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July 13, 2009
A MIND FOR THE GAME Before laptops, spreadsheets and VORP, the wizard of Baltimore was winning pennants by following his own internal baseball calculus
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July 13, 2009

Earl Weaver

A MIND FOR THE GAME Before laptops, spreadsheets and VORP, the wizard of Baltimore was winning pennants by following his own internal baseball calculus

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Weaver turned down the Yankees owner because he was filming a television show in Mexico at the time. This was in 1985. Steinbrenner had fired Yogi Berra 16 games into the season and replaced him with Billy Martin. Weaver did manage again that season, essentially as a favor to Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams. People paid to watch Weaver manage. The Earl of Baltimore sold tickets. "I made the owner a promise," Weaver said. "When I came back I said, 'I'm going to finish this season for you, and we'll sign one for next year. You don't have to worry about me going anywhere and managing another time. I'll tell you what: I'll let you sign me to a five-year contract, a general contract, and pay me a dollar a year.' Guess what? I got my dollar a year. The Orioles have treated me so good. It's just unreal. Who would have hired a manager out of the minor leagues?"

On the field in front of him, the Orioles throw out a runner at first base by a step. Weaver smiles at the perfection of the mundane. "Doubleday made those bases, home to first, just the right distance," Weaver says. "They're all out by a step."

Weaver looked like a wise old wizard even when he was young. His hair had gone white and his cigarette-ravaged voice had gone raspy by the time he was stirring his hot, bubbling cauldron of lineup concoctions in his 40s. There always was an air of aged sagacity about him, as if somehow he's been here before, while the rest of us are trying to figure out this life thing for the first time. His short stature seemed only to magnify his manic energy.

Years after he retired for good, Weaver would be a guest celebrity on annual Orioles-themed cruises. He wasn't there just to shake hands and pose for pictures. He was there to win. He won the shuffleboard tournament. One year he came from behind to beat Brown in the semifinals of a Ping-Pong tournament, then scolded him, "You're a better Ping-Pong player than I am, but you choked." Weaver played against a little kid in the finals.

"He won, got the trophy and then gave the trophy to the kid," Brown says. "But he made sure he won."

The white-haired wizard doesn't perform magic anymore, doesn't even think about it. "Too hard to put on my shoes," he says. "I really have no desire to get into the dugout. After all these years ... I really enjoyed it. It was fun going out there."

He walks stiffly and slowly. He warns his many well-wishers to go easy shaking his hands. "Don't squeeze," he tells them. "I have arthritis."

But Weaver can still look at a baseball game the way Copernicus studied the heavens, without benefit of telescopic aid, and understand it deeply. He liked to tell his players, "Look, guys, you win games, the manager loses them. And I don't want to lose. So you better win a lot of games."

There are no more obstacles in his way. No league rules. No umpires. Without the almost physical need to win, it is only baseball now for Earl Weaver. And it is beautiful.

Another runner is out by a step at first. "Mr. Doubleday!" he says. "He's right again! There it is. Just the right distance."

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