The news that Earl Weaver, the Hall of Fame manager of the Baltimore Orioles, died Saturday leaves me awash in youthful memories.
Though I grew up a Giants and A's fan in the Bay Area, the O's were my next-favorite team, in significant part because of Weaver's antics. Not to mention the Orioles stellar pitching and lasting excellence. Weaver managed five players who join him at Cooperstown: Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.
There's also a political nexus for any naysayers who object to my using this space to reminisce about baseball. After the Senators quit Washington, Baltimore was the place for DC baseball lovers.
When I was a page in the U.S. House my senior year in high school, 1975-76, I went to games at the old Memorial Stadium. Though the ballpark wasn't memorable, I followed Palmer as he won the Cy Young in both '75 and '76. Later, I returned to the gorgeous new ballpark at Camden Yards, the first and perhaps best attempt at a throwback park, where Earl's No. 4 hangs in honor.
That Weaver grew tomatoes at Memorial Stadium made him a touching figure to me, adding a layer of complexity to his bombast. I did wonder who cared for them on long road trips.
When Weaver finally retired in 1986, he told the Washington Post, “On my tombstone just write, ‘The sorest loser that ever lived.’”
His tantrums were legend, but I always felt like the umpires were laughing inside as he cursed and kicked the infield dirt, spinning like a Tasmanian devil, his cap backward, then tossed to the sky. He could prolong an argument better than anybody, and his fits were more nuanced than his contemporary, Billy Martin, who seemed more unhinged and mean than funny.
I hope the Weaver family and the Major League umpires have thought of this as a coda for the funeral: Have some of the old umps who tossed Weaver kick a little dirt on his grave. I think Earl would find it an apt sendoff.
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