Monday, January 21, 2013

His Name Was Earl

"I don’t want to spend my whole life watching the sun go down behind the left field bleachers.”

Earl Weaver said that about retirement. He retired at 52 as manager of the Orioles, came back three years later when "the price of a carton of Raleighs went up," and gave up the baseball life for good at age 56.  He spent 13 years playing minor league baseball in the organization of his hometown St Louis Cardinals, but he never made the big leagues as an infielder.  Oriole pitcher Jim Palmer, a fellow Hall of Famer, who battled with Earl for years over all sorts of little things, managed to win 268 games for the Orioles over the years, the vast majority of them coming with Palmer on the mound while The Earl of Baltimore bristled at him in the dugout.  Palmer is one of several Orioles to whom the quote, "The only thing Earl knows about major league pitching is that he couldn't hit it" is attributed. 

Well, the fact is, very few great ballplayers become great managers.  Frank Robinson became a rather good manager, but most men with great skills on the diamond have a terrible time relating to men of lesser skill.  It's just beyond their ken to understand why others can't run, pitch, catch, and hit as well as they could.

One of Earl's secrets was that he just didn't give a rat's asterisk about how well the players liked him, or how they felt he "related" to them.  His management style was like this:  he told each player what would be expected of him, and he expected the player to produce the results expected and make darned few mental errors.  It didn't matter to him if he liked the player or the player didn't like him; as long as the guy did his job, no problems ensued.  He offered this advice, good for any supervisor anywhere:  "Keep the ones who hate you separate from the ones who haven't made up their minds yet."

This was the night that Earl threw the umps out!
So, Earl died the other night, at age 82, on an Orioles off-season cruise.  He was there to talk baseball with a public that adored him more than a quarter-century since he retired, sure to be the leader for all time in the category of "times getting thrown out of a game."  I just can't think of a better way to go, if you have to go at all, then making it fast and being surrounded by the people and the life you love.

One last quote from Earl, who managed "by the book," meaning that he relied on note cards telling him how each of his players did against each other player in the American League, and followed The Accepted Strategy in most baseball decisions (have your left-handed relief pitcher come in to pitch to left-handed slugger, when to hit and run vs when to hit and run).  But sometimes he went against the odds, mixing things up and going against what every manager since Connie Mack has done.  And why do that, he was asked?

"Because everything changes everything."  

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