In 1980, Earl Weaver told umpire Bill Haller he was headed to the Hall of Fame. The umpire scoffed at the notion during their heated debate. In 1996, the Baseball Hall of Fame vindicated Weaver’s position. The Veteran’s Committee elected the “Earl of Baltimore” for his record and his innovations. He was one of baseball’s greatest managers. Earl Weaver pioneered statistical matchups, moved Cal Ripken to shortstop, won 1480 games, and the 1970 World Series.
Earl Weaver spent nearly 12 years managing in the minor leagues. In 1968, he became the Baltimore Orioles first base coach. In July, Weaver assumed the managerial duties and remained until 1982. Weaver employed a simple philosophy, “pitching, defense, and the three-run homer.” In the team's final 82 games, the 1968 Orioles went 48-34.
The Orioles finished 1968 with a .585 win percentage under Weaver. They improved dramatically in 1969. From 1969-71, Baltimore won over 100 games each season and three pennants. Unfortunately for the O’s, they ran into buzz saws in 1969 and 1972. The Miracle Mets upset them and then Roberto Clemente willed their defeat. In between, Weaver bested Sparky Anderson’s Big Red Machine. The 1970 Orioles finished 108-54 and are considered one of history’s greatest teams.
Baltimore boasted several Hall of Fame players on those teams. Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, and Frank Robinson all reside in Cooperstown. On top of this, the Orioles fielded several all-star caliber players and one of history’s great pitching staffs. In fact, the 1971 team had four 20-game winners. However, Weaver’s tactics and strategy helped utilize every player on the roster and not just the stars. His use of platoons and bench players in key situations led to many wins. Weaver’s use of all 25 men was the key to Baltimore’s success.
Weaver pioneered the use of statistical analysis to make managerial decisions. He played to matchups. If a hitter did poorly against a certain pitcher, then that player sat. Conversely, if a batter owned a pitcher, then he played. This led the Orioles to six postseason appearances, four pennants, seven second place finishes, five 100-win campaigns, and one world championship in 17 seasons.
The skipper did not always get along with his players. For example, he openly feuded with Jim Palmer. However, he saved his true ire for the men in blue. Weaver was ejected 91 times from ballgames. He was tossed from both ends of a double header three times. His run-ins led to four suspensions. Weaver's 1980 run-in with Bill Haller in a game against Detroit was recorded for posterity and still receives airplay on television.
Two years after the Haller incident, Weaver moved a rookie third baseman to shortstop in the midst of a pennant race. Cal Ripken assumed his duties after the move and revolutionized the position. Before Ripken, shortstops tended to be light hitting glove men. After Ripken, shortstop became an offensive position. Ripken won Rookie of the Year, but the Orioles finished second to Milwaukee. Weaver retired, but returned in 1985. He managed through the 1986 season and retired again. He was inducted into Cooperstown a decade later.
Earl Weaver was one of the first modern managers. He used statistics for an edge with matchups, utilized his full bench, and recognized player talents. Although he held umpires in low regard, he managed to win four pennants and 1480 games. In the end, that intensity combined with a keen intellect served the Orioles well for 17 seasons.