EARL WEAVER AND THE 1958 DUBLIN ORIOLES
Throughout the post World War II years, minor league baseball covered most of the United States. There were well over a dozen teams in Georgia alone. The Georgia State League was founded in 1948. The next year Herschel Lovett entered a team in the league which played in the newly constructed Lovett Park. The GreenSox were one of the more successful teams in the league, which folded in 1956.
Baseball was big in Dublin in 1958. Mike Belote led the Pirates to the championship of the Little League. The Babe Ruth League, sponsored by local businesses, played some of their games at Lovett Park. They boys of eastern Laurens County were forming a new league. Cadwell High School was vying for the 5-C championship. Dublin had a team in the semi-pro Southern Pines League.
After one year without baseball, Dublin returned to the minor leagues, this time in the Georgia-Florida League. The team was supported by a group of local men headed by J. Elmer Mackey and A.O. Hadden. Local boys worked in the concession stands and around the park. The new team was associated with the Baltimore Orioles and were known as the Dublin Orioles.
The Georgia-Florida League had six teams in its Georgia division: the Dublin Orioles, the Valdosta Tigers, the Albany Cardinals, the Brunswick Phillies, the Thomasville Dodgers, and the Waycross Braves.
The Dublin team, which heretofore had veteran baseball men at the helm, took a chance on a 27 year old player who had bounced around the minor leagues for ten years. Before he began his major league managing career, Earl Sidney Weaver began his minor league career as a 17 year old in West Frankfort in 1948. He enjoyed his best seasons in the minor league at St. Joseph in 1949, Omaha in 1951, and Denver in 1954. In 1957, he played his last season as a regular player with Fitzgerald in the Georgia-Florida League.
During the 1958 season, Earl played in thirty seven games with twenty five hits, four home runs, and twenty one runs batted in. In eighty five at bats, Weaver hit for a .294 average with six doubles and twenty seven runs scored. Earl mainly played at second base, but moved to left field when needed.
Weaver was hired as a coach for the Orioles in 1968. He finished out that season as the manager with a winning record. In his first season, he led the Orioles to the American League Championship, before losing the World Series to the "Miracle" Mets. Weaver led the Orioles to the World Championship in 1970. The Orioles won a third consecutive league title in 1971, losing to the Pirates in the World Series. The Orioles came back in 1973 and 1974 to win Eastern Division titles. Weaver's last pennant was in 1979 when the Orioles lost to the Pirates in the World Series.
Earl Weaver was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on August 4, 1996, becoming only the 12th manager to be enshrined. His .583 winning percentage ranks him fifth on the modern all time list. Weaver, known as a fireball when it came to arguing with umpires, was most proud of the fact that he was never fired. Weaver had more 100-win seasons than any other manager except Joe McCarthy of the Yankees. He only had one losing season, his last, in 1986.
The Orioles played well that year, especially for a new team. They were consistent winners, especially in front of the home crowd. They finished in third in both halves of the season. Albany won the first half and Valdosta the second half. The Valdosta Tigers won the post season playoff.
During the '58 season, Weaver managed two future major league stars. Dave Nicholson, a hard swinging power hitter, once signed the largest rookie contract in the history of baseball. Nicholson played seven seasons in the "big show", including a season with the Braves. His 61 home runs were overshadowed by his 573 strikeouts. Steve Barber, a fire-balling southpaw, was a member of the pitching staff of the Baltimore Orioles, which rose to prominence in the 1966 World Series. Steve led the American League in shutouts in 1961, finishing with an 18 and 12 record. Barber pitched in the majors for 15 years with many teams including three seasons with Atlanta. Despite their future major league performances Barber and Nicholson failed to receive any post season honors in the Georgia-Florida League. First baseman Dave Bednar, outfielder Dick Ewin, and pitcher Ron Pearson were named to the Ga./Fla. All-Star team. The Orioles led the league in the number of players on the team. Bob Bird was voted the most valuable player and Pearson was chosen as the most valuable pitcher for the Orioles.
The 1958 Ga./Fla. League was one of the better Class D minor leagues. Several of the players went on to play in the major leagues. Valdosta Tiger Dick McAuliffe, a three time All-Star, was regarded by many as one the best American League shortstops of the 60s. He played 16 seasons for the Tigers and the Red Sox. McAuliffe, who led the AL in runs scored in 1968, was a leader of the 1968 World Champion Tigers. Don Wert, also playing for Valdosta, led the AL in fielding percentage in '65. Wert enjoyed his best season in 1968 playing on the all-star team and third base for the World Champion Tigers. Mike Shannon, an outfielder for the Albany Cardinals, played third base for the World Champion Cardinals in 1967.
1958 was the first and only season of the Dublin Orioles. Baseball returned to Dublin in 1962 for one final season. Lovett Park was torn down nearly three decades ago. Those days are part of our past. If you like baseball, especially good baseball where the players are eager and hungry for success, there is still good old fashioned minor league ball being played nearly every summer night in Macon, Savannah, Augusta, and Columbus. The action is close and fierce, the ticket prices are low, and the food is delicious and inexpensive.