Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, former Orioles manager, dies at 82
He also was known by his closest friends to be both sensitive and caring, though he seldom allowed the public to see the softer side of him.
"Earl is a very caring human being underneath that facade," former Orioles first baseman Boog Powell said in a 1996 interview. "And we all knew that. We felt like family, and when I left here, I felt like I had left my family. You always knew that Earl would do anything in the world he could do for you."
Weaver went to bat for a couple of young players who would establish themselves among the greatest stars in the history of the game.
He pressed to keep Eddie Murray at the major league level in 1977 and is credited with bucking convention to switch supposedly oversized Cal Ripken Jr. from third base to shortstop.
The rest, of course, is history.
"This man fought for me," Murray said, during an interview in early 2003. "He kept telling (general manager) Hank Peters and the rest of the front office that I should stay. They just had me penciled in there, but he kept sending me out there."
Weaver also is credited with a major role in developing what came to be known as The Oriole Way, a standardized approach to minor league instruction that he instituted along with fellow minor league manager Cal Ripken Sr. during the early 1960s.
In some ways, he was a comic character like longtime Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, but he had a hard edge that could rankle a player as easily as an umpire.
Weaver got under the skin of Triple-A call-up Bobby Grich in the early 1970s, yelling "home run or (go back to Triple-A) Rochester" at the young second baseman as he went up to bat. Grich came back to the dugout and - after a loud verbal exchange - threw Weaver down the steps that led to the clubhouse.
To Weaver's credit, he also had a short memory. Grich remained in the starting lineup for the next five seasons and established himself as one of the top power-hitting second basemen of his generation.
"You could go toe-to-toe, face-to-face and cheek-to-cheek with him," former Oriole outfielder Don Buford said, "and, no matter what, the next day it was forgotten. That was outstanding."
Murray said it was a little more complicated than that. Weaver had the uncanny ability of adjusting his managerial style to each player on the major league roster.
"He did something that nobody else could do," Murray said. "He had 25 different people on his ballclub and he had 25 different ways to manage them."
Maybe he had a case of little man syndrome - dating back to his childhood in St. Louis, when as an undersized-but-talented teenager he played baseball above his age level and battled anyone who teased him about his height - but he certainly had a knack for getting the most out of the players he managed.
He inherited a pretty good team when he replaced Hank Bauer as manager in the summer of 1968, the Orioles going 48-34 under Weaver to finish second with a 91-71 overall record. The club won 109 games the following season and was a heavy favorite to win the world title, but fell victim to the Miracle Mets in what is arguably the most famous World Series upset in history.
The 1970 club shook off that defeat to win 108 games and the world title and the Orioles also reached the World Series in Weaver's third full season.
The O's would finish first in the American League East five of the first six years after the institution of divisional play and Weaver finished lower than second only once in his first 10 seasons as manager (including his half-season in 1968).
The only time he finished as low as fourth in the 15 seasons before his first retirement, the Orioles won 90 games.
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