Sunday, January 20, 2013

Earl Weaver intense nature stemmed from his playing days with the Cardinals

Earl Weaver’s notoriety for his fiery temper long preceded his career as a Hall of Fame manager for the Baltimore Orioles. The 82-year-old Weaver, who passed away passed away early Saturday morning from an apparent heart attack while on a baseball themed cruise, was a fiercely competitive second baseman in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Earl Weaver as a player and a manager
Weaver was signed by his hometown Cardinals out of Beaumont High School in 1948. His first destination was their Class D affiliate in West Frankfort, Illinois. Floyd Melliere, a pitcher who went 21-4 on that team, recalled in a 2008 interview that Weaver’s penchant for baiting umpires started very early in his career.

“We came up in West Frankfort in 1948," Melliere said. "He was a holler guy, a hustler. We had a play at second base that went against him. The umpire thumbed him out. Earl stayed in the game. When he came in the dugout, I asked him, ‘I thought the umpire threw you out?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he said I cussed him. He told me what he called him. I told him I wasn’t talking to him, so he left me in the game.’ I never saw that before.”

Standing only 5’7”, Weaver drew comparisons to Eddie Stanky, the All-Star second baseman who was revered for squeezing every ounce of his ability out of his slight frame, whether it was by razzing his opponents from all over the field, leaning in to a pitch to get on base, or sacrificing his body to get in front of a hot shot through the infield. Russell Rac, Weaver’s roommate in 1950 at Winston Salem, compared the two in a 2008 phone interview.

“You remember Earl Weaver?" asked Rac. "He was my roommate my first year in Winston Salem, NC. That was 1950, Class B ball. He was a helluva second baseman. He reminded you of [Eddie] Stanky. In other words, he couldn’t do anything great, but I tell you what, he was at the right place at the right time all the time, backing up where you’re supposed to be, etc.”

Weaver didn't have to wait too long for their paths to cross, as Stanky was hired by the Cardinals as their player-manager in the 1951 offseason. A December 16, 1951 article in the Toledo Blade about Stanky’s hire referred to Weaver as, “the Eddie Stanky of the Cardinals organization.”

Weaver was a member of four straight pennant winning teams in their minor league system, and was offered an invite to spring training in 1952 prior to Stanky’s acquisition. He was given a brief trial at major league camp that spring, but didn’t make the cut. Larry Granillo of Baseball Prospectus highlighted one of Weaver’s 1952 spring training games, where he went 2-5 against the New York Yankees while sharing the lineup with Stan Musial, who in a sad twist of fate, passed away the same day as Weaver. Whatever momentum Weaver built within the organization came to a halt with Stanky taking over the reserve infielder spot, as he could not crack the ranks with both Red Schoendienst and Stanky in front of him.

Weaver never reached the majors as a player, becoming a manager in the minor leagues in 1956, working his way up the ladder the same way he did as a ballplayer. He took the reins of the Baltimore Orioles from Hank Bauer in 1968 en route to a World Series championship in 1970. Weaver spent 17 seasons at the helm from 1968-1982, and again from 1985-86, compiling a 1480-1060 record with four American League pennants to his credit.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996, and while his intense battles with umpires are etched in the memories of baseball fans everywhere, his spirited displays date back to his travels through the back roads of the Cardinals farm system. Harland Coffman, Weaver’s teammate in Omaha in 1951 captured his nature most succinctly in a 2008 interview.

“He was a real competitor," Coffman said. "He was looking for ways to beat you no matter what it was.”


Post a Comment