Thursday, August 21, 2008

Weaver: It's what you learn after you know it all that counts

I mentioned Earl Weaver in a post earlier today and remembered the great Terry Pluto's book "Weaver on Strategy" and went to the bookshelf to flip through it again. I'd forgotten what a terrific book this was. A few short excerpts:

On constant improvement and curiosity:

When Weaver became the Orioles manager after the 1968 All-Star game, he posted this sign in the lockerroom: "It is what you learn after you know it all that counts."

As much as anything else, that sums up Weaver's outlook. He believes he knows a lot about baseball, but he also knows that there is always more to learn: You can never have enough information.

While a minor-league manager, Weaver wrote the program for the entire Baltimore Orioles organization. He designed the drills, the cutoff plays, and the procedures for spring training. Every year he would add a new wrinkle. It really is what you learn after you know it all that counts.

On managing his roster:

Overall, Weaver had a .583 winning percentage with Baltimore. But after September 1 that mark was .602. His teams were like a well-trained marathoner. The 162-game season punishes the sprinter, who wilts in the July doubleheaders; a strong finish is what usually makes a pennant winner.

So Weaver's teams would often stumble out of the gate in April. Earl would be using all his players, getting each of them some work so they would be sharp when the games piled up and the entire 25-man roster was needed. Perhaps that's why Weaver's teams won 65 percent of their games in doubleheader contests.

"If Earl Weaver has a player on his team, he will use him," said Orioles' general manager Hank Peters. "He does not believe in carrying anyone on the roster if he cannot contribute in some way."

"So much of baseball is plain old common sense," Earl insisted. "I will never understand why some people don't want players to hit home runs. It's the greatest play in the game. And I don't understand why some people don't want to use their best pitchers as much as possible. If I'm managing, I like to have Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, and the other great pitchers on the mound. When they're out there, you know you've got a great chance to win."

"Earl had plenty of good players," noted Brooks Robinson, "but he knew how to use them."

On what made him an effective manager:

"I think Earl Weaver would have been a success no matter what he did for a living," said Harry Dalton, general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. "He has a quick mind. His organizational abilities and his knack for understanding statistics are outstanding. He is not afraid to make a decision and stick with it. He has plenty of guts and can get the most out of any team."

On what made him unique among managers:

They can talk about Weaver's spats with the umpires, his occassional verbal volleys with his players, or his candid personality, but in the end the one thing that raised Weaver about the rest was that he won. He did it year after year. Weaver won with young teams and veteran teams. Teams that hit home runs and teams that stole bases. He won in Elmira, Rochester, Baltimore, even Fox Cities.

On training camp:

"I always tell my players that they must be somewhere doing something every minute of spring training," wrote Weaver. "If they pay attention and follow directions, we'll get them off the field faster because our work will be done. I try to keep standing around to a minimum."

On having talented players:

"People always say the Orioles had great 'fundamentals' teams. That's true but a lot of what they consider fundamentals is really just players having great talent," said Weaver. "A manager can get the players in the right place and teach them where they are supposed to throw the ball, but they're the people who catch the ball, get rid of it in a split second, and throw it right on the money. That is talent, not managing."

On conditioning:

"I firmly believe that conditioning has a direct bearing on the length of a career. If you start as 22 or 24 and stay in shape, you can play until you're 38 or 40. It's easy to say, 'Keep in shape,' but it requires a lot of effort. Frankly, there's no other way to do it, no short cuts."

Weaver's "First Law":

"No one's gonna give a damn in July if you lost a game in [the preseason]."