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Earl Weaver, former Orioles manager, dies at 82

By Bart Barnes and ,

A hot-tempered bantam who screamed curses at umpires and sometimes at his own players, Earl Weaver made the Baltimore Orioles into a baseball powerhouse during his 17 years as manager.

He was infamous for his explosive diatribes, which got him thrown out of almost 100 games, and for nervously smoking cigarettes throughout games, but no one could deny that the “Earl of Baltimore” was one of the greatest managers in baseball history.

Orioles officials announced that Mr. Weaver died Friday while on a team-sponsored Caribbean cruise with many of his former players. He was 82. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.

Known as the “little genius,” Mr. Weaver had an inventive baseball mind and used every imprecation in his colorful vocabulary to inspire his players. Once, when one of his pitchers was struggling on the mound, an exasperated Mr. Weaver implored, “If you know how to cheat, start now.”

He was a crafty strategist who preached a simple formula for baseball success — good pitching, solid defense and three-run homers.

The Orioles had several Hall of Fame players in their lineup, but Mr. Weaver was in many ways the team’s brightest star from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. He seemed to embody the spirit of working-class Baltimore, from his pugnacious manner to his smoke-cured voice to the homespun way in which he grew tomatoes in the team’s bullpen.

Fans flocked to Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium, as the high-flying Birds lured a generation of new fans from Washington after the Senators deserted the capital in 1971. For more than a decade, Mr. Weaver was the face of baseball in the Mid-Atlantic.

From one game to the next, no one knew what to expect from the fiery 5-foot-7 field general, who was twice ejected from games before the first pitch was thrown. His prolonged tirades against umpires have become YouTube sensations, remarkable for their creative and comic use of profanity.

He kicked dirt on umpires’ feet, turned his cap backward on his head and pulled bases from the ground. Once, to dramatize his disdain for an umpire’s knowledge of the rules, Mr. Weaver tore up a rule book on the field.

As a manager, he was primarily a motivator and strategist who left the finer points of hitting, fielding and pitching to his coaches. He kept a distance from his players and had a difficult relationship with his pitching ace, Jim Palmer, who once said, “The only thing Weaver knows about a curveball is that he couldn’t hit one.”

Mr. Weaver nicknamed Don Stanhouse, a late-1970s relief pitcher who often teetered on the edge of disaster, “Full Pack” because Mr. Weaver burned through one cigarette after another while Stanhouse was on the mound.

After onetime pitching star Mike Cuellar lost his stuff in 1976, Mr. Weaver took him out of the starting rotation, saying, “I gave Mike Cuellar more chances than my first wife.”

During Mr. Weaver’s 17 years as manager, his teams finished first or second 13 times. He had 1,480 wins against 1,060 losses, and his career winning percentage of .583 is the fifth highest for a major league manager since 1900. He was named manager of the year three times.

“Earl Weaver stands alone as the greatest manager in the history of the Orioles organization and one of the greatest in the history of baseball,” Orioles owner Peter Angelos said in a statement.

Mr. Weaver was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996, and his No. 4 jersey has been retired by the Orioles. Mr. Weaver was present when the team unveiled a statue in his honor at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in July 2012.

“No one managed a ballclub or pitching staff better than Earl,” Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson, who played under Mr. Weaver in Baltimore and in the minor leagues, said in a statement. “He was decades ahead of his time. Not a game goes by that I don’t draw on something Earl did or said.”

‘His teams always won’

Earl Sidney Weaver was born in St. Louis on Aug. 14, 1930. His father ran a dry-cleaning shop and cleaned the uniforms of the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns, the team that in 1954 moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles.

Mr. Weaver was good enough as a second baseman to attract professional scouts, and he played minor league ball in the Cardinals’ and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ systems. Realizing that he had limited talent, he began managing in the Orioles’ system in 1956.

He led teams in Georgia, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Upstate New York before arriving in Baltimore as a first-base coach for the Orioles in 1968. That season, he replaced Hank Bauer as manager.

In 1969, Mr. Weaver led the Orioles to 109 wins — the most in team history — but lost the World Series to New York’s “Miracle Mets.”

The next year, the Orioles won 108 games and then beat the Cincinnati Reds in five games for Mr. Weaver’s one World Series title. (The Orioles’ 217 victories in two consecutive seasons are a major league record.) Twice more, in 1971 and in 1979, Mr. Weaver took the Orioles to the World Series, only to lose both times to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Before computers and statistical analysis became part of the game, Mr. Weaver relied on handwritten note cards, detailing the tendencies and records of every player his team would face. He understood the importance of on-base percentage and other statistical measures long before many other managers and often used a pinch hitter or changed pitchers to gain a more favorable matchup.

He disliked sacrifice bunts, which he considered “giving away an out,” and he especially hated it when his pitchers walked opposing hitters. His favorite “strategy” was the three-run homer.

“You win pennants in the offseason when you build your team with trades or free agents,” he told Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell in 1982. “The three-run homers you trade for in the winter will always beat brains.

“The guy who says, ‘I love the challenge of managing,’ is one step from being out of a job.”

Mr. Weaver understood each of his player’s strengths and weaknesses, and he seemed to have a gift for knowing which ones to play and which ones to bench at any moment.

“The man’s a genius for finding situations where an average player — like me — can look like a star,” John Lowenstein, an Orioles outfielder in the 1970s and 1980s, told The Post in 1982. “He has a passion for finding the perfect players for the perfect spot.”

Five mainstays of Mr. Weaver’s teams later entered the baseball Hall of Fame: Palmer, third baseman Brooks Robinson, outfielder Frank Robinson, first baseman Eddie Murray and infielder Cal Ripken Jr., whom Mr. Weaver switched from third base to shorstop.

Under Mr. Weaver, Oriole pitchers won six Cy Young Awards, including three by Palmer, as the league’s best pitcher.

“Any difference we ever had was overshadowed by the fact that his teams always won,” Palmer said in 1996. “I enjoyed our relationship even though there was some tension.”

Mr. Weaver stepped down after the 1982 season, then came out of retirement in 1985. He retired for good in 1986, when he had his only losing season.

“Playing baseball is fun,” he told The Post. “If I could play, I’d never retire. But managing is work. It’s constant decisions of whose feelings you want to hurt all the time. ”

He tried broadcasting for a while, then retired to Pembroke Pines, Fla., where he played golf, grew tomatoes and went to dog tracks.

When Mr. Weaver was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996, he saluted his players, saying, “A manager gets in the Hall of Fame by what his players have done for him.”

Even though umpire Steve Palermo once denounced him as “a pest, an insult to baseball, a clown who goes under the guise of manager,” Mr. Weaver praised the integrity of umpires in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech.

In later years, Mr. Weaver acknowledged the toll baseball took on his life, including a divorce from his first wife, Jane Johnston, and years spent away from his children. Tense and high-strung, he often unwound with drinks after games and twice was arrested for drunken driving.

Survivors include his wife of 48 years, the former Marianna Osgood of Pembroke Pines; three children from his first marriage, Michael Weaver of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Rhonda Harms of Houston and Theresa Leahy of St. Louis; a stepdaughter from his second marriage, Kimberly Ann Benson of Bel Air, Md.; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Despite his salty, inventively profane diatribes, Mr. Weaver considered himself a practicing Christian. Nonetheless, Pat Kelly, on Orioles outfielder who later became an evangelist, once asked Mr. Weaver why he didn’t join players at chapel meetings.

“Don’t you want to walk with the Lord?” Kelly reportedly asked.

“I’d rather walk with the bases loaded,” Mr. Weaver replied.

In 1986, while speaking with The Post’s Boswell, Mr. Weaver said there was only one thing to say about him after he was gone.

“On my tombstone, just write, ‘The sorest loser that ever lived.’ ”

© The Washington Post Company