For the first time in history, the Baseball Hall of Fame lost two of its members on the same day.
Last weekend, former Oriole manager Earl Weaver and former St. Louis Cardinal great Stan Musial both passed away, and memories of the two washed over those that had followed the careers of the pair of icons.
I had seen Weaver manage and had met Musial and both events left an impression on me.
Front Row Seats For a Vintage Weaver Eruption
I saw Weaver in person when his Orioles came to old Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis.
I was attending broadcasting school at the time and had decided to take in a Saturday afternoon game between Baltimore and the Twins. I have no recollection as to who won or lost the game, but I vividly remember the first pitch of that contest.
The game was being played during the 1975 season. Cal Griffith still owned the Twins and his reputation for being less than a generous owner was well deserved.
The Twins, at that time, were a terrible baseball club and attendance that year was so bad that a poor broadcasting student could buy a general admission ticket and, sooner or later, sneak down to the good seats for a better view. On this particular day, I bought my ticket for a bleacher seat and went directly to a seat, make that a row of seats, that were empty right behind the Orioles dugout.
I knew from the TV, radio, and newspaper accounts that the Twins had won the night before on a controversial call that favored the home team. I had no idea that the events of that Friday night game would spill over into the following day.
Suffice it to say that they did spill over. Oh boy, did they.
When the game began, the lead-off hitter advanced to the batter’s box and, much to my surprise, Weaver headed for the third base coaches box, directly in front of the Orioles dugout.
I can’t remember who the lead-off hitter was, but I distinctly remember the on deck hitter was Orioles outfielder Paul Blair. I remember that fact because Blair was the one who tipped me off that something memorable was about to happen.
As the Twins pitcher finished his warmups and the game was set to start, Blair paused in the middle of his warmup swings, turned around, and looked me directly in the eye. He almost had to talk to me, if he wanted to talk to anyone, because I was the only person within earshot.
I’ll never forget what he said to me through a somewhat suppressed grin: “Watch this shit.”
The Twins pitcher delivered the pitch. The Oriole batter didn’t move a muscle. The umpire made the call.
And Weaver erupted.
One pitch into the game and the fiery manager was in the face of the home plate umpire, his face a bright red, and, apparently, all the anger from the night before was spewing forth in a litany of language that included every four letter word that I had ever heard, plus a few more that were new to me.
It didn’t take long before Weaver had covered home plate with dirt and chalk and was heading down the dugout toward a cigarette and an afternoon off.
And that is one of the reasons that Paul Blair is one of my favorite ballplayers of all time.
Meeting “The Man”
My chance to meet Musial came several years later when I was serving as Sports Director at a small market radio station in Newton, Iowa. It happened the first time I covered the Amana V.I.P. golf tournament near Iowa City.
The V.I.P. was a one-day pro-am tournament and, because the appliance maker was so generous with its purse money, gifts, and accommodations, it drew a large contingent of pro golfers, other athletes, entertainers, and politicians.
That first year that I went, I was able to interview former President Gerald Ford, entertainers Ernest Borgnine, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Duane Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys, pro golfer Gary Player, and Stan “The Man” Musial. I also had the chance to meet Mickey Mantle.
Musial was one of the most polite men I have ever met in my life.
While some of the athletes I had the chance to interview during my career in radio were a bit reluctant to take the time to chat with a reporter from a station they had never heard of, Musial made it seem that he was hanging on every word of mine as I asked the three or four questions that came to mind. Mantle, on the other hand, didn’t have time to spend with a young broadcaster.
You could make the case that either Mantle or Musial were the better ballplayer. Mantle was sidelined often by injuries and his own demons while Musial’s only elongated absence from the game was due to his military service.
But, in my admittedly biased opinion, it boils down to this judging criteria.
Both were great ballplayers. Both were Hall of Famers. One was a gentleman. The other was a former Yankee.
Score one for “The Man.”