Dear Earl Weaver:
Sorry we thought you were dead.
By "we," I mean our managing editor, Ross Ramsey, who originally wrote that you were "in heaven" in a column for last Sunday's New York Times; those of us at the Tribune, including me, who read Ross' piece before we sent it to our partners at the Times but didn't catch the mistake; and Times editors themselves, who didn't catch it either. You sounded very much alive Saturday morning on NPR — as irascible as ever, in fact, and yet in surprisingly good humor — when Weekend Edition host Scott Simon interviewed you about your premature demise.
There's no way to put lipstick on this particular Oriole. We screwed up, plain and simple. We corrected the error as soon as it was pointed out to us: Sunday morning, after the Times had printed Ross' column online and in the paper but before we had a chance to run it ourselves — which is why there's a correction only in today's Times and not our on our site.
Of course, Ross is kicking himself. Our most-veteran political reporter made what he himself terms a "rookie mistake" on, in fairness, a subject outside his expertise. More than once I thought this week: At least he didn't write that Gib Lewis was dead. I'm kicking myself too, and not just because everything imperfect at or about the Tribune is ultimately on me. I grew up in New York watching my Yankees beat your Orioles much of the time, so it's not like I had to be told who you were ... or are.
Everything, we hear over and over, is a teachable moment, and this certainly is. The takeaway from this unfortunate instance of journalistic fallibility is a helpful reminder that, well, journalists are fallible. We in the media demand a lot from the people we write about, and we're quick to call them out for being flawed, for being human. We're flawed too. When we mess up, we should admit it with humility and apologize to anyone affected — not under duress, but because it's the right thing to do.
So, Mr. Weaver, again: We're sorry.
That acknowledgement of fallibility, that humility, should then inform the work we do going forward. It will in our case.
We're in the process of tracking down a good address for you in Florida, and we'll be sending you a Texas Tribune hat for your trouble. Whether or not you ever wear it, you should know that Ross, a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan, will be required to wear an O's hat around the office until your old team wins a World Series — our version of a life sentence.