It was all a misunderstanding.
“I never cursed an umpire,” Earl Weaver insisted. He explained that he’d tell an umpire that he’d made an [expletive deleted] call, but he’d never called them an [expletive deleted].
So, began my first meeting with Earl Weaver, a man I thought I knew well just from watching.
By the time he told me this story, he was several years retired from his second stint as Orioles manager.
When the news came on Saturday morning that Weaver had died, it was shocking. I’d seen him several times last summer, older and smaller, but seemingly in decent health.
His heavy smoking days long in the past, it was probably still a shock to his friends and fans that he lived to 82.
Weaver died on the annual cruise he took each year, one associated with the Orioles. Scott McGregor and broadcaster Fred Manfra were on the cruise, too.
He loved the cruise he got in return for socializing with Orioles fans, and it was strange that he died hours before the most eagerly anticipated FanFest in team history.
More than 18,500 fans jammed the Baltimore Convention Center, and many of them were old enough to remember when an enraged Weaver would run out of the dugout to argue with an umpire, turning his cap around to make sure it didn’t make contact.
Weaver was often oversimplified as a guy who fought with umpires, Jim Palmer and adored home runs. He was all of that, but much more.
He was years ahead of his time. It wasn’t just the three-run home run. It was “pitching and home runs.” He won more games with Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Pat Dobson, Scott McGregor and Steve Stone, 20-game winners all than he did with home runs.
He instinctively knew Cal Ripken would be a better player at short than at third base, ushering in the era of larger shortstops.
On-base percentage mattered to him and so did batter’s matchups against pitchers. He’d play his strongest lineup in the second game of doubleheaders knowing most managers did the opposite. He had a much higher winning percentage in doubleheaders than other managers.
He disdained the “play for one run” game, avoiding bunts and stolen bases, but he was adaptable. In those years he didn’t have home run hitters, he was fine with stealing.
Weaver was a sabermetrician a generation before anyone knew what they were, but those who follow that art, admired him.
Palmer and he argued, but in their later years, became friends. The manager loved how the pitcher went about his work, even if they argued, and Palmer knew Weaver did anything he could to make him a winner.
Both eagerly attended the unveiling of each other’s statue, perhaps knowing there wasn’t much time left.
Weaver’s smarts were admired while he was still alive and he had a willing pupil in Buck Showalter.
Showalter cultivated a relationship with Weaver after he became Orioles manager, and after a few tries was able to call him by his first name instead of Mr. Weaver.
These days, Showalter embodies Weaver for a lot of Orioles fans. Both small, fiery and with encyclopedic minds about the game.
Showalter is hardly as accomplished as his mentor, but when his contract extension was announced this week, it again invoked memories of the man. If he completes his contract, he’ll be the second longest serving manager in team history.
Showalter takes special pride in the plaque in Weaver’s honor that sits in the dugout.
“I’m so glad we honored him. I look at number four in the dugout every day. Sometimes I rub it when we need an extra out or a big hit. He didn’t let us down too often,” Showalter said.
Weaver’s gone now, and strangely, Stan Musial, whom the manager watched when growing up in St. Louis is gone, too, both on the same day.
Both Musial and Weaver were fully appreciated in life. Both adored by their fans and now both badly missed.
When Weaver looked at his statue, he crafted a line that would endear him to newer fans and to his older ones too, He wanted to thank the sculptor.
“He made me look like Buck,” he said.