Earl Weaver, Managing Genius

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”–Earl Weaver Managing Genius

Earl Weaver Managing Genius

When I was a kid my dad and my brother Jim were big fans of the legendary Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver.  They thought he was a managing genius.

“Earl Weaver managing genius.” I heard that a lot.

My dad clearly got a kick out of his colorful personality and the things he was willing to say. My father passed away almost 20 years ago this April, but my brother Jim continued to carry the torch for Earl Weaver well into our adult lives.  He even made me listen to a You Tube bit in which Earl Weaver spoofed the radio call in shows. It was pretty funny, especially since I thought it was real for the first few minutes.

After my last conversation with my brother about the manager –“Earl Weaver Managing Genius” was oft repeated– I decided to borrow one of his books, Weaver on Strategy so that I could decide for myself what I thought of the guy.

The book is pretty great.

It is remarkably readable even though it is packed with details about how to coach baseball. (I enjoy baseball as a fan, not a coach.)  In fact, it reminds me of one of my favorite coaching books which was written by Bill Walsh and is all about how to coach professional football.

Both are jammed with details. These coaches don’t generalize. Their information is specific yet it transcends their sports.

In just the first chapter there are some key takeaways:

Be able to articulate your philosophy clearly and succinctly.

On the first page of the first chapter Weaver gives a clear example of how to articulate a philosophy.

He concedes that spring training is dull, but asserts that it is essential.

“Let’s face it–spring training is pretty boring. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. There are three main purposes … First, the players need to condition their bodies and minds for the grind of a 162-game season. Second, I have to use workouts and games to pick my twenty-five man roster. Finally, the veterans need to review fundamentals and the newcomers must learn a new style of playing the game.”

In just five sentences he lays out what it is to do a professional job as a coach:

  1. Do the job regardless of the boredom,
  2. Prepare your team for the rigors of the season
  3. Care about fundamentals in veterans and rookies alike,
  4. Pick a quality team and prepare to be great together regardless of the circumstances.

Weaver gives a very clear purpose to an essential, but difficult time of the season

Be Patient

Later in the chapter he includes “Weaver’s Guide to a Rookie Making a Club,” which is again a very specific and detailed list.

One of the most interesting pieces of advice, which is one of the hardest to follow at any level, and frankly in any career, is to “be patient.”

Most rookies or young players seem to believe it is now or never, but usually at the highest level it takes time to break in to a squad and earn playing time. It also takes time to really learn your trade and the nuances of it.

There must be some trust placed in the process.

As Weaver says in his book,

“Even if you are farmed out, you could end up back in the majors. Play well in the minors and you can’t be ignored. It’s a long season, and there are injuries, trades and other things that will force a team to look to the minors for help.”

This is directed at the rookie, but he is also demonstrating his own patience with the process as a coach.

Build your culture with the help of your veterans

In this same list he layers in one more idea about professionalism that is crucial for the rookie.

Veterans have a responsibility to set the tone for the club. You should be able to watch them and know how it’s done.

He leads with this:

“Concentrate and execute the drills: Every great player I’ve managed–Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Mark Belanger, and the rest–executed our fundamental drills with enthusiasm and care each spring….”

Wow, that is quite a list of players to be able to refer to in providing an example about your culture.

And, near the end of the list he refers again to this idea, “Watch the veterans. They know how to act and they know what is expected…”

Clearly Weaver affords respect to the best players on the team.

And, they in turn respect the club and the game.

Building a team with a strong philosophy and the help of exemplary veterans is always more successful and easier. But, and this is very important,  it is not simple to achieve and it does not happen by accident as this fine book demonstrates.

Maybe my dad and brother were right.

Earl Weaver managing genius.

And, that is just Chapter One.

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