Nobody upstages Earl Weaver, the fiery little manager of the Baltimore Orioles, whose team won 100 games last season ans still finished three in back of the American League East champion New York Yankees.
Weaver is a rooster who never stops crowing, never stops getting on the umpires, and never stops playing the percentages until they scream. He never goes anywhere without his briefcase, the contents of which are records showing what his players have hit individually over the years against opposing pitchers.
"Why should a manager guess what a player is probably going to do when it's right there in black and white?" he says. "I'm into this stuff because it works , not because I'm out to impress anyone."
"The only way to win a pennant is to convince your players that they're going to have to do it themselves, and that they can't count on the other contenders to knock themselves off," Earl added. "You never say: If the other guy does this or that, maybe it will help us. That's negative thinking, and anybody who operates that way is going to lose."
Weaver claims that the key to winning consistently is balance, plus good pitching.
"When I leave for spring training every year, I'm always looking for the same thing -- team balance," he said. "You've got to have guys who can hit from both sides of the plate; reserves who can come off the bench and do a job; and pitchers who will listen and do what you tell' em.
"I don't care how talented the eight guys the other manager can put on the field are, if I've got a good pitcher going for me that day he can nullify them all by himself," he continued. "In fact, we've got five starting pitchers in Steve Stone, Scott MacGregor, Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer, and Dennis Martinez who give us that kind of chance every time they work."
Stone, of course, was last year's Cy Young Award winner, while Flanagan won the same honor in 1979, and Palmer has won it three times in his career -- so Weaver does indeed have quite a talented mound corps to work with.
Earl also likes to point out that for the last two-thirds of the 1980 season, the Orioles had the best record of any team in the majors, and that they probably could have won their division if it hadn't been for so many injuries early in the year.
"Baltimore is known for its pitching and its defense, and I like that," he remarked. "We've also got some people in the bullpen who can do the job, like Tim Stoddard, who had 26 saves last year, and Tippy Martinez, who also pitched well. But in case nobody remembers, we had the best offensive year in our history in 1980."
"Just look at what out first four hitters did," he continued. "Al Bumbry batted .318 and had a club record for hits with 205; Rich Dauer hit .280 and struck out only 19 times; Ken Singleton went .304 with 24 homers and 104 RBI; and Eddie Murray also hit .300 with 26 homers and 116 RBI."
Murray, at age 24 and with his kind of power and potential, may be the best first baseman in the American League. Dauer, although unspectacular, makes all the plays at second base.
These are some question marks on the left side of the infield, however, where Kiko Garcia has been traded and where rookie shortstop Bob Bonner still has to prove he can hit big-league pitching or wind up sharing the position with Mark Belanger. Injuries the last two years have also short-circuited the power bat of third baseman Doug DeCinces.
Bumbry covers so much territory in center field that Singleton's lack of foot speed seldom shows in right, and Ken does get high marks for always throwing to the correct base. Gary Roenicke, after an off year in which his batting average skidded 22 points, is probably going to end up platooning in left with Jim Dwyer and John Lowenstein. Dwyer, a free agent, hit .285 last year with the Boston Red Sox.
Weaver's chief designated hitters will be Terry Crowley (against right-handers) and newcomer Jose Morales (against left-handers). But Earl will also be picking spots for Benny Ayala, who had 10 home runs last season in only 170 at-bats.
Rick Dempsey, who bats right, and Dan Graham, who bats left, will probably catch about the same number of games.
The Orioles' manager is of the opinion that pennants are often won during the winter months when you try to add quality to what you've already got through trades and free agents -- and when you look carefully at your pitching staff, to make sure it will carry a team through 162 games.
Weaver also thinks, and you might want to read this paragraph twice, that umpires are overworked and underpaid. What Earl is advocating, in essence, is pay 'em more and fire 'em if they aren't doing a first-rate-job.