Friday, February 1, 2013

Pitching, Defense, and 3 Run Homers

Earl Weaver believed that baseball was "pitching, defense, and 3 run homers." This won him a lot of games, but might have cost him two World Series. A bunt here or there may have beaten the Pirates in 1971 and '79.

Because of a family connection (my mother was a first cousin of his, but she was 12 years older and there were a lot of Weavers, so they weren't particularly close), I met Weaver in 1969, just as the Orioles started their great run.

We would drive over to Anaheim for the Orioles' yearly visit to play the Angels. We stayed at the Grand Hotel, same as the team, and would often share a meal, usually breakfast, with Earl.

Coors and tomato juice. Cigarettes. And flirting with the waitress. Those are my most vivid memories of breakfast with Earl.

Then there was the evolution of his personal style. When I first met him, he sported what looked to be a suit from Sear's and a haircut from the corner barber shop. Fitting for a minor league "lifer". As the years passed, and the Orioles became the team in the AL, the suits became more tailored, the shoes sported exotic leathers, and, for awhile there in the 70's, I'm pretty sure the hair was permed.

Weaver was the first manager to rely on an in-depth statistical breakdown of every pitch thrown, every ball hit, every possible match-up, and how they might affect his strategy. He used this knowledge to put players in situations where they had the best chance to succeed.

Other managers platooned before him. Hell, Casey Stengel won a bunch of pennants with the Yankees by mixing an ever changing assortment of role players and spot starters with DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra and Ford. But if Stengel used any charts, they were all kept somewhere in that amazin' head of his.

Nowadays, every team has a room full of sabre metricians working around the clock to crunch numbers, looking for that edge, or that undervalued player. Every pitch and every swing are recorded, cataloged, and endlessly analyzed. Weaver's success paved the way for much of that.

Weaver, and his contemporary--and sometimes bitter rival--Billy Martin, were also two of the greatest umpire baiters in major league history. Thank God for You Tube, where some of Earl's best work in this field has been preserved for eternity.

Earl Weaver's Orioles played the game the right way. They seldom beat themselves. For 15 plus years they were always in the race. 6 division titles, 4 pennants, 1 World championship.

He probably wouldn't last nearly as long these days. The umpire baiting, the drinking, it would be too easy a target for these TMZ, 24 hour Sports Center, times. He'd spend his time apologizing or on probation.

Rest in peace Earl, the world is a duller place without you.

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