Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review: Weaver on Strategy

Weaver on Strategy: The Classic Work on the Art of Managing a Baseball Team
by Earl Weaver with Terry Pluto
c. 1984 (revised 2002)

Former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver was best know for losing his head on the field with the umpire. But what "Weaver on Strategy" reveals is that Weaver used his head far more than he lost it.

As you read Weaver's tome on baseball strategy, you begin to realize what amazing foresight he had on the direction the game was heading and simultaneously begin to shake your head that many managers (and organizations) still haven't picked up the hint 25 years after it was first published.

Earl has his opinions. Baltimore fans are probably well aware of them and they are best summed up by the phrase "Pitching, defense and the three-run homer". That's not just a catchy slogan; Weaver had very specific reasons for the methods he chose and lays out the arguments for his strategies in great detail and does so in very common sense terms.
It makes all the sense in the world. Yes, 27 outs are a team's most valuable offensive possession. Yes, the bunt makes little sense unless you're playing for one run. Yes, job security can be achieved with a .583 career winning percentage.

And I haven't seen on base percentage and walks discussed so often since I read Moneyball.

Weaver touches on every aspect of the game from spring training to the playoffs, from defense to hitting, from lineup formation to in-game strategy. You'd better enjoy "inside baseball" if you want to read this book but Weaver make even the more mundane parts of the game interesting with humor and anecdotes.

For example, spring training is boring. So how do you keep bored beat writers at bay? With Weaver's Cliches of Spring:

1. The hitters are ahead of the pitchers. You use this one after your staff get pounded for fourteen runs early in the spring. After all, maybe the hitters are ahead of the pitchers at this point? Who's to say which group develops faster?

2. The pitchers are ahead of the hitters. The opposite of number 1, so it should be used when you get shut out by three rookie pitchers nobody's ever heard of.

You can get the gist of Earl's philosophies just by reading the chapter and sub-section titles. "The Bunt: Rarely Worth the Trouble", "The Base on Balls or Why I Played Glenn Gulliver", "Clubhouse Meetings: A Real Waste of Time", "Winning and Losing Players: Baseball's Myth" and "The Offense: Praised Be the Three-Run Homer!"

Many of Earl's philosophies are considered standard practice today. Hit charts on opposing batters, pitching charts on opposing pitchers, hitting/pitching splits for Baltimore and opposing players, breaking in rookies in long relief, the eschewing of the steal and the hit and run (Earl didn't even have a hit and run sign and considered it the worst play in baseball) and valuing skills beyond batting average (OBP and slugging). Earl would have loved the integration of the computer and the internet in baseball!

One Weaver philosophy that has fallen by the wayside is the four man rotation. In this 2002 revision, Earl admits that a four man rotation would not work today. He believes it could if players were developed through a system that prepared them for that kind of workload but admits that you would have a hard time selling it to potential free agents who are more concerned about their health than their complete game total.

Other Earl philosophies:

Earl hated the intentional beanball and never called for one. He considered it dangerous and counter-productive. Throwing inside was fine but he didn't think there was ever an excuse to try to hurt somebody with a pitch. Weaver seemed to be way ahead of his time on this subject.

Earl believed that sign stealing was a part of the game but that it was overrated:

Say you find out a runner is stealing on a 2-2 pitch. The manager calls for a pitch-out and nabs him. Well, the guy in the other dugout isn't stupid. He'll see what happened and change his signs.

Earl said that you should never curse an umpire. That's right. Read that again. You should curse the call but not the umpire. OK, Earl.

And this was interesting...on cheating.

Every year there are whispers about certain players. The word is that a hitter who is suddenly having a good year is doing more than singing a good bat...

What is this? Steroids? HGH?

...he's swinging a loaded or corked bat.

Not nearly as sexy or shocking as steroids but it does raise a couple of interesting points.

First, if there were whispers about corked bats in the 60's-70's-80's, how can players look the public straight in the eye and claim nobody ever suspected anything during the steroids era? Of course, they can't.

Secondly, Weaver makes this statement:

I've managed pitchers who have used the spitter, and I've seen some corked bats lying around.

Since Earl came up managing in the Oriole organization, the odds are very good that Baltimore Oriole players were using the spitball and corked bats during their glory days. To put it more harshly, they were cheating!

Just something to keep in mind before getting all spun up about steroids.

And Earl admitted to using a corked bat in the minors. Not that it helped much.

In addition, Weaver goes into a detailed description of his scouting techniques including visuals of the index cards he kept on opposing players, hit charts, pitching charts and defensive charts. Chapter 11 is a detailed breakdown of the preparation for and the playing of the 1st game of the 1979 ALDS against the California Angels. There are charts showing all the managers fired during Weaver's tenure, various breakdowns on how many times he was ejected (and by umpire) and a epilogue from 2002 where Earl revisits Weaver's 10 Laws of baseball and finds that nearly all still apply.

This is an essential book for any Oriole fan and is also a must read for any baseball fan. It's a fascinating look inside the mind of one of the brilliant baseball minds of the modern era. It has to be in your baseball library.


Roar from 34 said...

Thanks for posting this review, Heath. Earl's book has been lingering as a potential addition to my reading list. Seems you've helped earn it a place in the stack.

Somebody, or multiple contributors even, should put together a definitive Orioles reading list.

DempseysArmy said...

Somebody, or multiple contributors even, should put together a definitive Orioles reading list.

Sort of like Oprah's book club. I definitely have two I would put on the essential list.

Jordan Katz said...

it doesn't surprise me to much about the corked bats and the spitballs. Legend has it that at a mound conference with a guy that just got hammered he told him "If you know how to cheat, start doing it"

DempseysArmy said...

Earl was known to make sarcastic comments to his players when they were not doing well and that comment to the pitcher may have been in jest. But when discussing spitballs and corked bats, he didn't seem to think there was much to worry about. He even wondered if the spitball should be legalized and if hollow bats should be used during Spring Training to see the true impact.