Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver took a long look at the larger-than-life bronze likeness of himself that was unveiled at Camden Yards on Saturday and expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the people who made it possible.
"My thanks to Mr. Angelos and the Angelos family,'' he said, "and thanks to Toby Mendez, the sculptor, who made me look like Buck."
It was vintage Earl. He spent 10 minutes at the unveiling ceremony giving credit for his amazing record as Orioles manager to the men who mentored him in the minor leagues, the owners and executives who gave him his chance to manage in the major leagues and the players who carried him to five 100-win seasons in Baltimore. Then he wrapped it all up with a bit of self-effacing humor that reflected how much he still pays attention to what's going on at Camden Yards.
The statue, one of six commissioned by the team to honor the six Orioles who have had their uniform numbers retired, stands above center field, facing Frank Robinson and the platforms that will bear Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken and Brooks Robinson. It features Weaver in a signature pose, staring out at the action with his hands tucked into his back pockets.
The reference to current manager Buck Showalter was a nod to those who have said since he took over the team during the 2010 season that he bears a passing physical resemblance to Weaver and also shares some of his managerial attributes.
Weaver apparently agrees. He has gone out of his way to show his support and said Saturday that he feels confident that Showalter and baseball operations chief Dan Duquette have the Orioles moving in the right direction.
Orioles fans can only hope, but the hundreds that crowded into the Garden of Greats to watch the unveiling — both young and old –— seemed to grasp the weight of such an endorsement from the Earl of Baltimore.
They cheered the introduction of the Orioles Hall of Famers in attendance. They cheered louder for Robinson and the three others in the front row who will have their statues unveiled over the next three months. They have not forgotten what it used to be like and have not given up on the idea that that the Orioles can be great again.
There will, however, never again be anyone like Weaver, whose volatile personality and keenly analytical baseball mind played a lot bigger role than he wants to admit in the uninterrupted success that made the Orioles one of the cornerstone franchises in the American League from the 1960s into the 1980s.
No other manager in major league history ever won 100-or-more games in his first three full seasons in the major leagues. Only 18 other managers are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Weaver led the Orioles to the World Series in each of those first three full seasons and won his only World Series title in 1970. He said again and again during his speech at the unveiling and his news conference afterward that he couldn't have done it without all the great players who passed through the home clubhouse at Memorial Stadium, but everybody knows that he was one of those rare managers that not only won games, but changed baseball along the way.
"I think because of how he got where he got he was not going to leave any stone unturned,'' Showalter said. "And I think the Orioles were very precious to him. He'd come up through the system for the most part and to be down there grinding and there's a lot of responsibility doing what he was doing and he didn't want to let people down."
Of course, he never let anyone in Baltimore down. There might have been some complaints from the umpires he bedeviled with his sarcastic wit and explosive temper, but that just endeared him all the more to Orioles fans who loved it when he turned his cap around went ballistic on favorite foil Ron Luciano or some other poor sap in blue.
During his 17-year major league career, he only had one losing season and that was after he came out of retirement to take over the team for the last 105 games of 1985 and a sub-.500 1986. He certainly could have managed longer, but said Saturday that he has enjoyed retirement and never regretted his decision to walk away when he was a relatively young man of 56.
When he was asked yesterday to put his career in perspective he didn't hesitate.
"What comes to mind is, 'Thank God those guys were there and thank God we won 100 games three years in a row so I could come back for a fourth,'' Weaver said. "And thank God for the fourth that won enough games for me to come back for the fifth … and on to 17."
Of the six Orioles greats who are to be immortalized in bronze, the only one not in attendance was Brooks Robinson, whose unveiling has been postponed until September for health reasons, but he sent his regards nonetheless.
"I admire Earl for what he has accomplished in his baseball career,'' Robinson said in a statement released by the team. "He worked his way up through the minor leagues to become a manager in the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was a pleasure to play for him. We had the best manager and I believe other teams knew that our manager was better. It gave us a competitive edge. I don't thin there was ever a guy who played for Earl that did not think that Earl made him a better player. It is great that Earl is getting this statue."
He didn't mention how much it looked like Buck.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times