James’ Brand New Blog

Earl Weaver (1930-2013): An American Master

- January 20th, 2013

earl weaver 1980

This is a 1980 file photo of Baltimore Oriole manager Earl Weaver.  Weaver is being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday, Aug. 4, 1996.

Only the umpires won’t miss him.

Apologies to Paul Haggis for reworking his obituary line on his fellow Londoner & great friend Ron Culbert, an angler so gifted & cheerful only the fish wouldn’t miss him  – & applying it to Earl Weaver.

The death has of Earl Weaver has left this Baltimore Orioles’s fan saddened & upon reflection, happy, too . . . it’s hard not to think about Earl Weaver without smiling.

He was a true American hero & one of baseball’s greatest thinkers, generals & wits . . .& dirt-kickers. As the post’s title suggests, PBS-TV should consider doing an American Masters ep on him. If it hasn’t already.

Here’s the start of the obituary elsewhere on lfpress.com 

BALTIMORE, MD - Former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver died early Saturday morning. He was 82 years old.

The team’s website said Weaver died of an apparent heart attack while on an Orioles fantasy cruise.

The obituary has Earl’s career numbers, an appreciation of his baseball genius & is full of praise . . . right now, I am thinking of his remarkable intelligence, command of Americanese with the master touch of a great dramatist, his biting wit &, of course, an effort to correct an umpire’s error.

All those Earldoms are combined in my favourite Earl Weaver anecdote, It dates from 1982. The Orioles’ skipper was leading the charge against the Milwaukee Brewers. Like many of Earl’s campaigns, 1982 would come up a win short — which only makes him an even great American hero, a terrific general with a command of language who won hundreds of victories, big & small, & was always ready to battle on when the biggest ones (1969, 1971 — four 20 game winners & we still lost to the Bucs — 1979 & 1982 — missed post-season on last day) went the other way.

Here’s how Sports Illustrated started a piece on The Earl of Baltimore late in what was thought to be his last season . . .

Back in the spring at Miami Stadium, the noted author Earl Weaver was ribbing the noted author Ron Luciano about alleged inaccuracies in The Umpire Strikes Back, Luciano’s bestseller-to-be. When Luciano invoked poetic license, Weaver said, “Like it says in Hamlet, Ron, ‘This above all: to thine own self be true.’ ”

The story’s not finished. Edwin Pope, sports editor of The Miami Herald, recorded the exchange in his column. Unfortunately, he got the quotation confused with another from Hamlet and put it in the mouth of Horatio. The next time Weaver saw Pope, he said, “Edwin, if Polonius didn’t blooming say it, I’ve lived the last 35 years of my life backwards.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that Earl Weaver quotes Shakespeare, or is coming out with a line of plant food, or plays golf to a seven handicap, or Schneiders his players at gin, or has his Orioles in yet another pennant race, maybe his farewell pennant race. “Baseball is a game of surprises,” he says, “so nothing surprises me.” Weaver is a man of surprises.

(Back to JBNBlog)

I didn’t find Steve Wulf’s story in Sports Illustrated . . . the version I have treasured is from 1989′s Baseball Anecdotes (co-authored by Wulf & Rotisserie League rival Daniel Okrent).

It differs slightly — but tellingly — from the original version. Both confirm Earl as a Shakespearean hero in baseball, along with another JBNBlog inspiration, Tigers’ announcer Ernie Harwell, who used to talk about the season at Stratford when we would chat at Tiger Stiadu, & quoted Shakespeare & Satchel Paige the first time he retired. Two class acts, Earl & Ernie . . . may the Bard be with you up in eternal Cooperstown.

Back to the anecdote: Here’s the later punchline as improved upon in Baseball Anecdotes . . . language alert, but let’s get over it, eh? The man was a genius with a gift for language, including the well-chosen seven-letter word.

“Weaver quoting Shakespeare is remarkable enough, but the kicker to the story came after Weaver’s literary allusion appeared the next day in a column by Edwin Pope in the Miami Herald. An editor decided to improve it by having Weaver say, ‘Like Horatio said in Hamlet . . . .” The next time Weaver saw Pope, he yelled, “Edwin, if Polonius didn’t fucking say it, I’ve lived the last 35 years of my life backwards.”

Fans of the 1995 hit rom com Clueless will recognize how Alicia Silverstone’s character begins to win over Paul Rudd by correcting her rival who has attributed the quotation, wrongly of course, to Hamlet (a.k.a. Mel Gibson).

Back to Earl Weaver. I was lucky enough to meet him while covering baseball for The Free Press, likely in 1986, which turned out to be his last season . . . there was a third baseman, maybe Tom O’Malley, the Detroit Tigers had sent to Baltimore on for some reason (maybe posing for Playgirl) . . . he looked good for a while & at Tiger Stadium there was a chance to ask Earl (my hero) about this terrific acquisition.

Had the Tigers made a mistake in giving up too soon on O’Malley, Earl (if I had the nerve to call him that).

Earl looked away & seemed amused at the naif chatting with him . . . but he answered politely, if v.  blandly . . . . & it was a big thrill for me. But Tom O’Malley wasn’t a big hit with Baltimore & all these years later, I can see Earl Weaver was not going to say anything foolish about his potential with the Birds.

Well, bless you Earl Weaver for all those countless great moments you brought to this Oriole fan & so many of us.

Upon thinking about it, the umpires will miss you, too.

PS It may well be the youthful Earl Weaver had some early acquaintance with  St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Famer Stan Musial, who also died  on Saturday, aged 92 . . . Earl’s father ran a St. Louis dry-cleaning business used by both the Cardinals and the Browns (who later became the Orioles after moving to Baltimore).

 

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