Before their same-day deaths Jan. 19, Stan Musial and Earl Weaver made Upstate New York proud. Spending time here, they belonged to all of us. Now they belong to the Greatest Umpire of All.
“Death, be not proud,” John Donne wrote. Before their same-day deaths Jan. 19, Stan Musial and Earl Weaver made Upstate New York proud. Spending time here, they belonged to all of us. Now they belong to the Greatest Umpire of All.
Musial and Weaver were known as Stan the Man and the Duke of Earl, respectively. One was Andy Hardy, Walter Mitty and Norman Rockwell in corkscrew swing. The other was a bantam rooster, James Dean meet Napoleon, arguing so close to the men in blue that Earl could count the fillings in their teeth.
Stan Musial arrived in Rochester in August 1941, next month joining the then-parent St. Louis Cardinals. Shakespeare said, “The play’s the thing.” In 1942-63, this player was. Musial used a coiled stance to crush a baseball, yet was kind and gentle, a metaphor of Main Street. Perhaps no place ever loved an athlete as St. Louis did The Man.
By contrast, if “Everybody plays the fool,” to quote a 1972 song, Baltimore’s Weaver was glad to play a martinet. Once the Orioles’ Paul Blair, called out at third base, told the umpire, “You can’t call me out.” Umpire: “You’re out.” Blair: “You can’t do that.” Ump: “Why not?” Blair: “Because when I get to the dugout, Weaver’s going to kill me.”
The Duke of Earl won a flag managing new parent Baltimore’s 1966-67 Red Wings. In 1968-82 and 1985-86, his Orioles took the 1970 World Series, four American League pennants, six divisions, and 2,541 games. Had they beat the Mets and Pirates in the 1969 and 1971 Series — God and Roberto Clemente saw otherwise — the O’s would have won three in a row: arguably the next-to-’50s Yankees greatest A.L. dynasty.
At heart, baseball is storytelling. Musial left Rochester at a time, like now, when booming KMOX Radio ferried the Redbirds to 38 of 50 States. In Indiana, future Hall of Fame Voice Dave Niehaus heard Harry Caray scream, “It might be! It could be! It is!” leaping half a foot off the ground with each halting phrase. “Magic was happening in St. Louis!” Dave mused of his youth. The Man had again homered “a zillion miles away.”
John F. Kennedy felt the magic — in 1960, 42, meeting Stan, 40. “They tell me I’m too young to be president and you’re too old to play ball,” he said. “Maybe we’ll fool ‘em” — and did. In 1989, heat and humidity near 100, another president, George H.W. Bush, hailed Little League’s fiftieth anniversary on the White House lawn. Young ex-players like Joe Morgan and Jim Palmer then beat a quick path inside. Only Musial, 69, stayed outside to sign autographs for an hour, treating each fan like royalty.
The Man averaged a career .331, won seven batting titles, and had an amazing 1,815 hits both at home and away.
Page 2 of 2 - Like Musial, Weaver was a perfectionist: his kind loathed by umpires for creative language, dirt kicked expertly, and cap bill turned around to filibuster. Earl was also a psychologist, mastering the interior of each Orioles player. A favorite was outfielder Pat Kelly, a religious man who became a minister helping prisoners and underprivileged children.
Once Kelly, homering, touched home plate, raised his right arm, and pointed skyward. Reaching the dugout, he was greeted by Weaver, who asked, “Hey, what’s this pointin’ about?”
Kelly said, “Earl, without the God Lord up there, I wouldn’t be able to do that.”
Eyeing him, Weaver said, “Kel, the Good Lord didn’t do too much for the guy who threw the ball now, did He?”
Musial greeted you with “Whattayasay?” Earl could be a motormouth. Stan liked to play the harmonica. Earl liked to explore the statistics of the game. To Musial, batting was a science. To Weaver, baseball was a life. Each was among the best to ever hit or manage. Both were homebodies — Upstate at least briefly being home.
God bless them both — and He will.
Curt Smith is the author of 15 books, former speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush, and Associated Press “Best in New York State” radio commentator. He is Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Rochester. Email: email@example.com