By Will Martin
82 years young with a resume that was as good as anyone’s. In three years out of a storied three decade run in Baltimore Earl Weaver had three straight 100 win seasons from 1969-1971. The Orioles averaged 105 wins each of those seasons. Having men like Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, Jim Palmer, and Pat Dobson sure helped.
1977 and 1978 were seasons where his clubs would amass 97 and 90 wins only to finish second and fourth! 1980 a 100 win season only to miss the Yankees with 103. From 1967-1982 no team was tougher to defeat record wise.
Earl was as cantankerous as he was an astute student of the game. Weaver despised conservative play. Two hits and a three run homer made for a happy Earl Weaver. What the fans of Baltimore lived for was whenever a tiff would commence with Earl and an umpire. Those exchanges beat anything scripted on a WWE wrestling card or Jerry Springer.
A voice that agitated. A spirit that HATED to lose. John McGraw could have been his Dad. Anything to get an advantage. You never got in the way of his players. Some of the best games I witnessed as a kid were when the Yankees and Orioles played. Man the banter that went back and forth with Earl Weaver and Billy Martin! Two old school disciples who had no problem with the art of bench jockeying.
To this day I remember a game in Baltimore when Billy Martin tried to make two visits to the mound with the same batter at the plate. Weaver went ballistic and told an ump, ‘That’s an ejection! He can’t do that!’ I had no idea. Made me wonder why in the hell we did a ten player swap with the O’s back in June of 1976.
Earl had a softer side. How else to explain a tomato farm in the bullpen of old Memorial Stadium? Apparently Earl spent a lot of time at the Ballpark. 82 years young with a lifetime of stories and memories. He was even funny in the booth on ABC. You could always hear a lighter going off when Weaver was about to smoke a tobacco stick.
I hated him. I despised him whenever he played my Yankees and won. The 70’s, it was always Terry Crowley, Ken Singleton, and Lee May driving many of us to pick up bad habits. I respected how consistently good he was.
1974 I remember five straight shutouts and a run of 29-5 in the month of September. Good enough for 91 wins and a pennant by two games over New York. I’ll also always remember how good they were in 1979 before blowing a 3-1 lead to the Pirates in the World Series.
If that wasn’t bad enough Stan Musial has also passed away. The pride of Donora, Pa. who hit over .300 in 17 of 22 seasons still fourth in career hits with 3,630. 1,815 hit at home and 1,815 on the road. Three MVP awards and not a hint of scandal on his resume. Beloved and revered for his demeanor, candor and perpetual smile.
I remember one time Cardinal Joe Garagiola tell about Stan: ‘Spring training is about to start and a rookie notices how happy Stan “The Man” was in the throes of getting into shape.’ This rookie decided to ask Musial why the happy face. To which Stan said, ‘You’d be smiling too if you knew you were going to hit .340 ‘ That was funny!
From all that I have read Musial may have come the closest to being an iconic Saint much like New York Giant Christy Mathewson-now 90 years in heaven’s clutch. One memory I’ll keep about Stan was a moment in 1978. Pete Rose was on a huge hitting streak. The National League record was 38 and Musial had the record. ABC was covering this streak on a Monday night. One of the few times I remember Frank Gifford calling a baseball game at Shea Stadium. Pete Rose got a seeing eye single to set the National League record. Stan Musial was in attendance and was more than happy to applaud Pete’s efforts. Musial was and will always be iconic classy. Joe DiMaggio without the bite nor the Hollywood headaches.
It dawns on me that maybe there was a kindred connection here. Both were signed by the Cardinals at age 18. Both had first and last names that equaled ten letters. Earl wore 4 Musial wore 6. That equals ten. Check this out…Earl birthdate 8-14th. Stan’s 11-21st. Add the numbers and you get 22 and 32…a difference of ten.
An Oriole and a Cardinal took two very diverse paths to a final resting place called immortality. Elected into the Hall Of Fame in 1969 I would have killed to see Stan play one game at the height of his career. Amazing!
Condolences to the immediate next of kin for the Weavers and Musials. And to think that before the Orioles came to Baltimore in the 50’s they were the St. Louis Browns. Somehow that makes sense.