Jan 21

Farewell, Stan Musial and Earl Weaver

Saturday was a seriously rough day for baseball fans with the passing of Stan Musial and Earl Weaver.  My dad is taking the Musial passing particularly hard. He wrote in an e-mail:

Part of my history and a big part of my addiction gone.

Difficult to accept the typical, mediocre $8 mill per year persona that populates the mid to low ranks of most franchises as compared to what it was like at Wrigley or Ebbets, much less Sportsman’s, to see The Man walk to the plate, crouch and hammer the ball against a right-centerfield wall.

There was nothing like it.

But I wanted to take a free moment to pass along two worthwhile pieces about Weaver that appeared today. At Baseball Prospectus, former Dodger general manager Dan Evans talked about getting to spend time at age 22 with Weaver.

… Hall of Famer Don Drysdale was one of the White Sox announcers at the time, and he was quickly becoming one of my mentors. We talked immediately after the tough loss, and Drysdale mentioned that Weaver was a master, a manager I should pay close attention to and learn from.

Early the next morning, Don called my room and asked if I would like to meet Weaver. I jumped at the opportunity.

Drysdale and I wandered over to the batting cage as the Orioles began batting practice that evening, and the next 20 minutes were incredible. It was apparent that Weaver and Drysdale were on good terms. Weaver was engaging, eager to talk about the game he loved. He spoke about how essential pitching and defense were to a winning club, because the two components never went into extended slumps. He talked about the need to keep extra players sharp, but more importantly, make them feel they were part of the team by finding spots for them to perform. He stressed that he was constantly trying to find favorable match ups, whether through an in-game substitution or a start for an extra player. Weaver said that his legendary index cards tipped him off to info that would reinforce his gut hunches and also would be used in conversations with players about whether they were playing or going to sit. He mentioned that every player is flawed, and that the key is finding situations where their strengths have the best chance of being best utilized, and not to dwell on their weaknesses.

Then Weaver looked right at me and said, “this game is all about outs.” He said that you had to convert potential defensive outs to win regularly and had to maximize your offense’s ability to score runs. He and Drysdale talked about how important instincts were, and how nearly all the great defenders in baseball history were equipped with great instincts. Weaver kept mentioning intelligence and instincts being critical elements of players who touched the ball the most on defense, because it was their decisions that would often affect the game’s outcome.

Our conversation moved to Ripken, who was in the cage at the time and would win the AL Rookie of the Year Award after that season. Weaver had decided to move Cal to shortstop just three weeks earlier, and he made a couple of terrific plays against us in the first two days of the series. He told us that Ripken was one of those examples of intelligence and rare instincts. Weaver said that Ripken would be outstanding down the line, that he was just learning the position but seemed to be in the right place all the time. He and Drysdale tried to list all the “big” shortstops, and they struggled. Then Weaver added, “plus, this guy is going to hit, and hit a lot.”

That is the evaluation side of Weaver that separated him from most of his peers. Not only could he identify talent, but he also knew how to squeeze the most out of his players, and not ask them to do things they were incapable of doing. …

And at the Hardball Times, Chris Jaffe passes along “11 things I didn’t know about Earl Weaver.” He touches on something that stunned me as I realized it Saturday.