Earl Weaver’s Rookie Season
On July 11, 1968 Earl Weaver was promoted from first base coach to manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Weaver, then only 38, was the youngest manager in the American League and replaced the embattled Hank Bauer at the All-Star Break.
Weaver even being on Bauer’s coaching staff was controversial at the time. Bauer who was named manager in 1964, averaged 93 wins in his first 3 seasons with the Birds and lead the team to its first World Championship since being moved from St Louis during the 1953-54 off season.
After a disappointing 1967 campaign where the Orioles finished in 7th place, then general manager Harry Dalton broke normal procedure and dismissed coaches Sherm Lollar, Harry Breechan and Gene Woodling with limited input from Bauer, who would later go on to say Dalton stabbed him in the back. Dalton replaced them with George Bamberger and wunderkind Weaver. They were both promoted from the Orioles minor league system.
Despite being only 38 years old, Weaver had accumulated more managerial experience than the vast majority of first-time hires seen today. Weaver lost his managerial cherry at the age of 26 as a player-manager for the Knoxville Smokies of the South Atlantic League in 1956. His debut season at the helm was not an indicator of things to come, as the Smokies went 10 and 24 with Weaver in charge.
Weaver was brought into the Orioles organization in 1957 by Jim McLaughlin to manage the Class D club located in Fitzgerald Georgia, at a salary of $3,500. The Fitzgerald club went 65-74 that season and finished in fourth place. The next time Weaver managed a sub-.500 team was nearly 30 years later, at the other end of his career.
Earl worked his way up to AAA by 1966, where he managed the Rochester club for 2 seasons. When he was finally brought on board at the major league level he was widely considered the heir-apparent to Bauer, after finishing in first or second place with 13 of the last 14 clubs he managed.
When Earl took over the club, the Orioles were third place (43-37 – Win % .538) and 10.5 games behind the first place Tigers. The first managerial decision that Weaver made was to move part-time second baseman Don Buford to centerfield, replacing incumbent Paul Blair; Buford also took over in the leadoff spot. Light-hitting shortstop Mark Belanger was moved from a part-time role to a full-time role and moved from the bottom of the lineup into the two-slot.
Looking at these moves with a contemporary eye, I’m sure the internet baseball community would laud the replacement of the light hitting Blair with Buford whose skill set (good on=base, good base stealer) perfectly fit the leadoff need. However, I’m equally sure that if Al Gore at invented the internet, 40 years earlier Weaver would have been ridiculed for hitting the offensively challenged (understatement) Belanger second.
The only other player whose playing time changed drastically was Curt Motton, whose playing time was already being trimmed by Bauer. One interesting thing that was noted at the time was that the Orioles played a more aggressive brand of baseball under Weaver, as they stole 53 of their 78 bases in the second half. While a good portion of that was Buford’s infusion into the line up, it does run counter to the general conception of Earl Weaver Baseball.
On the pitching side of the ledger, Weaver showed more confidence in Dave McNally (pitched 110 innings in the first half, and 161 in the second) who responded with a huge 22 win season, complimented with a 1.95 ERA and a fifth place finish in the MVP vote, and may have finished higher if he was used more aggressively earlier in the season.
Weaver did more than just show more faith in McNally. He consolidated the entire pitching rotation. The Orioles opened the season with a four-man rotation of Jim Hardin, Tom Phoebus, Bruce Howard, and Dave McNally, and then in May they shifted to a 5-man rotation with Gene Brabender moving into the 5th spot and Dave Leonhard replacing Bruce Howard. Then in June, Phoebus, Hardin and McNally pitched on a regular 5-man rotation schedule with other two rotation spots being mixed and matched between Leonhard, Brabender, Wally Bunker, and Bruce Howard.
After Weaver took over McNally, Phoebus and Hardin pitched slightly less than they would on with a normal 4-man rotation, however, they pitched more often than they would have on a 5-man rotation, while the other slot and a half was rotated, until September when Roger Nelson was given a steady role, but less than that of a McNally, Phoebus and Hardin.
Weaver did a reasonably good job turning around the team’s fortune. After Weaver took over, the team played .585 ball (48-34), while playing very good in July and in August, and on August 27th they had closed the 10.5 game gap with the Tigers to only 4 games, which was the high water mark on the season. They played sub-500 (12-14) in September and ended the season 12 games behind the Tigers,
General Manager Harry Daulton was pleased with the way Weaver led the club and renewed his contract for the 1969 season and said:
“Earl accomplished a lot in a short time, under his direction the club created the only semblance of a pennant race in either league, pulling to within four games of Detroit. He also played an exciting brand of baseball, and I liked the way he used his players. He made good use of all 25 men, and I think he tends to keep everybody sharper and ready to contribute when called.”
Sources: TSN 1969 Baseball Guide
The Earl of Baltimore by Terry Pluto
Weaver on Strategy by Weaver and Pluto
It’s What you Learn After you know It All That Counts by Weaver with Stainback
Posted: November 14, 2005 at 10:38 PM | 20 comment(s)
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