Weaver Back; To Altobelli, It’s for Birds
Earl Weaver, the fiery spirit of the Baltimore Orioles during 14 1/2 years that included four trips to the World Series, returned as manager of the American League club Thursday as a replacement for Joe Altobelli.
Weaver, who had turned down numerous job offers since retiring at the end of the 1982 season, agreed to handle the club through the remainder of the season, after which the situation will be reviewed.
“I think he came back out of loyalty to this organization,” said team owner Edward Bennett Williams, who described his dismissal of Altobelli as a “painful experience.”
Weaver was not on hand for the announcement at an afternoon news conference, which ended 48 hours of speculation about the fate of Altobelli, and a prior commitment also kept the new skipper out of the dugout for Thursday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Third base coach Cal Ripken Sr., considered a possible successor to Altobelli when the firing rumors started Tuesday, managed Thursday night as the Orioles snapped a five-game losing string with an 8-3 victory.
Altobelli, who was besieged by questions while the club was in Detroit Wednesday, was angry during an appearance at Memorial Stadium Thursday morning.
“I thought this was a class operation, but I guess I was sadly mistaken,” Altobelli said as he walked to the clubhouse to clear out his office.
Altobelli, who said he was told by General Manager Hank Peters in a Wednesday telephone conversation to “hang tough,” said he came to the stadium looking for Peters.
But Peters had already departed for Williams’ law office in Washington to continue negotiations with Weaver. That further infuriated Altobelli.
Walking along the hallway of the club’s new offices, Altobelli paused at each door and asked, “Does anybody know if I’ve been fired?”
At the news conference, Williams said he would not apologize for the way the situation was handled, explaining that he wanted to break the news to Altobelli face-to-face.
“The decision to relieve Joe Altobelli was reached yesterday (Wednesday),” Williams said, “and the decision to hire Earl Weaver, and the agreement with Earl Weaver, was reached at 12:30 this afternoon.”
A meeting was set up with Altobelli at 3 p.m., giving Williams and Peters time to drive from Washington, and Williams contended, “he was told at the very moment we could see him face-to-face.”
Williams, long an admirer of Weaver, said Weaver had “as great a record as any living manager in baseball. We went to the best possible resource we could get.”
The Oriole owner, believing that the club was not playing up to its potential, said he had watched the disintegration “with some anguish this year.”
“This was not a spontaneous decision,” he said. “It was an evolutionary decision, and we came to it gradually.”
Altobelli, already under the gun because of Baltimore’s fifth-place finish in 1984, despite a World Series title the previous year, was under increased pressure to get the team off to a good start this season. Williams had invested heavily in the free-agent market by signing outfielders Lee Lacy and Fred Lynn and reliever Don Aase.
The Orioles won 18 of their first 27 games but had gone 11-17 since, including losses in their previous five games. Williams summoned Peters to his Washington law office for a conference Monday, and Weaver entered into negotiations Tuesday.
Altobelli spent 14 years in the Orioles’ farm system, the last 11 as a manager, but Weaver’s presence kept him from advancing to the Orioles. Altobelli subsequently managed the San Francisco Giants for three seasons before being fired near the end of the 1979 campaign.
As an organization man, he was Peters’ choice to succeed Weaver.
Weaver, 54, led the Orioles to six American League East championships, four pennants and, in 1970, a World Series championship.