In the deep off-season, I usually need to read a couple books about baseball to get me through. This year, the first one was It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts, Earl Weaver’s autobiography. For anyone as late to the party as me, it’s a great read, structured to recount Earl’s conflicts with umpires, then with players then with opponents on the field. The umpires section really turns on his glowing hatred for Lee MacPhail, who Earl claims always sided with umpires in his protests, regardless of the facts. I wonder how Earl feels about our Andy.
But I’ll assume most CC folks know this book, so I just want to highlight a couple quotes that really stand out for me. The first comes during Earl’s recounting of his MiL playing days:
My personal statistics weren’t important to me. It sounds like a lot of crap, but any time I went 3-for-4 and we lost, I was angry. If I went hitless and we won, I was happy. … I figured that if I did everything I could to help the team win and it did, I was doing a job that would eventually carry me to the big leagues. Of course, if I was starting as a player now I would definintely concentrate on building good stats. As I tell my players – you get nine guys on a ball club building good stats and you’re going to win. (pp.86-87
We’ll never be able to point to a single moment that is the dawn of stat-conscious understanding of baseball, but that epiphany by Earl when he got to be MLB manager is a candidate for it.
No one would confuse Earl with a small-ball manager. But this book is great for underlining the fact that rejecting small-ball strategy can’t be confused with neglecting the “little things:”
We became very proficient at defensing the sacrifice bunt with a man on first and with men on first and second, and we worked hard on our pick-off plays; with a runner on second, with runners on first and second in a sacrifice-bunt situation, and with a runner on first in a sacrifice-bunt situation. The pick-off plays require precise timing. (p.159)
[Of the 1973 team] The Orioles were no longer a power-hitting ballclub. …. We became a running club and a bunting-for-base-hits (we totaled 42) club. You manage according to the abilities at your disposal and don’t ask anyone to do anything he isn’t capable of. We had speed and we used it. … We ended up setting an Oriole record in leading the league with 146 stolen bases… All of this led writers to ask ‘Isn’t it nice having all that speed?” To which I would reply ‘I’d rather have more three-run homers.’ (p.213)
This is a kind of intense pragmatism that’s getting lost in how we analyze baseball today. We often want every player to do everything. I don’t think Earl would sweat that we lose some defense moving Luke Scott to left field to add a DH:
I firmly believe that I could assemble a group of scouts – people I’ve worked with—who in two years could put together an expansion team that would play well over .500 ball in its first season as a major-league club … Instead of selecting guys who may be good in three or four years, I’d take individuals who could play right away. Guys who may be as slow as Kenny Singleton, but who can hit the ball out of the park. Guys who can play defense and still know how to get on base by bunting for a hit or whatever. Guys who can do one thing VERY well even if they are limited in other areas. (p. 283)
I doubt the WAR stat existed in 1972, (or even in 1982 when this was written) but Earl already believed in the concept:
I had to admit that if we’d kept Frank Robinson [in 72] – even if he had sustained the injuries with us that plagued him with the Dodgers – we would have won our fourth successive pennant. Frank’s nineteen home runs would have won those six extra games we needed. (p.202)
OK, so Frank’s calculated WAR for 1972 was only 2.0, but Earl had him for the years when it exceeded 6 three times and topped at 8.3, so it’s an honest mistake.
All these quotes capture Earl’s analysis but not his character. So it’s best to stop with this incident from Berry Stainback’s introduction:
A writer asked Weaver why he hadn’t used the sacrifice bunt in the last game… “ I put it on once and it was unsuccessful,” he said. “The Yankees tried it three bleeping times and it was unsuccessful. We kept getting the out and leaving he runner on first. So please stick the sacrifice bunt up somebody’s ass and leave it there.” (p.30)