Chain Reactions
Earl Weaver
Earl Weaver

It’s What You Learn after You Know It All that Counts

Two all-time great baseball legends passed away over the weekend. One of them had already retired by the time I started following the game, Stan “The Man” Musial. However, a significant percentage of my adolescent years were spent following teams led by the greatest baseball manager in my lifetime, and indeed one of the best ever: Earl Weaver, The Earl of Baltimore.

Shortly after he retired as the most successful manager the Baltimore Orioles ever had, Weaver wrote a book called Weaver on Strategy. These days, every successful coach in any sport ends up writing (or more likely, having somebody ghost write) a business book equating what they did in sports to what business leaders ought to be doing with their companies. Weaver’s book did not do that; it was just about baseball. However, what Weaver knew about managing an organization most definitely could have filled up several business strategy books. So here are a few thoughts about Weaver.

• Yes, Weaver will always be remembered for his fiery relationship with umpires, as he set the still-standing American League record for ejections. Lost in those grainy videos of Weaver as a short-of-stature, somewhat comical figure with his ballcap reversed, going jaw-to-chest arguing with an umpire, is his passion for winning, and winning the right way. Weaver always said, “The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager, because it won’t hurt the team if he gets thrown out of the game.” He wanted the umpires to give his Orioles a fair shake, and he was more than willing to fight to make that happen.

• As a manager, Weaver excelled at getting somebody of average talent into the right situation where he could excel. He knew full well that not every player on his team was an All-Star or future Hall of Famer (although he certainly helped develop many of his players to those achievements), but he also had an uncanny ability to know when and where to play certain individuals to give his teams the best chance to win.

• That “uncanny ability” had a lot to do with his belief in something that today business leaders take for granted: performance measures. Back before everybody had easy access to computers, Weaver kept metrics the old-fashioned way: on notecards. Weaver kept records of how players did in every situation: at bat, on the bases, in the field. Today it’s a cliché: You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Well, Weaver was one of the very first baseball managers who actually figured out how to measure his players’ performances.

• Today, in lean circles, we talk about the Toyota Way. Well, back during Weaver’s tenure, in baseball circles people talked about the Oriole way. Weaver was insistent that every level of the Oriole organization, from the big-league club in Baltimore down to the lowest level of minor-league ball, the same fundamentals were taught. When rookies got the call up to the major leagues, they had already learned exactly how they were expected to play the game, to give their team the best chance to win. Today of course we call that cross-training.

• The title of Weaver’s autobiography pretty well sums up his entire managerial philosophy: It’s What You Learn after You Know It All that Counts.

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