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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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It was Weaver's shortcomings as a hitter that informed his approach to managing. Midway through the 1968 season, Baltimore general manager Harry Dalton named Weaver, then an Orioles coach, to replace Bauer as the manager. After the season Weaver asked Bob Brown, the team's public relations director, "Will you put the stats together on how each of our players has fared against opposing pitchers, and also the reverse of that—how our pitchers have done against opposing batters?"

Before each series, Brown and his staff would give Weaver the batter-pitcher matchups, handwritten with a blue Bic medium ballpoint pen on 8 ½-by-11-inch sheets of paper. (Weaver also famously kept index cards on which he recorded tendencies and individual scouting reports.) Weaver would use the matchup information to choose his starting players and his pinch hitters, much to the consternation of beat writers such as Ken Nigro of The [Baltimore] Sun. "Nigro used to ask, 'How can you do that?'" Weaver says. "'How can you choose between Lowenstein and Crowley?'"

One time in 1975 Weaver let shortstop Mark Belanger, a career .228 hitter, bat against Nolan Ryan in a tie game in the 10th inning with runners at second and third, even though the Orioles had Don Baylor and Doug DeCinces on the bench. Belanger, a lifetime .244 hitter against Ryan, knocked in both runners with a single. "And Nigro went nuts," Weaver says.

Says Nigro, "Mark Belanger couldn't hit anybody, but Earl knew he could hit Nolan Ryan. It made so much sense. If a guy was 1 for 24 against a pitcher, well, Earl knew he wasn't due to get a hit. He was due to make three more outs."

Weaver's use of statistics and his keen eye for evaluation made him one of the most astute strategists in baseball. Time and time again he turned bit players, many of whom failed elsewhere, into important parts of championship teams by deploying them only when and where they could succeed. Buford, Merv Rettenmund, Elrod Hendricks, Jim Hardin, Steve Stone, Kelly, Benny Ayala, Terry Crowley and, perhaps most famously, the leftfield tandem of Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein, who in 1979 combined for 36 homers and 98 RBIs. Even if they did only one thing well—Ayala could hit anybody's curveball; Lowenstein was a great high fastball hitter—Weaver wanted them in his toolbox.

In his book The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers, James wrote of Weaver, "He used everybody. Probably more than any other manager in history, Weaver had carefully defined roles for every player on his roster—not because he cared about the players, but because he cared about the games. It was important to Weaver to have a player matched up in his mind with every possible game situation."

Says Palmer, "Before the game he would walk through the locker room, not saying hello to anybody. So as he walked through I'd go, 'Hey, how are you doing?' And it was like you had just tasered him. Because he was busy thinking about the ball game."

Weaver: You look five or 10 years from now who's in the Hall of Fame!

Haller: Oh, you're going to be in the Hall of Fame?

Weaver: You know it!

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