Fans respond to Weaver's death at Orioles' FanFest
WTOP's Craig Heist
Craig Heist, wtop.com
BALTIMORE — It took me a little while on Saturday to digest the news that Earl Weaver passed away at the age of 82.
As I headed to Orioles Fanfest, I knew it was going to be a bittersweet day. I knew fans at the Baltimore Convention Center would want to celebrate the near start of spring training and the anticipated excitement of a potential winning season for the Orioles after a 14-year drought ended last year.
There was never a drought when Earl Weaver managed the Orioles.
When the 5-foot-6 little field general (today is the first day in my life I am proud to be 5-foot-6) took over the Orioles at the All Star break in 1968, I was 9-years old. What was to follow would be one of the best parts of my childhood.
The Orioles went to the World Series the next three years, winning 109, 108 and 101 games respectively. However, the team only won one of the Series when they beat the Cincinnati Reds in 1970 in what became known as the Brooks Robinson Series.
Yes, they lost to the Mets in 1969 in five games, and to the Pirates in 1971 in seven games, but they were there with a chance, and that is the point to all of this.
As a fan, I would rather get there and have a chance every year because without that chance, you never win a World Series. Weaver gave the Orioles a chance, every year.
In 1973 and 1974, there were back-to-back AL East titles, but losses to the Oakland Athletics dynasty of Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi and Gene Tenace prevented World Series appearances. There was no shame in that since the A's won it all in both years.
From 1975 - until Weaver retired the first time after losing to the Brewers and missing the playoff on the final day of the 1982 season - the Orioles won 90 games in 1975 and 88 in 1976 (thanks, Reggie, for showing up five weeks late).
The Orioles won 97 games in 1977 (thanks, Reggie, for not staying and going to New York, but I digress), 90 games in 1978 and 102 games in 1979 (AL East Champs, losing to the Pirates in seven games in the World Series). The team won 100 games in 1980, 59 games in the 1981 strike season and then 94 games in 1982.
If only the Wild Card existed back then.
That's why Weaver won 1,480 games and had a .583 winning percentage, fifth best all-time for managers who managed 10 or more seasons in the 20th Century.
"Earl Weaver was all about winning," says Orioles Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer. "He didn't sugar coat it and we had some marvelous teams under his leadership."
Weaver was feisty; he was Baltimore through and through. That's why the fans loved him so much. He wasn't all about arguing with umpires, but he did appreciate hard work and the work ethic of a blue-collar town that came to know him as the "Earl of Baltimore."
Looking at current Orioles skipper Buck Showalter, it's easy to see just a little Weaver in him, with the hand in the back pocket going to the hill to make a pitching change. While Showalter doesn't get thrown out of games or argue with umpires like Weaver did, you can see the fire burns in him as much as it did Earl.
"He's sincere," Showalter says. "Because if he didn't think you were bringing something to help the Orioles, he didn't have any time for you. It was pretty much cut to the chase and I really appreciated his bluntness. I knew I was getting what he thought instead of trying to sugar coat it."
That's part of the Oriole way. Weaver had it, Cal Ripken Sr. had it and it appears Buck has it, too. It was a formula built on fundamentals and playing the game the right way.
Maybe that's why Showalter led this team to its first winning season and its first post-season appearance in 14 years. No one other than Davey Johnson managing this team in 1996 and 1997 gave them a chance to win like Showalter did last season, and the way Weaver did throughout his career.
That's why my father hated the Orioles and Earl Weaver so much. Just the thought of the Orioles winning anything drove my dad up a wall.
Charles Heist grew up in Allentown, Pa., and was a Yankees fan. Needless to say, he and I didn't get along too well during baseball season. That's why I liked Weaver even more.