned to how often he followed the Orioles. He talked about looking at the boxscores every morning in the newspaper as he ate breakfast. I jokingly thanked him for still being a newspaper reader.
We probably didn’t speak for more than 10 minutes, but as a kid who grew up in Baltimore in the late 1970s/early 1980s, it was definitely cool to just talk baseball with Earl. The only time he flashed his trademark, um, irritable streak during our chat, was when he talked about golf. He was pretty angry that he could no longer golf due to his inability to walk easily and pain free. It drove him crazy. He said days went by a lot slower without golf.
The last time I talked to him at length was on the day of his statue ceremony. He had a pretty good, pretty Earl press conference after that. About a month ago, I deleted that file from my recorder. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t.
When I was at the Weaver statue this Saturday to collect color for my story, I ran into Tripp Norton, the Orioles’ director of baseball administration, who was at the statue/garden area with his wife, Angel, and son Ty.
Norton had a personal connection to Weaver that occurred well before Norton’s employment with the Orioles. Norton grew up in Miami Lakes, Florida, and the Orioles had their spring training complex in Miami for a long time.
As the manager of the Orioles and a resident of South Florida, Weaver would serve as master of Opening Day ceremonies for the Miami Lakes Optimist Little League, for which young Tripp Norton played.
It’s hard to imagine a big league manager finding time to do that these days, but Weaver did it several times back when he was the club’s skipper. And one of those wide-eyed Little League players he spoke in that group was Norton, who now has been with the Orioles for 15 years.
“I mentioned to him when I first came over here, when I first met him. …. “He was like, ‘Yeah, I remember going out there and doing that,’” Norton said. “He thought that was neat, that I had basically come up here and was with the Orioles.”
Jim Palmer probably leads the universe in great Earl stories. One of my favorites -- about the old-school Weaver -- Palmer first told me about five years ago when I was doing a story on pitch counts. Palmer remembers he was charting pitches for Mike Cuellar during a game against the Minnesota Twins in 1969.
Cuellar had a no-hitter heading into the 9th of a 2-0 game, but gave up a single to the leadoff man on Cuellar’s 135th pitch of the game. Future Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva were due up, and so Palmer, who hadn’t charted for Weaver much before that, decided to let his manager know of Cuellar’s accelerated pitch count.
"I said, `Mr. Weaver, that was his 135th pitch,' and he said, ‘Get your [butt] down to the other end of the dugout and I'll let you know when he is tired,’” Palmer recalled. "So from that time on, I knew the pitch count didn't mean anything to Earl.”
By the way, Cuellar retired the next three batters and the Orioles won that game.
Another Weaver story I had never heard before came from a reader, who will remain nameless to protect the innocent. He told me he had a friend that worked at BWI’s weather bureau, and before every home game, one of Weaver’s coaches was directed to call the bureau and find out the night’s forecast. If it looked threatening, the coach would call maybe every half hour for updates.
Remember, this was way back before the grounds crew and umpires had access to sophisticated weather info. Earl looked at every way to gain an edge. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his famous tantrums were orchestrated around pending storms and a potential Orioles’ loss.
According to the reader, Weaver would send the weather forecasters tickets to Orioles games a few times a year in appreciation. Don’t know if that is true, but it’s a great story.
I’ve got another for you courtesy my friend, the fantastic former baseball beat writer Jim Henneman, who covered Weaver during his entire Orioles’ career. Click here for his reflection on Weaver's chance at revenge on Yankees manager Billy Martin.