Earl Weaver and Stan Musial never played for, or managed, the Indians. Weaver spent his entire managerial career in Baltimore, while Musial spent his entire playing career in St. Louis. When two such legends pass away in the same weekend, I wanted to do my small part to recognize their accomplishments. They have already been the subject of many elegant eulogies that were far better than what I could accomplish – Musial did not play during my lifetime, and Weaver’s managerial career ended when I was a very small child. Even though neither man sat in the Indians dugout, it doesn’t mean that they had no connections to baseball in Cleveland. Even if those connections were relatively small, they are still worth remembering.
Since he played for a National League team, Musial was much less visible to fans in Cleveland. However, when the All-Star game came to Cleveland on July 13, 1954, Musial was part of the starting nine for the visiting NL squad. The game was an 11-9 slug fest that broke a number of current offensive records for an All-Star game – most total home runs (six), most runs scored by both teams, and hits by a team (the AL with 17). Musial went 2 for 5 in the game, but was not responsible for any of the home runs or RBI in the game. The AL, who trailed 9-8 in the eighth inning, looked as if they may be headed for their fifth straight All-Star loss. In the bottom of the eighth, Larry Doby hit a game-tying home run and the AL managed to tack on two additional runs. Virgil Trucks came in to close the game for the AL, but would not have an easy task in the ninth inning. The second batter he was set to face? None other than Stan Musial. Trucks walked the first batter he faced, Duke Snider, which left a runner on and nobody out for Musial. Trucks was able to minimize damage, getting Musial to ground to first and retiring the next two batters for the save. More than 60,000 Cleveland fans were present for the game, at the time one of the largest crowds in All-Star history.
As manager of the Orioles, Weaver obviously made more trips to Cleveland. Early in his major league managerial career (September of 1969, to be exact), Weaver was asked by legendary Plain Dealer reporter Hal Lebovitz about the Orioles’ pursuit of the 1954 Indians’ record setting 111 wins in a season. When Lebovitz posed the question to Weaver, he noted that the 1954 Tribe lost their “momentum” by the time they hit the World Series that season. As Weaver provided his answer (supposedly jumping out of his chair to do so), Lebovitz referred to him as a “banty-rooster of a man, fiery and bouncy and he comes out swinging.” To quote Lebovitz, “‘Momentum,’ he threw back at us scornfully. ‘There’s no such thing’.” Weaver’s scorn for the concept of momentum was symbolic of his overall approach to the game. Rather than buy into a narrative, or play small ball, Weaver embraced a more modern concept of statistics that many often refer to as a “Moneyball” approach after the book (and now movie) of the same title. His emphatic explanation on why he didn’t believe in momentum seemed to win over Lebovitz; by the end of the column he predicted that the Orioles would be the 1969 World Series champs. (The Mets beat the Orioles in five games in the fall classic. The Orioles finished the season at 109-53).
Weaver is also remembered for his colorful arguments with umpires, and his ability to be thrown out of a ball game as a result of the argument. During the bottom of the ninth in the second game of a doubleheader in Cleveland, a batted ball became lodged in an outfield tarp and the Baltimore outfielder was unable to retrieve it. While the player tried to get the ball, three Indians rounded the bases and the Tribe won the game by one. The Indians left the field believing that they had won the game; in the meantime Weaver approached the umpire with a copy of the rule book. He convinced the umpires they had erred; one of the Tribe’s runs were removed from the scoreboard and the Indians were pulled from the clubhouse back to the field in order to finish the game. In the end, the Orioles were victorious. During another time in Cleveland, Weaver reportedly shredded a copy of the rule book in front of the umpire’s face. He wasn’t afraid to use a flair for the dramatic in making his point.
This is just a small slice of two incredible careers from Hall of Fame players. Even though they experienced most of their glory outside of Cleveland, they still have small connections to the city and to the Indians. Both left such an impression on the game, and will be sorely missed. Even though nobody can be expected to live forever, it still seems particularly heartbreaking to lose two greats in the same weekend.