Who is Earl Weaver?" people asked back on July 11, 1968, much as they once asked, "Who is Harry Truman?" or, "Who is Spiro Agnew?" July 11, 1968 was the day Weaver became manager of the Baltimore Orioles. A little more than a year later Weaver was in the World Series, and 31 million people watched as he became the first manager in 35 years to be thrown out of a Series game by an umpire.
Through all the anonymous years Weaver was out on baseball's ill-paid fringes. He started playing as a kid on the downtown sandlots of St. Louis during the years when the Depression was dissolving into a world war, the years when the big names around Sportsman's Park were Terry Moore and Enos Slaughter and Marty Marion. Earl was stubby with square little hands, and he could never hit the ball beyond the nearest outfielder but baseball was his life. His father ran a dry-cleaning shop in the basement of the family house right in the heart of the city, and on the steamy summer afternoons father and son would take the streetcar to Sportsman's Park and yell for the Cardinals.
"From the time I was 7 or 8 I didn't want to do anything but play baseball," Earl Weaver says today, sitting in his manager's office, with the clatter and bang of the players in the locker room drifting through the doorway. "Though I could've listened to what the teacher said a little bit more when I was settin' there in the classroom. And I wish I would've, because it's the only time in your life that knowledge is given to you so easily, when it's so easy to accept and file away in your brain so it's there for the later years."
A ritual pinochle game played by the manager and his three coaches is about to start—a two-hour time-killer until the team is due out on the field for batting practice—but Earl Weaver remembers something else. "Watching Marty Marion [pronounced Merion in Weaver's downriver accent], I got interested in infield play. And then my body itself dictated that I should be an infielder because if you're gonna be a first baseman you gotta be big, and a third baseman gotta hit the ball outa the ball park, and outfielders the same thing. My body just dictated I should be an infielder—a shortstop or a second baseman—only I didn't have the good arm to play big-league shortstop."
He played in the Khoury Leagues in St. Louis and on two city championship teams in high school. The scouts liked Weaver, and five clubs offered to sign him, but the Cardinals were Earl's team, and their $2,000 bonus was all the persuasion he needed. In 1948, not yet 18, he was off to the all-night bus rides and the dirty uniforms and the locker rooms that smelled worse than the stockyards in Omaha and St. Joe and the other way-stops. For 20 years it was like a continuing geography lesson, winters in the Caribbean and Florida, aqsummers in Georgia or Texas or upstate New York, wherever the club sent him. In the few months of his off season he worked as a hod carrier or on an oil rigor as a car salesman. In 1951 the Cardinals brought him lo spring training for a look, but there was a fellow named Red Schoendienst playing second for St. Louis, and Weaver went back to the bus leagues.
In 1956, his ninth year in the minors, the Knoxville manager was fired late in the season, and Weaver, at 26, was given the job. It was a last-place team, but soon he was managing in the Baltimore Orioles' farm system, and from 1959 through 1967 his teams, with only one exception, finished either first or second every year. "We were well aware that Earl had a chance to be a major league manager," says Harry Dalton, Baltimore's general manager, "but we were also aware that he would probably have to spend five years longer in the minors than someone else because no one had ever heard of him." In 1968, 17 years after that spring training cup of coffee with the Cardinals, Weaver put on his second major league uniform, this time as a Baltimore coach under Manager Hank Bauer. He was 37, and he carried the big-league mark of authority on his 5'7" frame—a ballooning waistline. In practice he hit fungoes to the players, and the life in baseball had never been quite so sweet—no lineups to fill out, no reports to the home office, no troubled athletes to comfort. For a time he could spend his spare time with Marianna, the tiny dark-haired lady he had met and married while he was managing at Elmira. The way Weaver figured, if he could just hang on with Baltimore for five years he would be eligible for the major league pension plan.
So Earl coached first base and stayed out of the way of Bauer, who seemed a little distant—not hostile, just not friendly. Once Bauer did ask Weaver to do something about "the frame of mind" of Boog Powell, Baltimore's enormous first baseman. Earl kind of hung around Powell, a strong silent type, and wondered what to do. "I didn't actually do anything," he said later. "Oh, I talked hitting with Boog and rooted for him—like I did all the others. One time I asked him if maybe closing his stance would help. But he said no, he didn't want to change his stance, since he had been doing good hitting that way before."
During the All-Star break that first year in Baltimore the ground suddenly shook under Earl Weaver. He was spending the three days at home with Marianna, playing gin rummy and cooking an occasional meal of short ribs and noodles, his favorite dish. He and Marianna were lying by the pool on Wednesday when the phone rang. It was Harry Dalton. "How would you like to take over the team?" asked Dalton, who was calling from Kansas City, where he had flown to fire Bauer. Weaver said O.K. It had always been that way in baseball. They told him to do something, or asked him to, and he would do it. If you are an infielder with a weak bat and not much of an arm, you learn to do what you can.
"Is that good?" Marianna asked when he told her the news.
"Yeah," Earl told her. "We'll make more money."