With the Orioles in Tampa for a surprisingly important series against the Rays this weekend, let’s step away from the playoff push for just a moment.
Today’s entry is the first in a series of three…and it’s just a little bit different.
Following the passing of baseball broadcasting legend Vin Scully on August 2, there have been a number of touching tributes to the legendary voice of the Dodgers.
Many of these tributes have come in the form of personal stories from encounters with Scully…and these have been fascinating to hear about.
Now, I never met Vin Scully – and this is primarily an Orioles-themed blog.
So I thought I would take a moment and tell the stories from the times I met three Orioles legends: Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson and Chuck Thompson.
I’ll space these out over the next several days, but there’s a common theme among each of the stories: Each of these Orioles legends was exactly as he seemed to be in the public eye…and exactly as I hoped he would be.
So let’s get started. First up is The Earl of Baltimore…
Meeting Earl Weaver
My first encounter with Weaver came when I was a child – it had to be around 1977 or 1978 and it was likely the second or third game I had ever attended in my life.
I was standing near the third base dugout at Memorial Stadium with my father, trying to grab an up-close look at the Orioles during batting practice and seeking out a few autographs.
My father had thought to bring a baseball with us to get some signatures on it. And we did get an Elrod Hendricks signature on that ball.
(NOTE: Of course we got Elrod’s autograph. Elrod signed autographs before every game, it seemed like…for as long as anyone wanted one. And he couldn’t have been nicer.)
But back to Earl – and my fuzzy memory from when I was 7 or 8 years old.
My father saw Earl on the top step of the dugout and said, “Will you sign an autograph?”
Weaver replied gruffly: “No autographs…I don’t have time,” while retreating further into the dugout out of the view of most fans.
My father didn’t take no for an answer and reached his arm – and the ball – down into the dugout. As he reached into the dugout, my father said, “Sign it for my kid.”
Weaver grabbed it…said nothing…signed quickly…and then walked away.
To be honest, gruff and grumpy was just about what I hoped Earl Weaver would be. And he didn’t disappoint.
Now fast forward to 2003 – when I’m now a 32-year-old in Cooperstown for Eddie Murray’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
A friend and I had taken a bus trip to Cooperstown for the weekend and this was the first induction ceremony for either of us.
On Sunday morning, hours before the ceremony was to begin, we noticed a sign in the center of town listing when many of the returning Hall of Famers would be available for autographs at the various memorabilia shops in town. (Along with the prices, of course.)
We noticed that an Earl Weaver signing was just about to finish up, so we raced down the street to see if we could make it in time.
As we got to the shop, one of the two men in charge of the event told us at the door, “Sorry guys…the signing has ended.”
But another man offered hope and asked if we were planning to buy photos for Earl to sign. When we answered yes, he told us, “wait right here…I’ll see if he can squeeze you in.”
He then yelled down the staircase to the basement – where Earl had been signing – and said, “Earl we have two more fans here wearing Orioles gear who want to know if you can sign for them?”
Earl’s reply was classic: “Do they have cash?”
When told that we did, indeed, plan to pay for the autographs, the man lets us in and tells us to head downstairs. Then we heard that instantly recognizable, raspy Earl Weaver voice turn friendly.
“Sure, I always have time for some good Orioles fans,” Earl said as we entered the room.
Weaver was sitting on a folding chair behind a table where I’m guessing he had just signed hundreds of autographs for fans in town for the Murray induction.
While we selected the 8 x 10 glossies we were purchasing and settled up with the store manager, Earl went back to the conversation he had been having with fellow Hall of Famer – and U.S. Senator – Jim Bunning, who had also been signing at the store.
We heard Earl complaining to Bunning about his knees…telling him that they gave him so much pain that he couldn’t golf as much as he’d like. And that he was having another operation in the next week or so that he hoped would bring him relief.
Earl then signed for us and I asked if I could get a photo with him. He said sure, so I handed my camera to my friend and quickly went around behind the table where Earl was still sitting on that folding chair.
Having just heard the man complain about his painful knees, I instinctively began to kneel down for the photo so Earl could remain seated.
But my attempt to kneel next to him brought on the wrath of Earl Weaver…and it was glorious.
“What the hell are you doing,” he yelled. “S*&! I can stand up for a f%$#@*ng picture I’m not g*d@#$n disabled you know.”
Then he slowly stood up…smiled for the photo…and thanked us for coming.
When you hear people say that when they met a public figure and he was nothing like he seemed on television, that can be disappointing.
But that wasn’t the case at all with Earl Weaver. He was precisely the same guy I had grown up watching on television – and I loved it.
I grew up a huge Eddie Murray fan, and getting to see his induction ceremony is still one of my favorite memories.
But a big part of that memory actually doesn’t involve Eddie Murray at all. It involves getting barked at by a grumpy Earl Weaver, who was happy to sign so long as we had cash!