Earl Weaver, the fiery Hall of Fame manager who won 1,480 games with the Baltimore Orioles seemingly was engaged in nearly as many arguments with umpires, has died. He was 82.
Dick Gordon, Weaver's marketing agent, said Saturday that Weaver died while on a Caribbean cruise sponsored by the Orioles. Gordon said Weaver's wife told him that Weaver went back to his cabin after dinner and began choking between 10:30 and 11 Friday night. Gordon said a cause of death has not been determined.
The Duke of Earl, as he was affectionately known in Baltimore, took the Orioles into the World Series four times over 17 seasons but won only one title, in 1970. His .583 winning percentage ranks fifth among managers who served 10 or more seasons in the 20th century.
"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. "This is a sad day for everyone who knew him and for all Orioles fans. Earl made his passion for the Orioles known both on and off the field. On behalf of the Orioles, I extend my condolences to his wife, Marianna, and to his family."
Weaver was a salty-tongued manager who preferred to wait for a three-run homer rather than manufacture a run with a stolen base or a bunt. While some baseball purists argued that strategy, no one could dispute the results.
"He was an intense competitor and smart as a whip when it comes to figuring out ways to beat you," said Davey Johnson, who played under Weaver in the minor leagues and with the Orioles from 1965 to 1972.
Weaver had a reputation as a winner, but umpires knew him as a hothead. Weaver would often turn his hat backward and yell directly into an umpire's face to argue a call or a rule, and after the inevitable ejection he would more often than not kick dirt on home plate or on the umpire's shoes.
He was ejected 91 times, including once in both games of a doubleheader.
Asked once if his reputation might have harmed his chances to gain entry into the Hall of Fame, Weaver admitted, "It probably hurt me."
Those 91 ejections were overshadowed by his five 100-win seasons, six AL East titles and four pennants. Weaver was inducted into the Hall in 1996, 10 years after he managed his final game with Baltimore at the end of an ill-advised comeback.
In 1985, the Orioles' owner at the time, Edward B. Williams, coaxed Weaver away from golf to take over a struggling squad. Weaver donned his uniform No. 4, which had already been retired by the team, and tried to breathe some life into the listless Orioles.
Baltimore went 53-52 over the last half of the 1985 season, but finished seventh in 1986 with a 73-89 record. It was Weaver's only losing season as a major-league manager, and he retired for good after that.
"If I hadn't come back," Weaver said after his final game, "I would be home thinking what it would have been like to manage again. I found out it's work."
Weaver finished with a 1,480-1,060 record. He won Manager of the Year three times.
"I had a successful career, not necessarily a Hall of Fame career, but a successful one," he said.
Weaver came to the Orioles as a first base coach in 1968, took over as manager on July 11 and went on to become the winningest manager in the history of the franchise.
"Earl was such a big part of Orioles baseball and personally he was a very important part of my life and career and a great friend to our family," Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken said. "His passion for the game and the fire with which he managed will always be remembered by baseball fans everywhere and certainly by all of us who had the great opportunity to play for him. Earl will be missed but he can't and won't be forgotten."
He knew almost everything about the game. He was also a great judge of human character, and that's one of the main reasons why he was loved by a vast majority of his players even though he often rode them mercilessly from spring training into October.
"His bark was worse than his bite, but you had to know him and kind of grow up with him, and then you loved him like a father," Johnson said. "He was a used-car salesman in the minor leagues during the offseason, so he learned a lot of ways to sell you on just about anything."
Pat Dobson, who pitched two seasons under Weaver, said, "Certainly, the years I played for him were the two most enjoyable years I've had."
During games Weaver smoked cigarettes in the tunnel leading to the dugout and he never kicked the habit. He suffered a mild heart attack in August 1998, and the Orioles' manager at the time, Ray Miller, wondered aloud how his mentor was holding up.
"I wouldn't want to talk to him if he hasn't had a cigarette in 10 days," Miller joked. "They've probably got him tied to a chair."
Weaver was a brilliant manager, but he never made it to the majors as a player. He finally quit after spending 13 years as a second baseman in the St. Louis organization.
"He talked about how he could drive in 100 runs a year, score 100 runs and never make an error," Johnson said. "He said he never got to the big leagues because the Cardinals had too many good players in front of him."