The headline in the Toronto Star the next day read, “When the rain came, Earl went home.”
And as the baseball community mourns the passing of Earl Weaver, who died Saturday of a heart attack at the age of 82, many of those in attendance at Exhibition Stadium on September 15, 1977 still reminisce about the most costly tirade of the Hall of Fame skipper’s career.
A master strategist and fiery motivator, the 5-foot-7, 180-pound Weaver could also be irascible and stubborn. And his extended argument with umpire Marty Springstead in this game, resulted in the first – and only – deliberate forfeit by a big league team since 1914. (There have been four other forfeits since 1970, but they were all a result of unruly fans).
To set the scene, Weaver’s Orioles had won the previous three games of this four-game series against the expansion Blue Jays and trailed the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East division by just 2-1/2 games with 17 contests remaining. On this dreary night, however, Jays rookie Jim Clancy had shutout the Orioles through five innings. With a light rain falling since the third inning, the Jays’ grounds crew had placed a tarpaulin over the two mounds in the Jays’ bullpen, which were located about five feet outside of the left field foul line.
As the Jays prepared to hit in the bottom of the fifth, Weaver emerged from the O’s dugout and told Springstead that the bullpen tarp represented a danger to his players. Weaver pulled his team off the field and insisted the Orioles wouldn’t play until the tarp was removed.
“We had Mora (Orioles left fielder Andres) run in there the other night and hurt his back a bit when he stumbled on the mound,” Weaver explained to the Toronto Star after the game. “I just wasn’t going to take a chance on one of my guys slipping on the tarp or catching a cleat in it.”
As a compromise, Springstead had the tarp removed from one of the bullpen mounds and explained to Weaver that he could play the game under protest. But this didn’t satisfy the increasingly irate Weaver, who argued with Springstead for close to 20 minutes in front of the 14,675 fans at Exhibition Stadium.
At some point, Weaver reportedly asked his players if they were willing to play with the tarp in place. He told reporters that the players unanimously backed his stance, but comments from the players after the game seem to indicate otherwise.
“He (Weaver) put it to us, all right, but not that many players actually spoke up,” Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger told the Toronto Star. “Those that did – and I was one – agreed with Earl.”
Ross Grimsley, the O’s starting pitcher, didn’t seem to support the decision.
“Personally, I think we should have played it,” he said. “I think it’s a big bunch of garbage. The umpires have got it in for Weaver. They’re going to give it to him every chance they get.”
In Tom Cheek’s book, Road to Glory, he writes that sources told him that Belanger and veteran Brooks Robinson implored Weaver to allow the O’s to continue playing, but to no avail.
Springstead, for his part, waited five minutes (the period of time the rulebook requires), after Weaver finally returned to the dugout, for the Orioles to take the field and then ruled the game a forfeit.
“We didn’t have a team to play with, so that was it,” Springstead said after the game. “I told him (Weaver) to play the game under protest and settle things later, but he still refused. I know he’s in a pennant race and I thought it was important to him to get the game in. What am I going to do?”
Weaver said after the game that he planned to ask American League president Lee MacPhail to continue the contest in the fifth inning when the Jays were in Baltimore for a series the following week. But the O’s volatile manager failed to launch an official protest, and without that appeal, MacPhail couldn’t intervene.
As per the big league rules, the contest was recorded as a 9-0 forfeit win for the Jays, with the individual statistics from the game counting in the players’ records.
Following the contest, Weaver was still hot about what had transpired.
“I’m also going to the players’ association to see if we can’t get this bullpen moved into a separate area like they do in big league parks,” said Weaver, conveniently forgetting that bullpens were aligned the same way in parks in Detroit, Cleveland and Seattle.
Weaver also took a shot at Blue Jays manager Roy Hartsfield.
“Maybe Hartsfield doesn’t give a damn about his players getting hurt, but I do,” said Weaver. “I expect I’ll be with these boys another five years or so and I might’ve saved somebody’s career tonight.”
Hartsfield declined to be drawn into a war of words with Weaver.
“It’s done with,” Hartsfield told reporters. “The umpires told me there was no protest coming. He’s (Weaver) entitled to his opinion and I’m entitled to mine but I’m loving every minute of it ‘cause I’m a winner and now we’re going to try to beat Cleveland.”
Weaver was also asked why he would forfeit a game in the middle of a pennant race.
“I realize this one game could cost us the championship, but we’ve got 16 games left and I want to go the rest of the way with all of these guys rather than have one or two of them knocked out with some foolish injury,” responded Weaver.
The Orioles ultimately finished three games back of the Yankees, so the forfeit did not cost them a division title, but Weaver’s antics that night against a Jays squad that lost 107 games in 1977 is considered one of the low-lights of his career.
Yes, there was something to be said for Weaver – who guided the Orioles to a World Series title and four American League pennants in 17 seasons as manager – attempting to protect his players, but if his players did, indeed, want to finish the game, it seems like Weaver’s pigheadedness got the best of him. Then again, wasn’t that part of Weaver’s charm? The sparkplug skipper was almost as entertaining as he was successful. And Blue Jays fans at Exhibition Stadium on that dreary September night, supporting a team that was destined for 100 losses, were treated to the most costly and historic tirade of the Hall of Fame manager’s career.
*Much of the information in this blog entry came from an article written by the great Allan Ryan in an article that was published on page B1 of the September 16, 1977 edition of the Toronto Star.