Inside Stories From A Major-League Locker Room
by Jim Ksicinski
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SOMEHOW, THEY MANAGE
Now, why would I say something like that? It’s almost like saying I miss having hemorrhoids. Both can be a pain in the ass. I never really liked the guy, but I think I learned to understand him over the years. Face it, Earl was different. He was tough. He could be nasty. I’m six feet six and Earl was maybe five feet nine, but he scared the hell out of me. Earl came into my clubhouse for thirteen years while he was managing the Baltimore Orioles, and I don’t think he said “Hi” or “How ya’ doin’” once. He would march in and immediately start bitching in that gravelly voice of his. “It’s too friggin’ hot in this clubhouse.” “It’s too cold in this friggin’ clubhouse.” He would walk to his locker and bitch about his shoes not being shined the right way. When he came in bitching, that was his way of saying hi.
Earl didn’t care much for me either. He seemed to take an immediate dislike to me the first time we met. I never could figure that out because I get along with almost everybody. George Bamberger, who was the Orioles’ pitching coach for many years, finally explained it after he became manager of the Brewers in 1978. George told me that Earl had a complex about his size. He said when Earl saw me for the first time, he didn’t like me for no other reason than I was a big guy.
I’m glad he had a good reason.
Earl wasn’t always popular with his players, either. He didn’t let that bother him because he wanted to win games, not popularity contests. He became one of the best managers in the history of the game despite his grating personality. Or maybe because of it.
I always pictured Earl as some kind of a gestapo soldier or an unexploded bomb waiting to go off. I know the umpires would agree, and I think that’s the image most fans had of him. Who can forget Earl Weaver bursting out of the dugout, racing to an umpire with those quick, choppy steps on those short little legs, whipping his cap around so the bill was hanging down the back of his neck, and screaming at an umpire in a jowl-to-jowl confrontation?
That’s the Earl Weaver of the highlight films. Watching him operate in the clubhouse, I realized why he was so successful for so many years.
Earl would arrive in the clubhouse early in the afternoon for a night game. After his ritual bitching, he would go to work, sitting in front of his locker and reviewing index cards for hours. Weaver and his coaches were years ahead of their time. Now you see laptop computers in the clubhouse, with coaches and managers reviewing computer printouts on opposing pitchers and hitters. There were no laptops when Earl came into the league, but the Orioles had their own system. Back in the early seventies, Weaver and all his coaches carried card files filled with information on all the opposing players. They would sit for hours going through those cards. Weaver and his coaches were the first ones I saw spend that much time going over notes before a game. Just before batting practice, there was always a meeting with Earl, some of his coaches, the starting pitcher, and the catcher. I didn’t see other teams doing that. Most teams usually held a team meeting at the start of every series, and the manager or pitching coach might have a brief conference with the starting pitcher and catcher, but no other team had daily meetings like Weaver’s Orioles.
Weaver’s Orioles didn’t lose many games to the Brewers. After those rare losses, the clubhouse was very quiet. Everyone would sit in front of his locker, not saying a word and not daring to go near the food on the picnic tables in the middle of the clubhouse. Finally, Earl would wander over to the table and pick up some cold cuts or a carrot stick. That was the signal for the players to dig into the postgame spread. I think he wanted his players to think about the loss for a few minutes after the game.
I remember laughter only once in the Orioles’ clubhouse after a loss. It was Bamberger’s hearty horselaugh.
This should have been no laughing matter. The game was in 1972, the Brewers’ third year in Milwaukee. The Brewers were an expansion team and a pretty bad team. Jim Palmer, who rarely lost to the Brewers in his Hall of Fame career, was pitching for Baltimore. There was no way the Orioles should have lost that game. Then Mike Ferraro, a journeyman third baseman, doubled off Palmer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Brewers a one-run victory. There were a lot of long faces when the Orioles walked up the stairs and into the clubhouse. Nobody was talking. Heads were hanging . . . except for Bamberger, who walked into the clubhouse laughing his ass off. Palmer was sitting in front of his locker, his head hanging, and Bamberger walked up to him. “I told you not to throw him that fucking pitch,” Bamberger said and walked off laughing. The next day, I asked Bamberger about it.
"For a half hour, we’re going over the hitters," Bamberger said. "I told Jimmy not to throw that pitch to Ferraro in that situation, and Jimmy kept saying he could do it. He could get Ferraro out on that pitch. Well, that cost him the game. It’s good for him. He learned something. He shouldn’t have thrown that pitch."
From Jocks and Socks by Jim Ksicinski and Tom Flaherty.
Copyright © 2001 by Jim Ksicinski and Tom Flaherty. Reprinted by permission of the McGraw-Hill Companies. All rights reserved.