One of baseball’s all-time great managers, Earl Weaver died last Saturday at age 82. Called “pugnacious and pragmatic” in The New York Times obit, Weaver managed the Baltimore Orioles for 17 seasons for a W-L record of 1,480-1,060 — an outstanding winning percentage of .583%. His managerial style influenced many future managers, including Davey Johnson, who played five seasons under Weaver.
As a tactician, Weaver was ahead of his time. He famously believed in pitching, defense, platoons, statistical analysis, and the three-run homer, and was sometimes criticized as a do-nothing type of manager who sat on his hands and waited. The Earl of Baltimore did not pray at the alter of the sacrifice bunt, and so was considered a heretic by some.
“I learned more from Earl Weaver than anyone else I ever played for or against.” — Davey Johnson.
Times change, thinking evolves, and many of Weaver’s basic tenants has come to wide acceptance. Wrote Tom Verducci, “Weaver was the Copernicus of baseball. Just as Copernicus understood heliocentric cosmology a full century before the invention of the telescope, Weaver understood smart baseball a generation before it was empirically demonstrated.”
When I think of Earl Weaver, I often recall a book I read about six years ago, How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman. One of the great concepts in the book — about the importance for doctors to slow down, to attend fully, to watch, was best summed up in the inverted line, “Don’t just do something — stand there!”
There’s a tremendous pressure on doctors — and baseball managers, for that matter, Little League on up — to “make something happen.” For doctors, the experts in the room, Groopman advised caution and full attention. Don’t just do something. Stand there. It was important to resist the urge to act prematurely, but instead to take the time required to reach a full and correct assessment of a patient’s situation. It’s not easy. Because everybody in the room is looking to you to fix what’s wrong — immediately.
Maybe it’s a stretch, but I connect that to managing baseball games. As someone who has happily managed hundreds of games — seven seasons in a men’s hardball league, plus tons of Little League, travel, tournaments, and all-stars games — I’ve reached a similar conclusion. There’s a great temptation to impose yourself on the game. Call for a steal, a bunt, a pick-off, a curve, a hit-and-run, etc. It feels like you are doing something, and when it works, wow, you’re a genius. It’s much more difficult to sit back and let them play. Resist the urge to get too clever (too often). Because most times, you need to get out of the way. Let the kid hit. It’s not going to make you look like a genius out there, but often “nothing” is the best thing you can do for those players. I’ve come to think of a youth manager as the guy who believes you can do it. That’s your job — to stand there and believe in those kids (even when, well, maybe you don’t). Because if you don’t believe in them, how can they believe in themselves?
Anyway, Weaver wrote a terrific book, Weaver on Strategy, copyright 1984, that’s full of enduring baseball wisdom. Rather than being outdated, it’s as timely as ever. Maybe moreso. In it, Weaver introduces his Ten Laws of Baseball. Here’s a summary, with quotes taken directly from the book:
EARL WEAVER’S TEN LAWS OF BASEBALL
1) No one’s going to give a damn in July if you lost a game in March.
Writes Weaver: “The most important thing a manager has to take care of in spring training is picking his twenty-five players.”
2) If you don’t make any promises to your players, you won’t have to break them.
Every year, you hear complaints about players who feel disappointed because they didn’t get the job, role, or playing time they felt they were told they would expect. The easiest way to avoid this sort of thing is the same as it was when I managed; it’s the manager’s job to make decisions, not to create expectations about playing time that have nothing to do with performance.
3) The easiest way around the bases is with one swing of the bat.
If there’s one thing that players, managers, general managers, player agents, and fans really should understand in today’s game, it’s that this is still absolutely true.
4) Your most precious possessions on offense are your twenty-seven outs.
This is still the most basic aspect of the game, and still one of the most misunderstood. Not only do managers misunderstand it, players do too. A manager has to convince his hitters that they have to get on base for the next guy, and that no player can do it by himself. Sometimes that isn’t easy. In the playoffs, you can get into trouble because everybody wants to be a hero.
5) If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get.
Sometimes where you play makes all the difference. In the mid-70s, we moved in the fences at Memorial Stadium ten feet. Why? Well, it does help you build an offense that can crank out big innings. If I had managed in the Astrodome my entire career, maybe I would have done things differently, but in most of today’s ballparks, there is usually no reason to spend your outs on one-run strategies like the hit-and-run or the sacrifice bunt.
6) Don’t play for one run unless you know that run will win a ballgame.
There are a few times to get fancy on offense, such as the bottom of the eighth or ninth inning in a tie game, or the top of the ninth if you’re on the road, but you had better be doing it with a player who can bunt or who can steal bases with a really good chance of success.
7) It’s easier to find four good starters than five.
I firmly believe that the four-man rotation would still work, even in today’s game. It goes back to how you break people into the game, from the lowest levels of the minors on up.
8) The best place for a rookie pitcher is long relief.
It doesn’t hurt to get a guy into the big leagues this way, you just need to make sure he gets real work, not just partial innings here and there using him as the last man on the staff.
9) The key step for an infielder is the first one — left or right — but before the ball is hit.
This is one of those truths that is timeless. You would have a hard time noticing a great defensive player like Paul Blair, Mark Belanger, or Brooks Robinson take their first steps, because they’d already taken them by the time you followed the ball off of the bat.
10) The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager, because it won’t hurt the team if he gets thrown out of the game.
The players are what’s important to the team’s shot at winning a game, and you should make sure your team has everybody at its’ disposal to win that game, even if it means you, the manager, have to hit the showers early.
In this Youtube classic, Earl Weaver argues with umpire Bill Haller. Over a balk call. In the first inning. (Twice he was thrown out of games before the first pitch.) Yeah, he was combative. And short. I’ve seen “the little genius” listed a 5′-7″ and, in other places, at 5′-3″. No one seems to know for sure.