The Earl Of Baltimore Is Remembered Fondly
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
As a baseball organization, the Baltimore Orioles were as good as it got for the better part of 25 years. There are plenty of reasons that changed -- the economics of the game; lots of the club's top development people left from the late 1960s on; and what was once a mantra that meant something, The Oriole Way, was rendered meaningless because of the lack of an even playing field. Oh, and did I mention that the Orioles' owner for close to the last two decades, Peter Angelos, stunned by the level of criticism about several poor decisions, seemed to lose his way during the better part of the past decade?
But, let's focus on the key person that kept this thing always moving in the right direction for the largest chunk of the Golden Years, a guy named Earl Weaver.
|Buck Showalter and Earl Weaver on Opening Day 2011
The combative, pint-sized mad genius was a force of nature. That his team always had some of the best players in the game -- Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Dave McNally, Boog Powell, Jim Palmer, and eventually Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken -- was why his teams were always in the hunt for pennants. But it was Weaver's uncanny ability to squeeze everything out of the proverbial tube that caused others to fear him.
During the 1940s and '50s, Casey Stengel intuitively knew it was no accident that right-handed hitters hit lefties better than they might righties, and vice versa. But, as soon as Weaver took the reins at the helm of the Orioles, intuition was taken out of the equation. Weaver dispatched his then-PR guy Bob Brown to keep records of how every Orioles hitter did against every pitcher, and how every O's pitcher did against every opposing hitter. That's how and why Weaver's famous index cards were born, and how an exact science was born.
One of the most amazing facts in Orioles history is that Weaver managed the team to but just a lone World Series title. Overall, he took the Birds to four World Series, with the only title coming in 1970 against Cincinnati.
To put that in some perspective, Joe Torre won four, Tony La Russa won three and Terry Francona won two. The Orioles' three world championship squads were all managed by a different skipper -- Hank Bauer in 1966, Weaver in '70 and Joe Altobelli in '83. Yet, Weaver is the one in the Hall of Fame, and he is the one that will be honored Saturday with a statue at Camden Yards, one of six people whose numbers have been retired during the team's storied history.
Long forgotten during Weaver's great career is that while at the top of his game, in 1982, he announced he'd manage out that season and call it a career. His team was well behind the Milwaukee Brewers, who were then in the American League, going into September. That season predated wild cards, so for Weaver's last hurrah to culminate during the postseason, his Birds would have to make up seven games going into September against a tough Brewers club, just to get into the postseason.
Starting Aug. 28, Weaver's birds reeled off 10 consecutive wins to cut the Brewers' lead down to just three games by Sept. 7. After that, it was like a roller coaster the entire last three weeks of the season. Splitting a four-game series in Cleveland left the Birds still three out. The Orioles came home and swept the Yankees five consecutive games, to pull within a single game by Sept. 16.
Next came two three-game series against the Indians and Tigers, in which the best the O's could do was go 3-3, to drop back to three games behind. But seven of the last 10 games left were against the Brewers, and there was still hope in the air. A seemingly catastrophic 15-6 loss on Friday night at County Stadium put the Orioles at four games back with just nine to play. Jim Palmer and Dennis Martinez stepped up, and by Sunday, as the Orioles trudged into Detroit, they stood two games back.
The Orioles lost the first two games of that series in Detroit, and during those three days, they had lost a crucial game in the standings. As they came home for a four-game series, they stood a daunting three games behind Harvey Kuenn's gritty Milwaukee Brewers club.
The Orioles sweep a doubleheader Friday night at Memorial Stadium, to pull back within a single game of Milwaukee. Saturday, the Orioles tattooed Doc Medich on their way to an 11-3 win, which got them dead even with the Brewers.
All that was left was for Palmer to best Don Sutton on Sunday and the Orioles would be in the postseason for Weaver's last hurrah. The fact that Palmer and the Orioles would ultimately go down to the Brewers, 10-2, in perhaps the most anti-climactic game in franchise history isn't the point.
The point is that with Weaver at the helm, win or lose, the Orioles were seemingly always in the hunt, with the opposition afraid of what he and his club could pull off next.
Posted June 28, 2012