June 29, 1977: Earl Weaver’s rule book saves Orioles from defeat

This article was written by Joseph Wancho

Earl Weaver (NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY)American League fans in the 1970s were accustomed to the sight of Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver arguing with the umpires. Weaver never cheated the fans out of their hard-earned dough. His protests with the arbiters were legendary. No matter what his grievance was, he was going to have his say. And in most cases, his debates were of a vociferous nature.

“Just because you have a job, doesn’t mean you’re competent to fill the job,” said Baltimore general manager Hank Peters. “If you start to get slipshod, then, darn it, you should be thrown out. It’s what we do with players, managers, and general managers. Why should umpires be any different? They become complacent in their security, and this is bad.”1   

Under Weaver’s leadership, and his tirades, the Orioles reached the top of the AL. From 1969, Weaver’s first full season as a big-league manager, to 1976, Baltimore was crowned champion of the AL East five times, while finishing second twice. During that time, the Orioles won three pennants and the 1970 World Series.

They were in the race once again in 1977. On June 18 Baltimore (35-27) and the defending AL champion New York Yankees (36-28) were in a virtual tie for second place, just 1½ games back of the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Orioles then went into a minor slump, losing six straight. Included in this downturn was being swept at home by the mighty Red Sox.

Baltimore ended the skid by winning two of three games from the expansion Toronto Blue Jays. Now they headed to Cleveland for a four-game series.

Cleveland was in fourth place in the division at 34-34. Manager Frank Robinson had been fired on June 19, even though the two-time Most Valuable Player and star of Baltimore’s 1966 and 1970 World Series champions was seemingly making progress with the Indians.

Robinson had taken the reins in 1975 as the first Black manager of an American or National League club and finished 79-80, then improved to 81-78 in 1976, Cleveland’s first winning season since 1968. But the front office decided to sack Robinson after the Indians got off to a 26-31 start in 1977. Coach Jeff Torborg was promoted to succeed him.

In the opener on June 27, Orioles southpaw Mike Flanagan hurled a complete-game 9-2 victory. June 28 was an offday and the two teams met again for a twilight-night doubleheader on June 29. Cleveland got even in the series, winning the opener, 11-8. The Indians’ offense pounced on starter Rudy May and reliever Scott McGregor. Each hurler gave up five earned runs as the Indians marched to victory.

In the nightcap, Dennis Martínez (7-5, 2.93 ERA) went for the visitors against former Oriole Pat Dobson (2-7, 6.25 ERA). Despite the disparity in their seasons, both gave their teams outstanding performances.

Baltimore struck first, scoring a run in the first inning. With two down, Dobson opened the door when he issued consecutive walks to Pat Kelly, who stole second base, and Ken Singleton. Rookie Eddie Murray made Dobson and the Indians pay with a single to center field to plate Kelly. The Orioles led, 1-0. 

Murray, who went on to be named AL Rookie of the Year in 1977, connected for his ninth home run of the season in the fifth inning to increase the Orioles’ lead to 2-0. It could have been worse for the Indians, as Kelly had led off the inning with a walk. But he was cut down by Indians catcher Fred Kendall when he tried to steal second base. 

In the bottom of the frame, Cleveland bounced back to knot the score, 2-2. Consecutive singles to right field by Bruce Bochte and Larvell Blanks gave the Indians runners on first and second with nobody out. Kendall bunted the runners to second and third. Weaver unsuccessfully argued with home-plate umpire Vic Voltaggio that Kendall had interfered with Orioles catcher Dave Skaggs when he tried to field the baseball.

The next batter was Duane Kuiper. Cleveland’s captain lashed a1-and-2 offering from Martinez to left field, sending the two baserunners scurrying across home plate to tie the game.

The tie held into the ninth. Dobson walked Kiko Garcia to lead off the top of the inning. In many cases, a leadoff walk can prove costly, and this circumstance was no different. Weaver, who abhorred bunting in general, made an exception with his ninth-place hitter up, and Skaggs laid down a bunt to move Garcia to second base.2

Tom Shopay followed with a double to left field, scoring Garcia, and giving the Orioles a 3-2 lead. Torborg brought in right-hander Jim Kern to relieve Dobson. The Gladwin, Michigan, native was generally considered to be one of the better relievers in the league. Kern had earned his 11th save of the year in the opener, fourth best in the AL.

Kern slammed the door on the Orioles, keeping their advantage to a single run.

The Indians were still within striking distance as they came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. Weaver inserted Mark Belanger at shortstop, replacing Garcia. Martinez retired Blanks and pinch-hitter John Lowenstein to start the inning, but back-to-back singles by Kuiper and Jim Norris put runners on the corners.

Weaver went to his bullpen, bringing in veteran right-hander Dick Drago. Paul Dade stepped to the plate and hit a groundball to Rich Dauer at second base. Dauer threw wildly to first, and the ball ended in the Indians’ dugout. The umpires waved Kuiper and Norris home, and the Indians celebrated their apparent 4-3 win.

Both dugouts retreated to their respective clubhouses and the grounds crew began working on the field. What was left of the 23,286 fans in attendance exited Cleveland Stadium. 

But was the game over?

Out of the Orioles’ dugout came Weaver. “I told Marty [first-base umpire Marty Springstead] you only get two bases from your original base when the ball is pitched [on a wild throw like Dauer’s],” said Weaver. “He said something about the position of the runner, but I told him that has nothing to do with it.”3

Finally, Springstead agreed with Weaver and let the Orioles skipper know that the game was not over. Kuiper’s run counted, but Norris’s did not.

“I had two pieces of chicken down and my pants off,” said Baltimore’s Brooks Robinson, who was in the final weeks of his stellar career. “Then, they came in and called us back out.”4

In the Cleveland broadcast booth, Joe Tait had jubilantly announced that the Indians swept the Orioles. But then, no. “I don’t think this game is over,” Tait told what remained of his listening audience. “Earl Weaver, the Orioles manager, is talking with the umpires. I think they’re going to bring the Indians back onto the field.”5    

When play resumed, Norris was on third base and Dade stood on first. Rico Carty, who homered and drove in five runs in the first game, was walked to load the bases. Bill Melton grounded out to Drago to end Cleveland’s scoring threat and send the game to extra innings.

Kern came out for the 10th inning, and the Orioles capitalized on their second chance. Doug DeCinces and Belanger each knocked in a run with a single. Murray, who had doubled and scored the fourth run, was 4-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs.

Drago set the Indians down in order in the bottom of the inning to preserve a 5-3 win for Baltimore.

The next day, AL President Lee MacPhail contacted Weaver to discuss the umpires’ initial call. “He said we were 100 percent right and the umpires were 100 percent wrong,” said Weaver. “But I don’t think the umpires should be fired. I just think they should try to do a better job. I’m afraid to say too much because I don’t want any close calls against me tonight. After all, we won the ball game this time.”6

As it happened, Weaver and the Orioles were on the wrong side of a judgment call in the series finale, on June 30. It was called in the seventh inning on account of rain, with Cleveland winning, 4-2. Despite Weaver’s strenuous objections to calling the game, the umpire crew did not change their decision. “We waited in Minnesota until 1:15 one night, and then they spread sawdust on the field so we could finish the game,” said Weaver.  “I’m telling you, there’s absolutely no consistency with these umpires. If it stops raining here before midnight, we will be getting a real raw deal.”7

“I called the weather bureau myself and was told it was going to rain at least two more hours,” said Springstead. “Earl wanted me to look under the tarpaulin to see how wet the infield was. Hell, I didn’t have to look. I knew the rest of the field was too wet, and besides, I knew the rain was going to keep coming for a couple more hours and I was tired of looking at it.”8

Baltimore completed its 1977 season with a 97-64 record, 2½ games behind first-place New York (100-62). The Orioles finished tied with Boston, their third second-place finish under Weaver. Cleveland (71-90) finished fourth in the AL East, 28½ games off the pace.



This article was fact-checked by Ray Danner and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the sources referenced in the Notes below, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for pertinent information, including the box score and play-by-play.





1 Ken Nigro, “4 Umps Bow to Weaver’s Knowledge,” Baltimore Sun, July 1, 1977:  C4.

2 In the 1984 book, Weaver on Strategy, Weaver offered a series of “laws” for managing. A section titled “The Bunt: Rarely Worth the Trouble” included two of Weaver’s laws: “[y]our most precious possession on offense are your twenty-seven outs” and “[i]f you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get.” He also noted, however, “[i]f it’s the ninth inning and the score is tied and there’s a runner on first and no outs, you should usually bunt him to second. That’s an instant-win situation. But make sure you use your head about the hitter.” Earl Weaver with Terry Pluto, Weaver on Strategy: A Guide for Armchair Managers by Baseball’s Master Tactician (New York: Macmillan, 1984), 38-39.

3 Nigro.

4 Nigro.

5 Hal Lebovitz, “How Could a Team Win … and Lose?” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 1, 1977:  D1.

6 Nigro. Weaver referenced this game in Weaver on Strategy, as part of a section on “Three Basic Rules for Arguing with Umpires.” “Know the rules,” Weaver wrote. “If you know the rules, you might win one now and then. There was a game in Cleveland it seemed we had lost. There was an overthrow with a runner on first base, and the ball went off the playing field. The umpires permitted the runner to score, but I knew the rule book said the runner was supposed to stop at third. I went out to talk about the call, even though the players were in their dressing rooms and it seemed that the game was over. But the umpires realized they had made a mistake on the ruling. They brought both clubs back on the field, and we ended up beating Cleveland that night when most people thought the Indians had defeated us.” Weaver with Pluto, 130.

7 Russell Schneider, “Duffy’s 2 HRs Sink O’s,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 1, 1977:

8 Schneider.

Additional Stats

Baltimore Orioles 5
Cleveland Indians 3
10 innings
Game 2, DH

Cleveland Stadium
Cleveland, OH


Box Score + PBP:

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1970s ·