Earl Weaver was some piece of work. And I mean that in the best possible way. Life was never dull if you were anywhere within the orbit of the Hall of Fame manager, who ruled the Orioles' dugout for 17 seasons and will have his bronze statue unveiled Saturday at Camden Yards.
My first meeting with Earl was unforgettable. By that I mean I probably still carry the emotional scars and should probably unburden mysellf to an analyst some day.
That first meeting took place a couple of hours before a game early in the 1982 season. I was young and new to Baltimore, and new to covering the Orioles as a sports columnist for the old Evening Sun.
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Now here I was, sitting next to the legendary manager in the Orioles dugout, interviewing him for the first time. Earl's rep was that he could be cantankerous with the media. I was big-time nervous.
And I was about to get even more nervous.
Because after my second or third question, I asked him something about Jim Palmer. I don't remember the question. But it was something innocuous, something like: "Is Palmer ready to go tonight?"
Which is when Earl send a stream of spittle flying through the air.
It seemed to rise, like some kind of unholy spitball, and hang a foot or two over his head. But I could sense where it would land even as it left his mouth.
And sure enough, as I watched in horror, it landed -- SPLAT! -- on my shoe.
Earl went on talking as if nothing had happened. But I couldn't take my eyes off the big, brown gob now dripping down the side of my loafer.
So many questions leapt to my mind.
Did Earl know he had just spit on my shoe? Did he mean to spit on my shoe? Was this some kind of crazy hazing ritual he performed with the new media guys?
I didn't know. And Earl wasn't giving me a clue. His face was inscrutable. He just kept spitting and talking about Palmer, spitting and talking about Palmer, as I scrunched my feet further under the bench to keep them dry.
Later I would find out that Earl spit on a lot of reporters' shoes, often on purpose, and he thought the whole thing was hilarious.
I covered Weaver for only three years. He retired after the 1982 season, which ended with that heartbreaking loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Memorial Stadium on the last day of the season, a loss that left the O's one win short of another AL East title.
He came back to manage the Orioles in the middle of the 1985 season. Earl was still Earl, as sharp and colorful a manager as I've ever been around. But the Orioles were just OK (53-52, good for fourth placce) and his heart wasn't in the job this time. It surprised no one when he retired for good the following season.
But I feel incredibly lucky to have covered him, even if it was only for a short time. And in a sick way, I'm sort of glad he spit on my shoe that first day, too.
It gave me an Earl Weaver memory I couldn't forget if I wanted to.