Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rest In Peace, Earl Weaver

In one of those Forrest Gump-ian twists that pop up in my life from time to time, I once got to spend a day with legendary former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who passed away Saturday at the age of 82. Earl was the standard by which all other managers are measured when it comes to getting thrown out of games. Even if you don't follow baseball, you've probably seen him lose it with an umpire... and he hasn't been active with Major League Baseball since 1989. More than just some guy who was angry all the time (in baseball, we call that "having the red ass"), he was wildly successful, winning the World Series in 1970 and the American League pennant in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1979. In 17 years, he had one losing season.
Back in 2000, the (then Devil) Rays had a promotion where they brought some old-timers to Tropicana Field for a day. Dom DiMaggio (brother of Joe), Rich "Goose" Gossage, Frank Howard, Frank Robinson, Bobby Thigpen and Earl Weaver. Each of them was assigned a team staff member to escort them around the ballpark and to attend to their needs. Meet them at the gate, get them to the executive dining room for lunch, down to the field for pre-game festivities, to a table to sign autographs during the game, etc. I was chosen to help out with this and was assigned to Earl. The man I met was very friendly and extremely humble. He had stopped following baseball after his retirement and didn't even know that Tampa Bay played in the American League. Since he wasn't up to speed on baseball current events, he was really afraid of some fan putting him on the spot and asking him a question he couldn't answer and asked me to look out for that for him. Happily, everybody he encountered wanted to talk about his time with the Orioles, and dealing with Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Al Bumbry, Ken Singleton, Brooks Robinson and Bobby Grich, and facing down the Miracle Mets, the Big Red Machine and the "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates, subjects on which he more than held his own.

Frank Robinson, Bobby Thigpen, Dom DiMaggio,
Earl Weaver and Rich Gossage at Tropicana Field.
 During a private lunch prior to the game, he, DiMaggio, Gossage, and Thigpen bantered back and forth, telling great stories from their days in baseball. It was a fantastic experience and I spent the whole time being entertained and wondering how I'd been so lucky to be a present for it.
Once all the festivities were over, I drove him from the ballpark to the airport in Tampa. The team had supplied him with a vintage Baltimore Orioles jersey with his name and number to wear during the day. On the drive across the bay, he said, "I have all the souvenirs I need at home. Do you want this jersey?". What do you think my answer was?

Thanks Earl, for one of the greatest days I ever had.

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