Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver died today at the age of 82. Fittingly, he was participating in an Orioles-themed cruise when he passed.
My reaction to this news, like the reactions I've seen from lots of folks, was, "Earl Weaver was only 82?"
When I was growing up as a baseball fan in the late 70s and early 80s, it seemed like Weaver had been the manager of the Baltimore Orioles forever. He retired after the 1982 season, then was re-hired early in 1985 before retiring again at the end of the 1986 season.
Remarkably, though, Weaver had just turned 52 when he retired the first time after the 1982 season, and was 56 when he retired for good after the 1986 season. To put that in perspective, Ron Washington was 55 his first season as manager of the Rangers, and turns 61 in April. You don't think of managers as being burned out and washed up in their early 50s, so subconsciously, I just assumed Weaver was 65 or so when he hung it up for good.
Weaver had an incredible run as the Orioles' manager. He had 12 full, non-strike-shortened seasons* as manager in his first stint with Baltimore. In those 12 seasons, he had five 100+ win seasons, never won fewer than 88 games, and averaged 97 wins per season.
* He also had a partial season in 1968, as well as the strike-shortened years of 1972 and 1981.
Think about that. The Rangers have never won more than 96 games in a season. During that 12 year period, Weaver's teams averaged more than that.
Growing up reading Bill James' Baseball Abstracts also gave me an appreciation for Weaver. At the time, Gene Mauch's style of baseball was seen as playing the game the "right way" -- sacrifice bunting, stealing bases, hitting behind runners, manufacturing runs.
Weaver, on the other hand, thought that was a bunch of crap. Weaver famously preached that you won with "pitching, defense, and three run homers." His teams had some of the best defensive players in the history of the game -- guys like Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger and Paul Blair -- as well as lineups filled with guys who would walk and hit for power. Before sabermetrics, Bill James, the internet or Billy Beane, Earl Weaver was preaching the value of getting on base and not giving up outs.
Weaver is 9th all time in career winning percentage among managers. Only two of those ahead of him on the list -- Joe McCarthy and John McGraw -- have more wins than Weaver. If we limit the list to those managers who debuted after 1930, there's only one manager ahead of Weaver, Al Lopez -- and he's just barely ahead, at .584 vs. .583.
And Weaver was also one of the great characters of the game -- he was a great quote, and there are tons of stories about him, many involving his notoriously bad relationship with umpires.
Baseball has lost a tremendous piece of its history with Weaver's passing today.