Earl Weaver was a manager who hated umpires and bunting but loved winning
The first Major League game I attended in person was on Aug. 10, 1975, a Sunday afternoon game between Baltimore and Chicago at old Comiskey park.
I was 16 years old then, a little late in life for my first game, but we didn’t have a lot of extra money and the cost of driving three hours to Chicago, plus the price of tickets and meals was not in my parents’ budget. But my high school best friend was a White Sox fan and he invited me along when his father and one of his father’s friends decided to attend a game.
Memories of the game
I remember that the White Sox at the time wore uniforms with red pinstripes and red hats, a year or two before their all-black uniform debacle, and had an artificial turf infield but a grass outfield. One of the highlights for me was getting to see Brooks Robinson, already a legend and sure Hall of Famer, at third base.
Jim Kaat was on the mound for the White Sox, going against Mike Torrez for the Orioles. They hooked up in a scoreless pitcher’s duel for seven innings. I remember that Torrez picked off Ken Henderson at second base, which I thought was a pretty cool play.
Ken Singleton put the Orioles on the board with, as I recall, an opposite field homer. He batted right handed against Kaat and hit it to right. Robinson singled in Don Baylor in the top of the ninth to make it 2-0.
Then things fell apart for the Orioles in the bottom of the ninth. Bucky Dent walked. Brian Downing, then a catcher for the White Sox, followed with a homer. But it was a controversial homer.
The ball landed squarely on top of the wall and bounced into the seats. But Paul Blair, the centerfielder, argued the ball had hit inside the fence and should be ruled a ground-rule double.
Weaver argues his case
And with that, Earl Weaver bounded from the dugout, already in a full rage at Armando Rodriguez, the second base umpire who had ruled the homer. But that presented a problem.
Rodriguez apparently hadn’t been in the States very long and had a limited English vocabulary. Before he could argue, Weaver had to wave reserve catcher Elrod Hendricks in from the bullpen to interpret for him (apparently Hendricks played in Latin America during the winters). I could almost see the steam rising from Weaver’s ears that not only did he disagree with the call, but he had to wait to be able to argue about it, with a man who probably wouldn’t understand his best insults.
Weaver didn’t win the argument or even get tossed from the game (although, in checking out the box score on Retrosheet, I saw that Jim Palmer, who didn’t play, was ejected from the game; I have no memory of that). Things turned even worse for Baltimore, as Pat Kelly drew a walk and scored the winning run for the Sox on Jorge Orta’s double.
Weaver the winning manager
Earl Weaver passed away in the early morning hours of Saturday while on an Orioles Fantasy Cruise. I’m sure this was not part of the fantasy experience the participants expected, although I’m sure it would have been a big hit on an umpires fantasy cruise.
Weaver managed the Orioles from 1968 to 1982, and again in 1985 and ’86. He had a lifetime winning percentage of .583 and his only losing season was the final one. His teams won four American League pennants and one World Series.
He was famous for valuing pitching and three-run homers. He hated sacrifice bunts and steals and relief pitchers. In 1971 the Orioles had four 20-game winners. In 1972 he used only 11 pitchers all season, and one of those made only three appearances.
Weaver the umpire hater
But even more memorable than his ability to win was his irascible personality. His favorite targets were his prize pitcher, Jim Palmer, and every umpire who officiated a game. He stormed the field to scream at umpires, hurling awful invectives at them. Umpires didn’t dislike Weaver; they hated him.
Weaver’s most famous foe was Ron Luciano (who was the first base ump in the game I saw in Chicago). In the minor leagues, Luciano once ejected Weaver four games in a row. In the majors, he once threw Weaver out of the game during the exchange of lineup cards.
“Earl Weaver is the worst enemy umpires ever had,” Luciano said in a 1982 Sports Illustrated article. “He’ll scream and yell and make life miserable for everyone around him.”
According to Luciano, Orioles players created betting pools on which inning he would toss Weaver from the game. Things got so bad that for a year the American League wouldn’t allow Luciano to work any Orioles games.
Luciano died in 1995 of apparent suicide; now Weaver is gone as well. The next time you hear thunder, it might just be Weaver and Luciano resuming an argument about some call made in the afterlife.