The legendary Earl of Baltimore returns for a ceremony to unveil a statue of him in the center field area of Camden Yards. He’s 5-foot-7, and his statue is 7 feet tall.
His players revered him because they knew they’d win with him at the helm. But it has always seemed as if the bad stories equalled the good in terms of how he treated his players.
In one of many interviews Ken Singleton has done with the Baltimore media, he said he sometimes left the dugout and went back to the clubhouse if his at-bat didn’t come up for another inning, just to get away from Earl, because of the way he treated people. “Terrible,” Singleton would say.
Jim Palmer pitched for him from 1969 until Earl Weaver retired for the first time, in 1982. When Joe Altobelli took over the team in 1983, Palmer told The Baltimore Sun during Spring Training, “The first time Altobelli said hi to me, he broke Earl’s record.”
There has always been some conjecture that being free from the dictator helped the Orioles surge to the 1983 World Championship. Or that they won it as a statement of defiance against Earl. Something like that could never be proved. But Palmer has often told the following tale.
Pitching for Triple A Rochester in 1967 while rehabbing an arm injury, he played for Weaver. The bases were loaded one night, and Weaver came to the mound and ordered Palmer to throw the next pitch down the middle. Palmer did, and the batter, a catcher for Cincinnati’s Triple A team named Johnny Bench, hit a grand slam.
It is well known the Palmer never gave up a grand slam in the major leagues. But from that moment on, one of his most oft-used quotes has been: “The only thing Earl knows about pitching is that he couldn’t hit it.”
According to another story, the Orioles were in fourth place in August of 1974. Weaver’s strategy of pitching and 3-run homers wasn’t working, with its power supply either aging (Boog Powell) or traded away three years prior (Frank Robinson), so the team held a players’ only meeting at Paul Blair’s house, led by Blair and Brooks Robinson.
The players changed the signs and redesigned themselves as a running team capable of small ball, with Al Bumbry and Rich Coggins having brought an infusion of team speed the year before.
They won 10 straight, including five consecutive shutouts. They went 28-6 down the stretch and won the division by two games over New York. On Sept. 12, they were in third place with 18 games remaining but only lost two more the rest of the way.
During the Weaver regime, the Orioles won because of him, as well as in spite of him. But the common denominator was the winning.