DAVIE, Fla. — Ex-catcher Rick Dempsey was among a dozen former Orioles players who lovingly and in great humor eulogized Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver Saturday afternoon at Fred Hunter’s Funeral Home.
Dempsey told of one incident in which the volatile Weaver removed him from a game. Weaver had warned Dempsey not to call for a fastball to Sixto Lezcano. But after the pitcher shook off Dempsey several times, Lezcano finally got a fastball — and a hit.
Making matters worse for the O’s, Dempsey dropped a foul pop after running into the umpire.
Dempsey, as fiery as his manager, did not take his benching well. He started taking off his equipment in the dugout and threw each and every piece of it at Weaver, who returned fire.
The catcher then retreated to the showers, followed by Weaver.
“You have to do what I say. I’m the boss,” Weaver yelled.
Dempsey said his retort was the best line of his life:
“Yeah, you’re the boss spelled backward: double SOB.”
Of all the former players who spoke Saturday, Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer was the most outwardly emotional.
“Earl and I had a love-hate relationship,” Palmer said. “But after hearing Rick talk, I think Earl and I had a love affair.”
Palmer said Weaver drove him to greatness by always demanding more.
“It seemed like I was never good enough for Earl,” Palmer said. “But he made me better.”
Frank Robinson said Weaver was the only manager he had that a player could argue with, knowing he would never hold a grudge.
In that vein, Palmer said he used to tell Weaver: “The only thing you know about pitching is that you couldn’t hit it.”
Weaver, who was 82, died last Saturday of an apparent heart attack while on a boat cruise with his wife of 49 years, Marianna.
Palmer was right, of course. As a player, Weaver was a slick-fielding, weak-hitting infielder who never reached the majors.
But as a manager, Weaver was one of the best, leading the Orioles to the 1970 World Series title and three other American League pennants in 17 glorious seasons.
In 1996, Weaver became just the 13th manager inducted into the Hall of Fame, which became a great source of pride for the St. Louis native.
At his memorial service, friends and family talked about Weaver’s need to compete. He loved to follow horse racing, he played golf with a few bucks riding on the outcome, and he played gin — even if he typically hated the cards he was dealt and often ripped them up in disgust.
Dr. Charles Steinberg, now a senior advisor for the Boston Red Sox, said Weaver was responsible for playing Cal Ripken at shortstop when everyone else in the organization saw him as a third baseman.
“Earl said, ‘I want to be remembered for one thing: moving the kid (Ripken) to shortstop,” Steinberg said.
“Growing up in St. Louis, Earl’s favorite player was (shortstop) Marty Marion. And he saw Cal with his long legs able to cover more ground than (previous O’s shortstop) Mark Belanger.
“Years after he retired, I found out from talking to Earl that he wore No. 4 because of Marion and that Marion was his inspiration for moving Ripken to shortstop.”
Brooks Robinson, who also spoke Saturday, said his hero growing up was the Cardinals’ Stan Musial, a player Weaver also admired.
“How ironic,” Robinson said, “that Earl and Musial both died on the same day.”
Of Weaver’s infamous tirades against umpires, Robinson said he often stood at his post at third base with his glove hiding a smile.
Former first baseman Eddie Murray, meanwhile, thanked Weaver for giving him a shot at the majors at age 21 — even if his manager didn’t say much to him initially.
“He didn’t say anything to me until July,” Murray said. “I don’t think he really talked to anyone under 30.”
Murray said Ken Singleton was Weaver’s favorite, an opinion the outfielder disputed.
“I heard his wrath many times,” Singleton insisted. “I wasn’t in Dempsey’s class as far as getting yelled at, but if I screwed up he would be waiting for me on the top step of the dugout.”
Palmer said he remembers once when Weaver said he had erred. This was big news because Weaver, who had been a pioneer in using statistics and getting the most out of his bench and platoon players, was one of the game’s great innovators.
“He said: ‘I made a mistake. I picked the wrong 25 guys.’ ”
And so it went on Saturday.
Other former Orioles players in attendance included Dennis Martinez, Scott McGregor, Boog Powell and Don Buford. Orioles executive Dan Duquette was also there.
All of them made it clear:
Weaver, the “Earl of Baltimore,” will never be forgotten.