Friday's passing of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver struck a book shopping chord with me as soon as I heard the news on sports radio. Although St. Louis Cardinal Hall-of-Famer (player and nice guy) Stan the Man Musial also died this weekend, it is a quote from the crusty Weaver, who managed the Baltimore Orioles for 17 years, that I have taped near my desk, which reads: “If you play for one run, that's all you'll get.”
No matter what is written about Weaver, it won't match the prose of Tom Boswell, a sports columnist for The Washington Post. Boswell has already written a couple of eulogy-columns about Weaver, but some of the best anecdotes about Weaver come from Boswell's two collections of pieces How Life Imitates the World Series (1982) and Why Time Begins on Opening Day (1985). I am dumbfounded that I cannot find my copy of the How Life book (did I loan it out to someone, sell it?) , but it contains many chapters about the great Oriole teams on the 70s (Brooks and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Mike Cuellar) that Weaver managed. The Orioles were a juggernaut and Boswell devotes many chapters to Weaver strategy (one of the first managers to platoon players based on lefty-righty matchups) and managerial style, which was described as (if I can remember correctly) “primal scream therapy.”
In the chapter “Palmer vs. Palmer” in the Opening Day book, Boswell writes about the enigmatic Baltimore Hall of Fame Pitcher (and Jockey Ad spokesperson) Jim Palmer and his long contentious relationship with the Oriole skipper – even though after baseball, Weaver and Palmer briefly shared a broadcast booth. Palmer once said that all Weaver knew about pitching was “that he couldn't hit it” – a reference to Weaver's baseball playing career, which never included a stint in the majors. Weaver thought Palmer was a hypochondriac and a whiner and said that when he wanted to talk Palmer, “I'll send (Oriole pitching coach) Ray Miller to drag him back by his diaper.”
Returning to the aformentioned Weaver's quote about playing for one run, refers to the intricacies of baseball. Basically, Weaver loathed the strategy of bunting runners into scoring position and surrendering an out because he thought such a strategy eliminated the chance for a big inning (the three-run homer). Weaver managed his last game in 1986 long before baseball statistics had become sophisticated as they are today. Weaver turned out to be correct. Sacrifice bunting does lessen a team's chances at a big inning and big innings usually lead to victories.
Not that I live my life that way, playing for the big inning, but Weaver's quote always does serve as a reminder that playing things safe or conservatively (or writing safely, conservatively, worrying too much about pissing people off) is okay, but if you don't try to something bold once in a while in your life or your prose – well, one run is all you are ever going to get.