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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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Leonhard: Earl, I'm honored you're contemplating using me in a World Series game.

Weaver: I ain't using you. I just want Palmer to see you warming up so he can pitch better.

Weaver was not a players' manager. He barely spoke to his players, especially Palmer, except when it was necessary to point out their shortcomings to get them to play better. "His idea of being positive," Palmer says, "was to give you everything possible that could go wrong. I'd have a one-run lead against Boston in the eighth with Yaz, Rice and Fisk coming up, and as soon as my foot hit the cinders of the warning track at Memorial Stadium coming out of the dugout I'd hear, 'Can't get beat until you walk somebody!'"

Weaver had no use for idle conversation, because idle conversation could not help him win ball games. "I don't think anybody was buddy-buddy with Earl," Brown says. Weaver liked winning a whole lot more than he liked ballplayers. He never shook his winning pitcher's hand after a game. He wanted nothing to do with emotion or friendship, because, as Palmer says, "I don't think Earl ever wanted anything to do with anything that interfered with him winning baseball games."

Watching Weaver manage a game was like watching a stubborn kid try to shake a coin from the slot of a piggy bank. There had to be some way he could make it come out right! There was a game in Cleveland when the Indians raced joyfully into their clubhouse after umpires awarded them the winning run on an overthrow. At home in Baltimore, Brown was so upset he broke his TV.

"I went to bed, woke up and found out we had won," Brown says. Weaver had won an argument with the umpires, who overturned their call and brought the Indians back on the field. The Orioles then scored two runs in the top of the 10th to win the game.

Weaver benched an aging Brooks Robinson in 1976 in order to win. He made Cal Ripken a shortstop when the rest of the organization considered him a third baseman. He watched batting practice intently, thinking that if a hitter's fly balls were not carrying over the fence it was a sign he was tiring and headed for a slump. He carried a rule book with him. He came up with the idea of using a radar gun to track velocity in 1972. "I learned more about pitching from him than any other manager," says Davey Johnson, one of at least 11 of his former players and coaches to become a big league manager.

Weaver's pitchers stayed healthy, and they won. From 1969 through '82, seven of his teams had three starters who threw at least 250 innings—as many as the rest of the league combined in those 14 seasons. "The more you run, the stronger your legs get," Weaver says. "The more you throw, the stronger your arm gets. I had nine pitchers. Four starters. Oh, man. Try to get one of those four to skip a start? Oh, Christ, it was awful. Because they were pitching for next year's contract. ERA, starts, wins ... it all went into getting your pay."

"Love him or hate him," Palmer says, "he allowed me to win and lose games. You never had to worry about the other guy outmanaging him. But nobody manages that long without making a mistake.

"Earl used to have a meeting at the end of spring training every year, and he'd say, 'I'm taking the best 25. If we play together, we have a chance to win.' It was pretty much the case. Well, one year we weren't playing so well, and Earl had a meeting. He said, 'I want to let you know something. I made a mistake.' We all leaned forward on our stools. Earl was going to admit a mistake! And then he goes, 'I picked the wrong 25 guys.'"

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