Spotlight on Former Athlete: Herb Weaver - Baseball 1976-78
Weaver flourished in Cajun outfield
By Bruce Brown
Growing up in Memphis, Herb Weaver got an early education in baseball from legendary American Legion coach Tony Gagliano, whose teams dominated state and regional competition with discipline and attention to detail.
“Tony demanded that we hustle in the outfield,” Weaver recalled. “And I did, most of the time. But one time a ball got by and I kind of jogged to get it. By the time I threw it back in, my replacement was already on the way.
“In the middle of the inning.
“And, on my way to the dugout, Tony was yelling at me the whole way – spitting tobacco juice while he chewed me out.”
It was hard to argue with success, though. That Legion team won 20 of 21 Tennessee state titles at one point, and produced players like Tim McCarver, Ross Grimsley and Mike Paxton.
“Memphis was a great baseball town growing up,” said Weaver, who was also a star quarterback and punter in high school. “I played other sports and enjoyed them, but I played baseball since I was 6 years old and I decided to concentrate on that.”
Weaver excelled at Shelby State in junior college, then got a chance to join USL's Ragin' Cajuns.
“They needed a centerfielder, because they were moving into Tigue Moore Field, which is a big park,” he said. “They needed speed in the outfield, and I could run.”
One recruiting visit sealed the deal.
“Del Kulbeth was my host for the visit, and he took me to a sorority party where there were about 25 girls to 3 guys. I said this looks good to me,” Weaver said with a laugh.
That structured Legion background served Weaver well once he arrived at then-USL in 1976 to play for coach Don Lockwood.
Weaver separated a shoulder while diving for a fly ball as a junior, but still led the team in hitting at .344 in an injury-shortened 1977 campaign. He then improved that to .351 as a senior to earn All-Southland Conference honors.
The Cajuns also improved, from 24-20 in 1977 to a 37-15 record in 1978 with mainly the same cast of characters.
“We had about 12 junior college guys, like me, Danny Cook from Alabama, Jose Alvarez and Billy Garcia from Tampa, and I think that first year, we were still trying to mesh and be a better team,” Weaver said.
“Then that next year we won 11 of our last 12 games. We just got on fire. But then we had to play the two best teams in the conference, Lamar and La. Tech, on the road to finish the season. We lost three of four to each of them.
“At the time, there was no conference tournament. There was nowhere to go.”
Still, it was a significant improvement for the Cajuns and Lockwood, whose approach was different than Gagliano's in player relations.
“Lockwood was a smart coach,” Weaver said. “He was mainly a football coach. He coached the line. Not a true baseball guy. But he was smart enough to make changes, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.”
During that 1978 season, the Cajuns hit high gear once Lockwood switched his shortstop and second base and settled on a top 3 batting order of shortstop Michael Berry, Garcia and Tampa's Gary Hinson.
“Mickey was All-Southland Conference,” Weaver said. “Billy had a crazy on-base percentage and struck out just three times all year. Gary was a line drive hitter who hit to the gap and drove in runs.”
Add in Weaver - “I picked up where I left off” - and slugger Cook, and the Cajuns were potent. Six players batted over .300.
Pitching was equally solid, led by future Atlanta Brave Alvarez, Raymond Richard and Matt Bullinger and amplified by a strong bullpen and midweek starters.
Strong hitting and pitching marked the team, which was also loaded with personalities that might have tested some straight-laced coaches.
“Coach Lockwood played it loose with us, and that worked for our team,” Weaver said.
Five of those out-sized personalities emerged during sorority skits at Yell Like Hell festivities at McNaspy Stadium.
“We were going to play Northwestern State,” Weaver recalled. “During the skits, 5 of them got to the other side of the field and held up a sign that read, 'Tang tang the Demons.' Then they dropped the sign and they were naked! They took off running, with campus police chasing.”
No doubt streaking into Girard Park across the street.
I got your back
Most of the team preferred other entertainment, like supporting fellow athletes on other Cajun teams.
It was an good time to be a part of Ragin' Cajun athletics.
The football team went 9-2 in 1976 and 6-4-2 in 1977, although the wheels came off in 1978. Andrew Toney had the basketball team on a roll. Tennis was dominating the Southland Conference and track and field had speed to burn.
“I knew of USL before I came here,” Weaver said. “I'd seen them on TV, getting into the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
“My first fall here, the football team started out 8-0. I remember sitting in the student section for games. And, with Andrew Toney and Dion Rainey, I remember some of the most exciting basketball games and the crazy fans in Blackham Coliseum.
“Athletes from football, basketball, baseball and tennis would go to each other's games and matches and pull for each other. We lived near each other in the dorm and became friends.
“It was a great atmosphere.”
In fact, Weaver and tennis ace Paul Griffith became lifelong friends during that time, have served in each other's wedding, traveled together and remained close.
Weaver, a CPA, helped Griffith run Willow Wood in New Iberia when they first got out of UL. He also worked for teammate Bob Kulbeth's oil service company early in his career.
Employed by Frank's International for the last 7 years, Weaver eagerly settled in the area with wife Michelle (Doise) and also played 2 years of pro baseball with the Lafayette Roughnecks.
Clearly, the Acadiana area fit him.
Weaver also keeps track of teammates and the current Cajun program of coach Tony Robicheaux.
“We had a reunion this year of the 1978 team, and 30 of 35 showed up from all over,” Weaver said. “It was great to see everyone.
“I also have season tickets and see a lot of their games. When we went to the College World Series, my son – 10 at the time – and I went for a couple of games. That was special, to be able to do that together.”
Fathers, sons and baseball – the natural order of things.
“Players today are bigger and more athletic,” Weaver said. “We just knew how to play baseball.”
* * * * * * Herbert and his 1978 Baseball Teammates are pictured below.
Click here for the caption of the above photo and the 1978 Baseball Photo Gallery.
* * * * * * * * * *
Click here to Herb Weaver's Athletic Network Profile.
* * * * * *
Click here for the chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.