December 9, 2013
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Monday, January 28, 2013
A reader’s comment from last week has spurred some additional research and a follow-up to the loss of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver.
Faithful reader Dennis Bedard asked me to provide some details on Weaver’s ejection from a game in 1969. That prompted a trip to the Hall of Fame Library and a look at some long-ago editions of The Sporting News.
On Aug. 2, 1969, Weaver and the Orioles played the middle game of a weekend series at Metropolitan Stadium against the Twins. In the very first inning, third base umpire Bill Haller, who was working with Jim Honochick, Ron Luciano and Frank Umont, saw something amiss. Haller approached the Baltimore dugout and ejected Weaver. The reason? Haller saw Weaver smoking in the dugout, which is a violation of baseball's rules but one not often enforced.
Weaver was not pleased with the ejection. According to the report in The Sporting News, he flashed an obscene gesture toward the umpire before exchanging a few words with him. Weaver wasn’t done. During the finale of the series, he walked to home plate sporting a taffy cigarette in his mouth. (Candy cigarettes were all the rage in the late '60s and early '70s.) It was a clear mockery of Haller’s decision to eject him from the Friday night game.
Several days after the incident, a fan in the stands drew a sketch of an orange and black bird smoking a cigarette. The fan gave the comical picture to Orioles reliever Pete Richert, who was sitting in the dugout. Richert then passed the picture along to Weaver.
The third game of the weekend series with the Twins brought more controversy. In the first inning, Frank Robinson argued a called strike. Weaver joined him in the conversation. That brought two ejections: Both Weaver and Robinson received sendoffs from home plate umpire Umont. So for the second straight game, Weaver found himself in the clubhouse before the first inning had even ended.
After the second ejection, Umont said that Weaver “must change in a lot of ways” before he would gain the respect of the umpires. Orioles beat writer Doug Brown also criticized Weaver, saying that his constant baiting of the umpires was undermining his otherwise impressive abilities in running a good game and his smart platooning of players.
Weaver didn’t appear to take the incident very seriously. He told a story of an encounter with a young child. “A 10-year-old kid pleaded with me tonight, ‘Earl, please do it again. Please go to the plate with a taffy cigarette.’” To the best of my knowledge, Weaver never repeated the stunt, perhaps out of fear of a suspension from American League president Joe Cronin.
Weaver, however, did not exactly become a shrinking violet after the cigarette incident. He would continue to receive ejections at a near record pace, eventually totaling 94 for his career, which puts him third on the all-time list behind Bobby Cox and John McGraw. So Weaver never really did calm his relationship with the umpires, but it didn’t prevent the Orioles from winning divisions and pennants, nor did it prevent Weaver from taking his place in the Hall of Fame.
10,000 days ago, a memorable baseball fight occurred. It was an unusual fight in one way because it pitted a manager against his own player. Then again, it was all too usual, because that manager was Billy Martin. Ultimately, it was the last fight in Martin’s baseball career.
Martin always had a reputation as a scraper. A tough kid from California’s Bay Area, he made it to the pros as an infielder and always got into some fights. Most memorably, after receiving a brushback pitch from hurler Jim Brewer, Martin attacked Brewer, beginning a brawl that resulted in Brewer suing Martin. That was just one of many fights Martin got in during his playing days.
As a manager, Martin remained a scrapper. As a rookie skipper with the 1969 Twins, Martin beat up pitcher Dave Boswell in an alley. As was the case in his playing days, there were many other fights for Martin, but aside from Boswell, not with his own players.
Not until Sept. 22, 1985—10,000 days ago. By this time, Martin was running the Yankees, and Ed Whitson was one of his pitchers. The Yankees were trying to hang on in the AL East pennant race, in second place behind Toronto, but 5.5 games back with two weeks left. They weren’t officially dead, but they were on life support.
That extra stress couldn’t have helped Martin’s temper when Whitson had a problem with him. Whitson’s problem was a classic one in player-manager relations: he didn’t like that, a few days earlier, Martin had pulled him from a game.
On Sept. 22, Whitson and Martin began arguing about it. Here’s a not-so-random detail: the argument took place at a hotel bar. So we’ve got an upset pitcher, alcohol, the stress and frustration of a team nearly out of the pennant race—and then throw in Martin’s famous temperament.
The argument turned into a fistfight, and when it was over, Martin had the worst of it, with a broken arm. Specifically, Martin had a broken ulna in his right arm and a bruised right side. Whitson hadn’t gotten off too easily, as he suffered a cracked rib and split lip.
Still, the fight showed the difference in age. Whitson was an aging 30-year-old, but Martin was an aged 57-year-old. No wonder he got the worst of it.
The injuries weren’t even the worst of it for Martin. The Yankees fired him at the end of the season, and most believed the Whitson fight played a big role. It shouldn’t be based on how the team played down the stretch, as the Yanks won nine of their last dozen games after the fight and nearly made the miracle comeback, falling just two games short.
This would prove to be Martin’s last big fist fight, and it was 10,000 days ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim through it.
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