In a powder-blue suit and matching twinkle, Earl Weaver sits in a hotel lobby, as he is wont to do when the Baltimore Orioles are on the road. From this armchair perspective, not a great deal has happened in the quarter century that Weaver has been managing baseball clubs. America then was a nation of goals. Now it is a land of expectations. That's the trouble with things; the rest is about the same. Baseball, for one, is about the same. He, for another, is about the same. Never expected a thing. Just wanted to make an honest dollar and have a little left over for a rainy day. Earl always puts salt in his beer.
Isn't that something? He's out there screaming at umpires, advising Hall of Famers how to play a game he couldn't—"All Earl knows about pitching is that he couldn't hit it," one of Weaver's pitchers once said—stealing thunder, setting records, charming, irritating and, above all, being an opinion maker. That is, everybody has an opinion about Earl. Either: great manager, as smart as ever there was. Or: crude little bigmouthed parasite. But the kicker is: It doesn't get to Earl. He knows he'll have the last laugh, because if they fire him tomorrow, he has security—a pension and two places of residence, his old house in Baltimore County and a condominium in Florida that he bought when the market was low. Besides, he can always go back to selling cars. Earl has got the gun loaded. He didn't ask for any of this, the pension excepted. It beats warehouse work. They can't touch him.
The Orioles, defending American League champs, have been struggling most of the way this season. "The worst that can happen," Earl says, "is this keeps happening, they get rid of me, and I get paid to spend the summer not working."
Can't touch him. He has gone past all his goals and has money in the bank. All he really worries about is inflation. "Right now," Earl says in the lobby, lighting up another Raleigh, "I'm just sitting here trying to figure out how to get out of a losing streak tonight. But that 1990 scares me to death." Can't manage the economy, eh, Earl, heh-heh?
Earl says a dirty word, another of his wonts. It's his nature. Some of his remarks, as recorded on these pages, are not quite the same as they were when delivered. You can't believe everything you read. Last year Earl tore up a rule book in an umpire's face to drive home that selfsame point.
Earl is familiar with hard times. He was conceived almost exactly at the time of the stock-market crash of '29—a Depression Baby. He'll be 50 this Aug. 14, and he's thinking about retiring in two years. Originally, it was his plan to retire after this season, but, you know, inflation.
Hold on: You could set all kinds of managing records if you stayed, Earl. He says a dirty word. "If I get bored, I could always put in some floor time at a car showroom," he says. "That can be fun if you don't have to eat on it."
All along people have said, "Poor managers, they don't have any security," and they don't. Weaver beat that, because right up to the time he got the job with the Orioles on July 11,1968, he never had any security. So what was the big deal about managing? He just went out and managed his way, acted his way. "The moment he got the job, there was no question," says Frank Robinson, one of the incipient Hall of Famers Weaver has managed. "It didn't matter that he'd been only a little minor-leaguer—from the start there was no timidity. Earl'd be up arguing with you. Right from the start." Managing a source of insecurity for Earl? Hell, it was the best payday he'd ever had.
Earl is in the dugout now. He spends even more time there than most managers. He patrols it. Before games, he holds court there. During games, he talks continuously to himself or his coaches, now mounting the steps to berate his taller athletes, now slinking down the tunnel toward the clubhouse for a quick smoke. (You're not supposed to smoke in the dugout. Spitballs are also against the law.) There is a definite sense that you're in the Weaver home when you're in the Oriole dugout.
Joe Garagiola comes into the dugout. "Earl," he says, "they want me to call you feisty."