Earl Weaver on Strategy

Most of you are probably unaware of this, but I have started taking a course. I am studying with Sports Management Worldwide (SMWW), learning more about scouting and managing in baseball. The course is already almost half over, but the workload is only getting heavier. But who wouldn’t want to have a lot of baseball-related work to do, especially during the cold, uninteresting offseason?

Anyways, one of the “textbooks” is this “Classic Work on the Art of Managing a Baseball Team” (book subtitle). It is written (in large part) by legendary Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who had a ton of success in the 1970s and early 1980s in the majors. Basically, he outlines the major philosophies he viewed as key to his managerial strategies. There were a lot of anecdotes to back up his thoughts, and some of them were outdated, but the end of the book also has an epilogue that was written in 2002, to check in on which of “Weaver’s Laws” were still applicable.

So here’s a look at some of his philosophies, and my brief thoughts on them (especially in how they pertain to my team).

  1. No one’s going to give a damn in July if you lost a game in March. Well, yes and no. I mean, they don’t count but media like Hanshin’s will bring up pre-season standings at any time of year if they feel it’s pertinent. (And even though it isn’t, they still treat it as though it is.
  2. If you don’t make any promises to your players, you won’t have to break them. I feel like manager Tomoaki Kanemoto is good in this sense. He never gives any of his younger players guarantees of playing time or a spot on the top squad. I also think that even though he makes declarations like Randy Messenger being next season’s Opening Day starter, or that guys like Takashi Toritani have earned their spot, it’s not terrible. They have a proven track record, and need not feel like their roster spot is threatened because of some “flavor of the month.”
  3. The easiest way around the bases is with one swing of the bat. Yep. Kanemoto likes this, too. He’s trying to build up some powerful young men. He recently said that Masahiro Nakatani should aim to be a 40 HR .300 hitter. That’s tall orders, but I’m glad that’s what he hopes for.
  4. Your most precious possessions on offense are your twenty-seven outs. Amen to that! Kanemoto started throwing more of his outs away in 2017 (sacrifice bunts), and I hated it. I hope an end is put to that garbage philosophy. Yutaka Wada used it way too much during his tenure as manager, too.
  5. If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get. Again, sacrifice bunts may put you in a position to score one run, and you may well get it… but how often is it the deciding run? Not that often in NPB. In fact, I am planning (ambitiously, mind you) to do some historical research on how effective the sacrifice bunt early in games really is.
  6. Don’t play for one run unless you know that run will win a ball game. Self-explanatory. Save plays like the sacrifice bunt for late in games when you know almost certainly that that particular run is going to give your team the W.
  7. It’s easier to find four good starters than five. Well, this would never happen in NPB, where six starters is the norm, and no one has dared challenge that idea. I’m starting to think, though, as I watch MLB playoffs, that perhaps the days of starters even going 5-6 innings regularly are coming to an end. Maybe more pitchers need to be ready, willing and able to go twice a week but maybe just going once through an opponent’s order. It would throw rotations off big time, and would screw up salary negotiations, but it would be an interesting way to look at arms.
  8. The best place for a rookie pitcher is long relief. Yes, maybe… but it just isn’t the Japanese way. Not in general. You have guys like Yasuaki Yamasaki (BayStars) and Yuki Matsui (Eagles) who started their careers as closers even though they wanted to be starters… and they may eventually make the transition… but it seems like players tend to get stuck in roles much more easily here in Japan.
  9. The key step for an infielder is the first one – left or right – but before the ball is hit. No arguments here. I think Hanshin’s defenders need to get better at this. Most of them have terrible range, and I believe this is the reason. Exceptions: Toritani in his prime, and the recently departed Yamato.
  10. 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. Never have I seen a Hanshin manager get ejected, and if memory serves right, I have only seen import hitters getting tossed.

So was this book worth reading? For sure. Does it rank among the best I’ve ever read? Definitely not. Let’s just say it falls short of Weaver’s favorite weapon (the three-run home run) but easily fulfills the role of one of the guys ahead of the slugger – it’s a solid single or base on balls. Lots of good food for thought!

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T-Ray is the founder, chief writer and Junior Executive Vice President of Hanshin Tigers English News (H-TEN). Find him on Twitter @thehanshintiger.

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