When looking through MLB history, names like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Nolan Ryan quickly come to mind. However, Earl Weaver’s impact on the modern game of baseball can still be felt today, nearly 40 years after he stepped off the diamond.
MLB History: Weaver’s Early Life
Weaver was born on August 14th, 1930, in St. Louis, Missouri, and would sign his first professional baseball contract 17 years later with the Cardinals. Unfortunately, due to his short stature, weak arm, and hot head Weaver never made it up to the big leagues. In 1956, Weaver was sent to Class A Knoxville and would become the interim manager for the last-place club.
Without a clear future in baseball, Weaver turned to work for Liberty Loan back in St. Louis and was getting ready to hang up his cleats for good when an Orioles assistant by the name of Harry Dalton offered the former minor leaguer the opportunity to coach the Orioles Class D team in Fitzgerald, Georgia. Not wanting to give up on his dream quite yet, Weaver and his wife packed up their kids and headed south.
Weaver would stay in the lower levels of the Orioles minor leagues and worked to develop some players that were quickly rising through the ranks. Impressed with his teaching, the Orioles challenged Weaver to lead their Minor League Spring Training in 1961.
In 1966, the Orioles would name Earl Weaver the manager for their top minor league team. Under his leadership, the team would win a pennant and have a second-place finish before Weaver would get the call to the big leagues in 1968.
World Series Run
As Weaver made his way to the big league roster, he was taking over a team that had just won the World Series two years prior. On the roster were stars including Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer, as well as plenty of players that Weaver had previously coached in the minors.
In 1969, the team dominated the newly formed American League East, finishing with a 109-53 record. They would be remembered in MLB history by sweeping the Twins in the first-ever ALCS they would win the first game of the World Series before falling to the “Amazin” Mets.
1970 saw the Orioles continue their regular-season dominance. They posted a nearly identical record of 108-54 and again swept the Twins in the ALCS. This time, waiting for them in the World Series was the Great Red Machine. However, in 1970, the Orioles could not be stopped. Behind regular-season MVP, Boog Powell, World Series MVP Brooks Robinson, and 20-game winners, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, and Dave McNally, the O’s dominated. In the five-game series, the Orioles crushed 10 home runs and cruised to a World Series championship.
The following season, the Orioles would again win 100 games and made MLB history with four, 20-game winners. While they swept the Oakland A’s in the ALCS the team would fall in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.
Unfortunately, like with so many sports dynasties, Father Time is undefeated. The aging Orioles started to decline and while some replacements offered some support, the team was unable to replicate their successes. The team fell back towards the middle of the pack for most of the 70s, but Earl Weaver kept the team competitive and would enter MLB history books by winning the 1977 Manger of the Year award.
In 1979, despite not being as talented as a team, the Orioles kept finding ways to win games. The team would win 102 games that season and beat the California Angels in the ALCS. However, after winning three of the first four games in the World Series, the team would suddenly struggle and lost again to the Pirates.
1980 saw the team finish in second to the Yankees despite winning 100 games and would finish in second in the strike-shortened 1981. Heading into 1982, Earl Weaver decided it would be his final season. Despite his upcoming retirement, the Orioles had a very successful season, led by Rookie of the Year Cal Ripken Jr., and soon found themselves in a one-game playoff for the division title. Unfortunately, Don Sutton would outpitch Jim Palmer and the Orioles narrowly missed the playoffs.
The following season, the Orioles would win the World Series with the team and staff crafted by Weaver. After a slow start in 1985, the team would bring back Weaver, but he was unable to turn the team around. His final season leading the club would be in 1986 and would be the only year he managed the Orioles to a losing record.
Way Ahead of his Time
While plenty of managers have helped to shape the game of baseball, Earl Weaver was way ahead of his time. For starters, Weaver felt the best way to win ball games was through “pitching, defense, and three-run homers” while avoiding bunts and stolen bases. In 2021, most teams follow this strategy emphasizing the long-ball, bullpens, and late-game defensive replacements.
Weaver also set MLB history by paving the way for analytics to enter the sport. Weaver understood that slugger Boog Powell struggled against Detroit lefty Mickey Lolich, so anytime Lolich was on the mound, Powell was on the bench. Meanwhile, light-hitting infielder Mark Belanger would suddenly become one of baseball’s best hitters when facing Nolan Ryan. When Ryan was on the mound, Belanger was near the top of the order.
Finally, Weaver helped to pave the way for tall, hard-hitting shortstops. Despite pressure from the front office, Weaver insisted that Cal Ripken Jr. play shortstop instead of third base. And while Ripken is best remembered for making MLB history for his consecutive games streak, he was also the first really good offensive shortstop. Soon, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Francisco Lindor, and many others would follow in Ripken’s footsteps.
Fan Favorite but an Umpire’s Worst Nightmare
While Earl Weaver’s fiery passion earned him the love and admiration of Baltimore’s fans and sports media, he was almost universally hated by umpires. Always willing to speak his mind, Weaver would unleash tirades on umpires he felt either wronged him or his team. Weaver would make MLB history with 94 ejections which still leads the American League.
Unfortunately, Earl Weaver passed away on January 19th, 2013 at the age of 82. At the time he was currently onboard a Baltimore Orioles Fan Cruise doing what he loved the most, talking about Orioles baseball.
Follow me on Twitter at @sleonardi11 for more of my content!
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports fans!
main image credit Embed from Getty Images