Forget the myth, Earl Weaver’s Orioles bunted more than you think

I am writing about Earl Weaver and his early 1970’s Oriole teams rather than the Mariners because the M’s came into the Angels series in 3rd place, but lost three of four, putting the Angels a game and half ahead of the Mariners. Writing something positive about these guys sounds phony, and writing something negative is retelling the same story over and over. Thus we have the Baltimore Orioles of the early 70’s

It does not take long when discussing Earl Weaver for someone to state Earl hated the bunt and loved the three run homer. It is Weaver’s signature stamp,  a line used so often it is believed without anyone doubting. Weaver may have said he hated the bunt, but taking a closer look at the record tells something different.

Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer

Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Weaver took the helm of the Orioles during the 1968 season. His teams from 1969-1971 made 223 sacrifice bunts. That is the 4th highest total in the American League with California and Oakland tied for second with 227. The Leader was the Pilots/Brewers who made 294 bunts. Looks like in Earl’s early managerial career, he bunted.

However, at the end of the forgettable 70’s Weavers teams over three years from 1978-1980 bunted only 125 times, the fewest in the American League.

So why the change?  The game changed and Weaver with it. In the 69-71 years pitchers still batted, so one could infer that was the reason, but taking away pitchers sacrifices from 1969-71 they still finished 6th. So he didn’t hate the bunt that much. But in the years, 78-80, the Designated Hitter was in full force and Earl began looking for the three run homer. Not much point bunting with a 9th place hitter over a pitcher.

The facts speak for themselves. This story illustrates how mythology overcomes truth, of how a legend is created. And while Earl no doubt helped in the creation because of the latter years when he did forgo the bunt, the real truth is that when baseball changed the rules, Earl changed his philosophy.   


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