“Did Earl just decide to retire?” we asked each other. He did at the end of the ’86 season.
For Weaver, the strain of the game was his certainty that he was often one of the few adults in the room. “You must remember that anyone under 30 — especially a ballplayer — is an adolescent,” he once told me. “I never got close to being an adult until I was 32. Even though I was married and had a son at 20, I was a kid at 32, living at home with my parents. Sure, I was a manager then. That doesn’t mean you’re grown up.
“Until you’re the person that other people fall back on, until you’re the one that’s leaned on, not the person doing the leaning, you’re not an adult. You reach an age when suddenly you realize you have to be that person. Divorce did it to me. It could be elderly parents, children . . . anything. But one day you realize, ‘It’s me. I’ve got to be the rock.’ ”
Finally, he got sick of being that rock, never showing his players how much he cared about them, always being the adult bringing bad news. No manager ever yearned for retirement more than Weaver.
“I know exactly what I need to live on, have since ’57. I’m always going to do the same things. I grow all my own vegetables. I stuff my own sausages. Pork shoulders will be coming on sale next month. I look for chuck roast on sale to use in stew or grind up for hamburgers,” Weaver said. “Doing that takes time and I enjoy it. I’ll have plenty [of money] to play golf every day, run out to Hialeah or the dogs, take [wife] Marianna out to dinner in Fort Lauderdale, and take a walk on the beach. . . .
“I don’t want to spend my whole life watching the sun go down behind the left field bleachers.”
Weaver’s Orioles were always amazed that he retired so young, stayed in Florida and always seemed content, especially compared to the constantly wired Earl of Baltimore, whenever they saw him again. They assumed he was worried about his health or didn’t want his ritual postgame drinking, to unwind after games, to get the better of him. What they missed was his wisdom. One of his owners, the distinguished lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, talked constantly about “competition living” and how little else mattered. Weaver looked at him amused and grew tomatoes in the bullpen.
Many will remember him for his wins, his arguments and his quips. “I gave Mike Cuellar more chances than my first wife.” Or, on seeing slumping Al Bumbry heading to chapel services, cracking, “Take your bat.” He never met an authority figure, in a blue ump’s uniform or a general manager’s office or a state trooper’s cruiser, that didn’t bring out the hell raiser in him.
That’s Earl. But there was plenty more. He thought about everything in baseball with a unique freshness, as if it was unexamined before he arrived. He loved to analyze the psychology of his players, adding every new detail to his mental portrait. And, in a game where consistency is worshipped, he actually enjoyed changing his mind, reworking the puzzle.
“Why?” we asked him.
“Everything changes everything,” he said.
And now that he’s gone, even more so.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/