In Baltimore, one of the quirky perks reserved for favorite sports sons is the notion that they’re on a first-name basis with the fan base. Say “Brooks,” “Cal” or “Boog,” and pretty much any Orioles fan will know exactly who you’re talking about. No explanation - or last name - is necessary.
Same with Earl Weaver, who spent his entire major league managerial career at the helm of the Orioles in two stints and amassed an impressive .583 winning percentage along with the 1970 World Series title.
While in Charm City, Weaver became a treasured icon for many things - his feisty temperament and animated run-ins with umpires, his ability to coax the most out of a 25-man roster, his fondness for the three-run home run, his running battles with ace pitcher Jim Palmer and his ability to grow prize-winning tomatoes along the left-field line at Memorial Stadium. But more than anything, Weaver’s tenure as the Birds’ field boss is synonymous with one word: winning.
Breaking down his career 1,480-1,060 record is an exercise in enjoyable reminiscing. Weaver replaced Hank Bauer in the O’s dugout on July 11, 1968, moving from the first base coaching box, and guiding the Orioles to a 48-38 record and a second-place finish. The next three seasons were pure magic - 109, 108 and 101 victories in 1969, 1970 and 1971, respectively. From 1969-82, when he retired the first time, Weaver’s Baltimore clubs never had a winning percentage less than .519 to go along with five 100-win seasons, six American League East titles, four trips to the Fall Classic and more than a few run-ins with the men in blue. Only once during that span - 1978, when the club went 90-71 and finished fourth - did Weaver’s Orioles not finish first, second or third. Yes, a 90-win, fourth-place finish that had the natives more than a little restless.
But as this photograph from the Orioles’ archives circa 1970 demonstrates, Weaver got the opportunity to enjoy those victories, propping his feet up on the desk of his Memorial Stadium office and letting a straw hat festooned with the No. 1 leave no doubt where his club stood in the standings. Weaver, already a three-time Manager of the Year, was coaxed out of retirement in 1985 and went 53-52, then returned for 1986, calling it quits after a 73-89 record, the worst of his career.
Now 81 and retired to Pembroke Pines, Fla., Weaver has been a familiar sight at spring training games in Sarasota, where manager Buck Showalter has had him address the Orioles in an attempt to connect the current club with its storied past. Last June, he was the guest of the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds when that club hosted a FanFest at Perdue Stadium before the South Atlantic League All-Star Game. In blistering heat, Weaver signed autographs and chatted with fans, some of whom were too young to remember his glory days. But the mite of a second baseman who couldn’t get past Double-A during a 13-year minor league career, mostly as a St. Louis Cardinals farmhand, made enough of a mark that fathers brought their sons and daughters to Salisbury to see one of baseball’s truly great managers.
This afternoon, Weaver will be the second of the six Orioles enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame - he was elected and inducted in 1996 - to have a bronze likeness dedicated in the new center-field picnic area at Camden Yards. He’s always been royalty in these parts, known as the Earl of Baltimore. Now there will be a larger-than-life reminder of his impact on Baltimore baseball.
Photos used in the Flashback feature come from the Orioles’ photo archives. From time to time this season, we’ll take a look back at interesting people, places and events in Baltimore baseball history through the camera lenses that captured them and lend a historical perspective to what’s shown.