Written by Roy Alan Firestone
Earl died last evening after a heart atack while on the Orioles Fantasy Cruise.
I first met Earl Weaver 43 years ago when I got a job as a clubhouse boy for the Baltimore Orioles. I remember his first words to me.
“Kid, make sure I don’t run out of my cartons of Raleigh’s(cigarettes) and don’t F..thingsup around here”.
I don’t think we ever ran out of Raleigh’s.
I'm not sure about the other part. Earl Weaver always hated the word genius. He hated pomposity and certainly didn’t appear to be a sentimental type (more about that later). He tried not to get close to his players.
He was simply the most profane man I ever met. He had to be the most prolific smoker and drinker I’ve ever known too. He was ejected for arguing with umpires at least 100 times in his career. He managed nearly 1500 winning ball games, won a World Series, six American league titles, four pennants, and had only one losing team in 17 seasons with the only major league organization he ever managed; the Orioles. He also hated losing more than he loved winning.
He battled umpires, (he was once ejected from a game in it’s first first five minutes) and I was there next to him in an Orioles dugout,when he was ejected from a spring training game.
Really, Earl was not a lovable man. But when you knew him he was accessible as long as you knew what you were talking about. If you didn’t, you would regret ever walking into his office. Earl hated phonies, know -it -alls, and yet he was not unwilling to talk philosophically about things in real life; reflection, inequity, even social matters like civil rights. I remember a very moving conversation (though he wouldn’t call it that) I had with him once about the injustice towards black players in the 40’s and how, if he were black, he would play with a chip on his shoulder.
Earl never played a single game in the major leagues, but he managed like he knew every nook and cranny of the game, because he did.He was one of the first to use computers to strategize. He didn’t seem like a numbers guy and yet, he took numbers over hunches every time. He could battled his players, Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Rick Dempsey and dozens more. But he always stayed away from his favorites, Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, who were like a sons to him, and of course, he never ever challenged Brooks Robinson. Brooks was the most beloved Oriole of all time, and when Earl had to take him out of the lineup in the final season in his career it was Earl who said ”That man meant so much to us and to me, and to tell him that I couldn’t go with him anymore was probably the saddest thing I've ever had to do in baseball”...then Earl broke down and cried.
In September, the Orioles had one final statue to unveil for all the Oriole hall of famers. It was for Brooks Robinson. In the pre-ceremony reception in the Oriole offices I sat with Earl and his wife Marianna and reminisced. I couldn’t believe how lucid he was. He remembered his regrets (trading Frank Robinson a year too early). He remembered his joys (managing the 1970 champs), and yes, he remembered those cartons of Raleighs when I brought it up. ‘When I had my first heart attack, I smoked all the way to the hospital in the ambulance”,he said,” if I was gonna die, I was gonna die with my cigarettes”.
Earl Weaver finally did die at the age of 82, not ironically to me, on an Oriole cruise in his cabin on the Caribbean. He had quit smoking decades ago.
I have one more story to tell you about Earl. When Brooks Robinson was getting his statue unveiled at the Orioles Park last September, I sat virtually across from Earl. As Brooks was introduced to speak, I looked over at Earl. There, the little fiery general, the man who had little use for sentiment and intimate relationships with his players was Earl.... weeping. They say there's no crying in baseball. Surely Earl would have no use for tears in remembering him. Some will shed tears. I’ll just remember that moment at the ceremony and remember how much he cared and how I’ll never ever know anyone quite like him again. I’ll miss you Earl
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