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It was early in the 1965 season that I first heard the two words that were to haunt me for the rest of my career: Earl Weaver.
Earl Weaver has become one of the greatest managers in the history of baseball. When he retires, he'll go directly from the Baltimore Orioles dugout into the Hall of Fame. He is a genius at motivating ballplayers and manipulating his team on the field. While some managers are thinking ahead two or three innings, Earl is already in the middle of the next week. It's impossible not to admire him, but it's pretty hard for me to like him.
Earl Weaver is the worst enemy umpires ever had. He'll come screaming out of the dugout at the drop of the temperature. He'll scream and yell and make life miserable for everyone around him. Except for a few months at the end of the 1968 season when he went up to the Orioles to replace Hank Bauer and I stayed in Triple-A, we were together from 1965 in the Double-A Eastern League until I retired at the end of the 1979 season. We got along slightly worse than Hugh Hefner and the Moral Majority. Eventually our relationship got so bad that Weaver's players would establish a betting pool before the game trying to guess what inning I'd throw him out. So I might dump him in the fifth and look into the Oriole dugout and Mark Belanger or Jim Palmer or Don Buford would be jumping up and down and cheering, "Fifth inning, that's me!" It reached the point that the American League office transferred me when my crew went into Baltimore.
It started in June 1965, in Reading, Pa. Weaver's Elmira Pioneers came into town for a four-game series. I'd heard other umpires talk about him, but I'd never had him for a game and firmly believed I could handle him. We got off to a bad start at the pregame meeting at home plate. He politely introduced himself. I was aggressively unimpressed. Then I told him who I was, and he seemed less impressed than I was, which immediately turned me off.
By this time I was getting very good at throwing people out of games. I'd only gotten 11 my entire first season, but I was well on my way to a personal record and it was only June. Two umpires usually work a game in the low minors, one calling balls and strikes and the other handling plays in the field. That first night I was out in the field and there was a close play at second base in a late inning. It was a sliding tag play and I was pretty sure I got it right, but Weaver came out of the dugout like a cannon shot. He was screaming and telling me I was a rotten umpire and I'd never last in baseball, and finally I gave him the thumb. Had I known what was to follow, I would've had George Sosniak commemorate the occasion with a painted baseball. George was a fellow Eastern League umpire who used to do that sort of thing to make a little extra money.
The second night I was behind the plate and Weaver started with the very first pitch of the game. I'd call, "High, ball one," and I'd hear this squeaky voice yelling from Elmira's dugout, "Ball's not high." He'd complain on every pitch that went against him. "Where was that one?" "He didn't swing." "You missed it again!" I'd never had anyone do that to me before, and it really started irritating me. Every pitch. "Bounced in the dirt." "Worst call yet." Finally, in the middle of the third inning, I walked over to his dugout and told him he couldn't continue yelling at me. He said he'd keep yelling at me as long as I was wrong. Then I asked him how loud he could yell.
"Why?" he asked.
" 'Cause you're gonna be doing it from the clubhouse!" It wasn't a great exit line, but, then, it was only the minors.
I didn't want to throw him out the third night. I was already in trouble with the league office for being too quick on the trigger, and I'd gotten him two nights in a row. But I couldn't help myself. Again I was in the field, and again there was a close play at second. By this time Weaver had me so intimidated I probably did miss it. He came barreling out of the dugout like an overdue express train, and I had him out of the game before he reached the pitcher's mound.
Now I was 3 for 3. I didn't want to make it a four-game sweep. Before the next game I sat by myself and tried to relax. I told myself not to pay any attention to his antics. I was determined to remain calm and keep my temper in check.