RIP Earl Weaver, 1930-2013

19 01 2013

Earl Weaver passed away today at the age of 82.  I can’t add too much about Weaver that hasn’t already been said – there are a number of good reads online and I enjoyed hearing Tim Kurkjian’s interview & piece on the former Orioles skipper.  He was famous for the phrase “pitching, defense and the three-run homer”.  He also was a pioneer as a manager who use statistics and look for matchup advantages.  And as do most people my age who are too young to have seen some of Weaver’s best teams from the early 70’s and end of the 60’s, I think of him as a fiery manager who argued with umpires in colorful and interesting ways.

Weaver took over for Hank Bauer halfway through the 1968 season, less than 2 years after the Orioles had won their first World Series title.  He took them back to the Series in 1969, falling to the Amazing Mets that year.  The next year, he won his only championship, defeating the first version of the Big Red Machine.  In 1971, his team made a third straight World Series, falling to the Pirates and Series MVP Roberto Clemente in 7 games.  That Orioles team is one of two teams in MLB history to have 4 pitchers win 20 games (the other, interestingly being the 1920 White Sox just before 2 of their 20-game winners would get banned for life).

Weaver made it back to the Series one more time, again losing in 7 games to the Pirates in 1979.  (Side note – Tim Stoddard, who was a starting forward for the 1974 NCAA basketball champion NC State Wolfpack, pitched in that series. He was the first of two players who has played in a World Series and a Final Four – the other being Kenny Lofton).  Weaver retired in 1982, and the Orioles actually won their 3rd championship the next year under Joe Altobelli.  He briefly came out of retirement in 1985 and 1986 to replace the fired Altobelli.

I went to a few Orioles games in the old Memorial Stadium when I was much younger.  My grandparents lived out in the Chesapeake Bay area and we went to a few Oriole games with my grandfather and uncle.  I’m not sure if we would have gone to any games when he was the manager – it may have been just after his second stint with the team.

I found one thing while reading up on Weaver that was really interesting – Weaver used to try a tactic with the designated hitter that showed his cunning in trying to understand and exploit every rule in baseball.  In the 1980 season, Weaver would put one of starting pitchers who was not slated to pitch into the lineup as the DH.  Then, when the slot was up, he would pinch hit for the pitcher with the DH he really wanted to play.  This allowed him to wait in case the starting pitcher was pulled early, he would insert a guy who matched up better (righty/lefty) with the new pitcher.  Cy Young winner, Steve Stone, appeared in 12 games as a DH in 1980 – on top of the 37 starts he made that year!  And in a game against Detroit on September 17, 1980, the Tigers used the same strategy with Milt Wilcox as the “fake DH” (Stone was for the Orioles) – the only time I believe both teams did this.  Rules were changed in the 1980 offseason to keep this from happening – Weaver said he believed MLB didn’t like that it skewed pinch-hitting statistics.

It probably wasn’t something that gained a real advantage very often.  But it showed the drive Weaver tried to employ to get every advantage possible.  It’s sad to hear of his passing, but he was definitely a great ambassador for the game of baseball.  Below is the only scan I think I’ve featured of him on this blog – he was in the 1985 Topps Traded set and I showed him along with other Hall of Famers in that set.  Sadly, 2 of these 5 guys are no longer with us.  RIP Earl Weaver – 1930-2013.

85TT HOFers


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