Yesterday Baltimore woke to learn that Earl Weaver, legendary manager of the Orioles, had passed away. Weaver was 82 years old and collapsed in his cabin attended by his wife while on the annual Orioles’ Fantasy Cruise. Roughly 18 thousand fans attended the Orioles’ annual Fanfest yesterday at the Baltimore Convention Center, as the news filtered through the crowd the celebratory nature of the day took on a bittersweet tone as the Orioles community would now begin to mourn a true giant of Orioles history.
In the day since his passing the baseball literati have written the memorial pieces that one would expect when a true legend takes his final reward. All have been varying degrees of great or beautiful so today I come here to explain what Earl Weaver meant to me.
Of course I am too young to have ever seen Weaver manage. I know Earl like I know any other historical player or coach. I know him as a collection of stats, numbers , video clips and photos. I have seen him speak, I have seen the statues and the various other exhibits which only now are truly memorials. But Earl was more than that to this town. In a way Weaver has always been a ghost to me. Weaver has always been a specter from the past, a shadow that still casts itself over the team and town. What made Weaver so great?
Of course Weaver was an elite manager, one of the winningest managers since 1960; considered to be eons ahead of his time when it comes to statistical analysis, so much so that he is now largely dubbed the “Godfather of Sabermetrics.” Weaver’s teams earned American League pennants in 1969, ’70, ‘71 and ’79 as well as a World Series trophy in 1970. He was a master of platooning and believed in the importance of a strong bench. Three-run homers were as valuable as diamonds according to his world view and he loathed the thought of playing for one run because “that’s all you will get.”
But Weaver was so much more than the stats. Weaver’s teams had magnificent success and his era is largely considered to be the golden age of Orioles baseball. But the wins, while wonderful, only tell a part of the story what people need to understand is that Weaver was a perfect fit for Baltimore. It should not need to be said that Weaver was most known for his, let’s say, unique personality just like the city he called home for the better part of 20 years.
Baltimore has always been a town that is a little rough around the edges. Even in the days before “The Wire” would come to define the town Baltimore was a lunch pail town akin to Pittsburgh or Cleveland but there was just something a bit off about a Baltimorean. A city that is the home of Johns Hopkins and John Waters belies a city with a bit of a personality disorder. Weaver who was known as a savant of baseball statistics while at the same time being the short-tempered, chain-smoking, no –nonsense field general who was never afraid to make his opinion known.
I think that is why Baltimore loved him so much. Baltimore has always felt the need to defend itself from outside opinion and assumption. We are more than urban decay with a harbor, and when Baltimore saw Weaver kick dirt on a umpire whom he felt wronged him he was sticking up for them as well.
Earl Weaver will never be replicated. He was the perfect man for his place and time. Today we seem to be too concerned with some kind of forced civility in the game. And while that is perfectly fine we have to remember that the rough edges of a town, or a man, is what keeps things interesting and are what legends are made of. If Weaver was a boy scout he would be remember for his stats and the championships and as a Hall of Famer. But it was Weaver’s combative nature, bad habits and neighborly accessibility that made him a giant in baseball and a legend in Baltimore.
Earl Weaver, there will never be another.