Yes, they had fine ball players. You can’t win without fine ball players. But Baltimore is a small market city, and to capture talented players you have to spot them ahead of the big cities. Earl could spot talent, and I think one of his greatest gifts was to put together a plan that optimized the talent he had. You could build a team of all superstars but if they can’t play together it won’t win. Earl put together teams piece by piece and somehow managed them into a harmonious unit.
He was way ahead of his time in using statistics. Today the league keeps statistics on everything, every matchup, every situation. Back then they didn’t. Earl kept his own statistics. He would keep the numbers (on index cards if I remember correctly—way before computers) how every one of his players hit against all the pitchers and how his pitchers performed against every hitter in the league. Everyone today goes through those statistics on a daily basis. And Earl revolutionized platooning. It was occasionally done back then, nothing like today. In the early 1980s, Earl matched a platoon of Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein, two average ball players in their own right, in left field. But teaming them as a platoon, Roenicke hitting against left handers and Lowenstein against right handers, they performed at a superstar level, combining for 45 home runs and 140 RBI in 1982. Today every team looks to platoon players for results like that.
But I guess the single thing that made Earl famous was his fiery temper on the field. A really nice man off the field, a gentleman actually, he would go ballistic if he felt an umpire made the wrong call against his team. He would argue at length and if the umpire made some snide comment Earl would light up. I don’t really know if his ire consciously poured out or if he just lost personal control. When he argued he would kick dirt, tap the umpire’s forehead with the bill of his cap, then turn his hat around so he could plant his face up against the umpire’s face and yell. He was a character. He was probably ejected more than any other manager of his time, and there were fines and suspensions. But his players loved him because they knew he backed them up. And of course the fans went wild.
Earl was the winningest manager of his time, and fifth of all time. His secret? Pitching, defense, and a three run homer. He never cared for bunting and base stealing. The fourteen years from 1969 (his first full season) through 1982, he won the division title six times, the American League Pennant four times, and the World Series once. And even when they didn’t win the division, they were only within a handful of games from first place. Actually the year after he first retired, 1983, the Orioles went on to win the World Series. That was still his team. Not bad for a small city team.
Well, Earl passed away yesterday, and with it a bit of my childhood. You can read about his passing here.
Here’s a nice little video clip on Earl from the documentary on the history of baseball:
Hall of fame Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer played for Earl all those years.
"He was part of a great franchise," Palmer told USA TODAY Sports. "We had a special group and Earl was our leader. He wasn't a warm and fuzzy guy, but Earl got us to those World Series."
Thanks for those childhood memories. Rest in peace Earl.
Stan Musial, the great St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, also passed away over the weekend. His era was before my time. I never saw him play, but his hitting statistics are remarkable, and I’ve never heard an unkind word about him.