Earl Weaver, with hair so white it seemed to blind TV cameras, sat on a chair in a first-floor conference room in June at Perdue Stadium in Salisbury. He wore a white shirt and dark trousers on the ground floor of the minor league stadium just off Route 50 on the first day of summer.
The night before he had made the flight from Florida to Baltimore and then was given a ride to the Eastern Shore, where he was on hand for the Class A South Atlantic League All-Star game last month. The game was held at the home of the Delmarva Shorebirds, a farm team of the Orioles.
Weaver was the manager of the Orioles from 1968-82 and again in 1985-86. He was born in St. Louis on August 14, 1930, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996 and now lives in Florida. During his days at Memorial Stadium he would grow tomato plants in foul territory down the left-field foul line - a gentle pursuit that was in stark contrast to the arguments he got into with umpires during many games.
After the All Star game in late June in which Weaver attended, the Orioles promoted shortstop prospect Manny Machado from Delmarva to high Class A Frederick of the Carolina League. But before the game Weaver, the Earl of Baltimore, spoke to a handful of reporters who had several questions for the former Orioles skipper.
Here are some highlights of the group interview with Weaver, who turns 81 in August, with questions from various members of the media after he had signed autographs for several fans in Salisbury.
Q. Jack McKeon just returned to manage the Marlins at the age of 80. So are you going to manage again?
A. There is no way I am going back. You just saw me hobble in here. I could not get up the stairs of the dugout.
Q. What was it like to get that reaction from fans that you signed for?
A. It has been going on for years and years and years. It seems that everyone in this area should have one (autograph) by now.
Q. Did you realize how many people you touched (as O's manager)?
A. No, I didn't. I retired in 1982 and came back in 1985. I am pleased to still be remembered, I can tell you that.
Q. Have you been able to see Machado play?
A. No, but I have heard a lot about him. My theory was when you sign a free agent out of high school, just sign all of the shortstops that you can. They are the best athletes on the team. They can be moved (to a new position if need be). Mickey Mantle was a shortstop. Bobby Grich, who played for me with the Orioles, was a high school shortstop.
Usually they are the best athletes on the team. If I was a general manager, I would have all of them ... they have great arms. One time our farm director wanted to sign Cal Ripken Jr. as a shortstop but we had Bob Bonner. Cal wound up at third base as most shortstops do at the end of their career, if they can swing the bat.
Q. Is it tougher to manage today because players make so much more money?
A. Frank and Brooks (Robinson) made $100,000 per year when I first got to the club and I made $28,000. Money has nothing to do with it. If they want to play baseball every day then you have no problems. Money has nothing to do with it. It did not matter how much money they made. I was afraid about Eddie [Murray]. I thought maybe if Eddie got rich he might let up a little bit. But he never did.
Q. The Orioles' minor league teams used to be spread all over the country. (Now they are in Norfolk, Va.; Salisbury, Frederick, Bowie and Aberdeen.)
A. I think it is better to have ball clubs here. I went to Baltimore last night and motored down here today. It is not a bad drive. They can just get in the car and do it. I think it is wonderful. This is the best situation that there can be. Cal Junior has the IronBirds just outside of Aberdeen. Those ballparks now that the Orioles have are so wonderful to watch a ballgame. At the park in Aberdeen you are right on top of the field. It is like being at Wrigley or Fenway. If you are a kid you close enough to see the features and appreciate what the players is doing and falling in love with the game.
Q. What are your memories of Eddie Murray when he first made the team?
A. Every scout I talked to said, 'Wait until you see Eddie.' I could not wait to see Eddie Murray. He was supposed to go out on the first cut [in spring training]. When the first cut came he was leading our team in hitting and home runs. You can't send out a kid like that. You have Lee May at first base. Lee saw the handwriting on the wall. Lee became his mentor. Lee started the season at first base and Eddie started off at DH. By June, Lee knew what was happening. (Murray became the first baseman and May became the DH in 1977).
Q. So much is made in baseball of lefty vs. righty. You kind of started that with your index cards?
A. Casey Stengel started that years ago. I platooned a little bit with [Gary] Roenicke and [John] Lowenstein and we got 34 homers out of the two of them. (Actually, the two combined for 36 homers in 1979 and 45 in 1982). Roenicke could hit right-handers; it was not an automatic platoon. He played twice as many games as Lowenstein did. Curt Motton probably hit .800 against Vida Blue. He was going to be in the lineup.
We were in Texas and [Mark] Belanger was hitting his .208. It was the ninth inning and everyone expected me to pinch-hit for him. My stats said he was the best hitter on our team against Nolan Ryan. He got a hit and we got the winning run. I think (platoons) gave me an edge. I remember Tony LaRussa asked me about it a few years ago. He was a young guy that wanted to learn.
Q. How does it feel to be here today and meet people?
A. I like meeting people. My golf game is shot due to my knees and arthritis. The signing got a little bit tough. I am happy to be remembered, as I said earlier.
Q. What makes baseball a great game and memories of going to games with mom and dad?
A. If you are going for hot dogs and peanuts and it don't mean much. For kids that live in towns like Salisbury and get to know the players and fall in love with the game, it may be better than kids in Major League cities. I have a grandson who played Little League. We went to some IronBirds games. He seemed to enjoy that much more than going to Orioles' games.
Q. What is it like meeting fans on the Eastern Shore and how they became Oriole fans?
A. When you think of those teams we had in the late 60s and early 70s, and going on with [Al] Bumbry and the rest of them in 1979, you are a building a fan base there. I signed for two solid hours today. That was amazing. I am happy to do it.
Q. Could you believe the Marlins brought back McKeon?
A. I could believe it. You know how many managers that [Marlins owner] has had in Florida? He performed a miracle last time he got Jack. He knows how to manage. He was in the front office. I think he will do good. They have a pretty good club. We will see what happens.
Q. How hard is it to step away from the game?
A. I did not feel it was hard. I thought I had served my dues, 20 years in the minor leagues. I did not want to get stale. I wanted to be the skipper. I wanted to put everything I had into it. You certainly do not want to get stale. I never felt like I left anything unsettled.
Q. So are you still growing tomatoes?
A. The soil is not good enough for tomatoes in Florida. It is too sandy.