“It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts”: A Farewell To Earl Weaver
Baseball’s Hall of Fame lost two of its most outstanding members on the weekend before Presidential Inauguration Day. STAN “THE MAN” MUSIAL, the St. Louis Cardinals’ legendary hitter and a genuine ambassador for baseball, passed away at the age of 92.
Musial was the epitome of consistency on the field. He amassed 3630 hits, amazingly 1815 at home and 1815 on the road. Equally astounding was the balance of his 1,951 career RBI with 1,949 runs scored to go with his career .331 batting average.
I never had a conversation with Musial, who was converted by Branch Rickey from a left-handed pitcher to an outfielder, but I did enjoy his appearances at Brooklyn Dodger nostalgia events where he exuded boy-next-door charm and invariably played a creditable version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on his harmonica.
Hours before Musial’s passing, word came that EARL WEAVER, the Baltimore Orioles manager during their glory years from 1969-1982, had died of undisclosed causes at the age of 82. The end came on a Caribbean cruise he annually took with devoted Oriole fans.
Weaver once said that he wanted to be remembered as “the sorest loser of all time.” It seems almost appropriate that on the last night of his life – according to cruise director Ken Nigro who worked with Weaver for many years as Orioles press secretary – the feisty little skipper was grousing that he had been cheated of a point during a shipboard “Jeopardy” game.
I will always remember my first encounter with Earl Weaver. It came during spring training 1980 in Fort Lauderdale. My book, “The Imperfect Diamond: The Story of Baseball’s Reserve System and The Men Who Fought To Change It,” had just been published. I thought Weaver might be sympathetic to my argument because he was a rare member of baseball management who wasn’t frothing at the mouth about the new free agent rights for players.
The cover of the first edition of “Imperfect Diamond” featured a severed baseball infield, an appropriate image for the raging labor war in baseball. When I asked Weaver if he had received the book from Orioles traveling secretary the late Phil Itzoe, he said, “You mean ‘Broken Diamond’?”
To my astonishment he started to quote chapter and verse in which I discussed how the American League had been created in rebellion from the monopolistic National League of the late 19th century. “Can you believe Clark Griffith was once in an union?” Weaver chortled to his loyal coach Cal Ripken Sr.
He had certainly understood my point that in their younger days arch-conservative owners like the Washington Senators’ Clark Griffith and Philadelphia Athletics patriarch Connie Mack had indeed been rebels against the establishment.
In the early 1980s I would occasionally drop in at the visiting team clubhouse at Yankee Stadium when the Orioles came to play the Yankees. Earl didn’t really know me but his opening greeting was usually a whopper. “You’ve gained weight,” was one. “How are your horseshit books doing?” was another.
Weaver was one of those people that if you listened he always taught you something. In one pre-game encounter I learned that he wore the number 4 in honor of his St. Louis Cardinal boyhood hero, MARTY “Mr. Shortstop” MARION.
In 1948 Earl signed with the Redbirds. Though he never made The Show as a player, Orioles minor league honchos soon spotted him as a future dugout leader and he was on his way.
Not surprisingly, Weaver was in demand by publishers and he authored several books including “Weaver on Strategy” with gifted Cleveland sportswriter Terry Pluto. His 1982 memoir with Berry Stainback is blessed with the wonderful title “It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts.” Earl heard the phrase from a relative though Harry Truman and basketball giant John Wooden often receive credit.
The origin is not important, the idea is. And Earl Weaver embodied it in his career in the dugout. I’m glad he lived to see his statue erected at Camden Yards last season. He certainly will be remembered as the first great consistent leader of the modern-day Orioles. In BUCK SHOWALTER many of us hope the Orioles have found another great leader. There are times indeed when Showalter almost looks like Weaver in his intensity and insistence that the game be played the right way.
That’s all for now – coming up next week is a report on “Jackie And Me” the time-traveling play running through Feb 16 at the Indiana Repertory Theater in Indianapolis. I was blessed to see it and comment on it after a performance last weekend.
In the meantime – Always remember: Take it easy but take it!