Homeplate umpire Bruce Froemming called the pitch a ball. Starting pitcher Milt Pappas leaped into the air in anger. Pinch-hitter Larry Stahl took his base.
Pappas, a right-hander for the Chicago Cubs, nearly pitched the eighth perfect game of the 20th century on Sept. 2, 1972. He hurled one for 8 2/3 innings that Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
The son of Greek immigrants yelled at Froemming in two languages following the call of “ball four, take your base.” As late at 2009, he told a reporter, “To this day, I just don’t understand it (Froemming’s call).”
Pappas settled for a no-hitter, an outcome disappointing only if you’re one pitch away from perfection. The Detroit native struck out six and raised his record to 12-7 while lowering his ERA to an even 3.00. Fewer than 12,000 fans watched the game, played on a day when it was 62 degrees at Wrigley with a 17 mph wind. One more raw day in the city.
That near perfecto may be the most famous game of Pappas’ career. He enjoyed many other good ones. Pappas, born on May 11, 1939, compiled a 209-164 won-loss record in his 17 seasons (1957-73) with the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves and the Cubs.
He never won 20 games, but he did win at least 15 games in seven different seasons. Not a flamethrower, Pappas relied on fine control. In 1967 and 1972, he finished first among National League pitchers in walks per nine innings.
The graduate of Detroit’s Cooley High made his debut with the Orioles at the age of 18. He pitched in four games in 1957, giving up just one run in nine innings. Pappas went 110-74 in his nine seasons with the Orioles.
Baltimore shipped Pappas to the Reds in a famous trade following the 1965 campaign. The Reds brass famously sent Frank Robinson to the Orioles. Robinson, Cincinnati executives declared, was “an ol 30.”
All Robinson did in his first year as a Red was win the Triple Crown and N.L. MVP. Pappas went 12-11 with a 4.29 ERA. He improved to 16-13 with a 3.35 ERA in 1967. The Reds, though, sent him to Atlanta midway through the 1968 season.
Pappas enjoyed some of his best seasons while a Cub. He posted a 2.68 ERA in 1970, the second lowest of his career (2.60 in ’65). He won a season-high 17 games in ’71 and ’72. Pappas retired after going 7-12 with a 4.28 ERA in 1973.
A two-time All-Star, Pappas died April 16 at the age of 76. Newspaper reports following Pappas’ death invariably mentioned the near-perfect game near the top of the story.
Reporter Mike Bauman wrote about the game for a recent article on mlb.com. Pappas, according to Bauman, said afterward that “I thought the umpire could have given me one of those sliders to Stahl.”
Froemming didn’t buy into that. An umpire isn’t a fan, Froemming said. He disagreed that the pitches to Stahl were “close.”
Froemming said, “To me, this is my perception about umpiring. It’s a ball or a strike; it’s not “close.”
It wasn’t personal, Froemming insisted. The umpire expressed his condolences to Pappas’ family following the pitcher’s death.
Cubs Executive Chairman Tom Rickets also expressed his sorrow on the passing of Milt Pappas. He said, “We will always consider (Milt) a part of the Cubs family.”
Pappas trivia: The pitcher faced Roger Maris in game No. 154 in 1961. This, of course, was the year Maris made his epic run at baseball’s single-season home run record. Commissioner Ford Frick announced earlier in the campaign that Maris would have to hit home run No. 60th home run in 154 games (the length of the schedule when Ruth hit his season-record 60 homers), not 162. Pappas gave up home run No. 59 that day.
More Pappas trivia: Pappas hurled a perfect inning on Sept. 24, 1971. He struck out three Philadelphia Phillies batters on nine pitches.
By Glen Sparks
He stood just 5-feet-4. No wonder they called him “Wee” Willie Keeler.
He could hit, too. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native had a plan when he stepped into the box. It was always the same plan.
“Hit ‘em where they ain’t,” Keeler advised.
The son of Irish immigrants, born on this date in 1872, did just that. He bunted for base hits, chopped balls down the line, squirted pitches past infielders and lofted offerings into the outfield. Keeler evaded fielders’ gloves like a smart cat evades the family dog.
Keeler batted .341 lifetime and hit at least .362 every season from 1894 through 1900. He led the league in 1897 (.424) and 1898 (.385) as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. (This was the Orioles team that played in the American Association from 1882-91 and in the National League from 1892 through 1899. League owners contracted the team out of the N.L. before the start of the 1900 campaign.)
Over a 19-year career, Keeler collected 2,932 hits, most of them singles. Only 15 percent of the outfielder’s hits went for extra bases. He notched 206 one-baggers in ’98 (out of his 216-hit total), a single-season record number for more than a century. Ichiro Suzuki, a “Wee” Willie of modern times (along with Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn), rapped 225 singles in 2004 for the Seattle Mariners. Ichiro also broke Keeler’s record of eight-straight 200-hit seasons in 2009.
Keeler hit in 44 straight games to start the 1897 season, a record that stood until Joe DiMaggio broke it with his 56-game streak in 1941.
The tiny man wielded a tiny bat, just 30 inches long. Plus, he choked up on the thing. “Wahoo” Sam Crawford, a top player from the day, couldn’t believe it. “He only used half his bat,” Crawford said.
Fans today lament “the lost art of the bunt.” Keeler perfected that art. He could bunt just about any pitch. “Keeler could bunt any time he chode,” Honus Wagner once said.
Keeler tapped the ball to a vacant spot and sprinted down the line. “Wee” Willie could run despite those short legs. The left-handed batter (and thrower) not only bunted for hits, he also slammed 145 triples and stole 495 bases, including a career-high of 67 in 1898. He swiped at least 40 bags in a season five times.
Not surprisingly, Keeler didn’t hit many home runs. He retired with only 33 round-trippers. Of course, he did play in the Deadball era. Most players struggled to mash those soft, beat-up baseballs, blackened by dirt and chewing tobacco stains by game’s end.
Keeler did produce runs, though. He drove in 810 in his career and brought in 94 in 1894. More impressively, he scored 1,719 times and made it across home plate at least 100 times in eight campaigns.
This is another impressive “Wee” Willie stat: He struck out just 136 times in 8,591 at-bats. By comparison, Joc Pederson fanned 170 times in 480 at-bats in his rookie season last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers. When Keeler came to bat, he was under control.
Keeler played for a host of teams in his career. He broke in with the New York Giants in 1892 and left for his hometown Brooklyn Grooms (forerunner of the Dodgers) the following season. The Grooms sent him to the Orioles in 1894. The Brooklyn Bridegrooms (the former Grooms) picked him up in 1899, and the New York Highlanders (forerunner of the Yankees) traded for him in 1903. Keeler played seven seasons there (his longest stint with one team) and finished back with the Giants in 1910.
Heart problems plagued Keeler in the final years of his life. He died New Year’s Day in 1923 at the age of 50. “Wee” Willie, one of the most talented batsmen in the game’s history, was voted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.
Jim Palmer, the Baltimore Orioles’ stylish right-hander, boasted a high leg kick and a high fastball that helped produce 268 major-league wins over 19 seasons. He went to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and drove Manager Earl Weaver nuts. Oh, and he did some underwear ads.
Palmer has an interesting biography, especially in his early years. Born Oct. 15, 1945, in New York City, he was adopted two days later by garment industry executive Moe Wiesen and Moe’s wife, Polly. The family lived on fashionable Park Avenue in Manhattan, along with several servants.
Moe died when Jim was just nine years old. Polly took her son and young daughter to southern California. There, Polly married Max Palmer, a t.v. character actor (Dragnet, Highway Patrol, etc.), and set up shop in Beverly Hills. (I’ve heard the story several times that a butler taught young Jim how to play baseball. I can’t confirm this. I hope it’s true.)
Later, the Palmers left L.A. for Scottsdale, Ariz. Jim signed with the Orioles after graduating from Scottsdale High, spurning basketball and football scholarships to Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Stanford.
Palmer made his debut with Baltimore as a 19-year-old in 1965. The following season, he went 15-10 and beat Los Angeles Dodgers great Sandy Koufax 6-0 in Game 2 of the World Series on Sept. 22. It was Koufax’s last game in baseball. (I’ve also heard this story: Supposedly, they’re going through a scouting report on the Dodger hitters. The Baltimore coach says, “Don’t throw this guy a high fastball … Don’t throw that guy a high fastball.” … Palmer: “All I throw is a high fastball.” He did fine.)
Success and arm injuries following Palmer throughout his career. He missed most of the 1967 season and all of 1968 due to shoulder problems. He came back in 1969 and went 16-4.
Palmer enjoyed eight seasons of at least 20 victories and led the league in wins three straight years (1975-77). He took home three American League Cy Young awards (1973, ’75 and ’76) and fashioned a 2.86 career ERA (125 ERA+). Palmer never gave up a grand-slam home run and never allowed back-to-back homers.
During Palmer’s tenure, the Orioles went to the postseason eight times, thanks to great pitching (Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson), great defense (Paul Blair in centerfield, Brooks Robinson at third base, Mark Belanger at shortstop and Bobby Grich at second base) and three-run home runs (from Frank Robinson and Boog Powell, especially). Palmer pitched in 17 playoff and World Series games. He went 8-3 with a 2.61 ERA. Besides 1966, he played on championship teams in 1970 and 1983.
Weaver managed the Orioles during most of Palmer’s career. The skipper and Palmer liked to argue. Weaver, also a Hall of Famer, accused Palmer of being a perfectionist and a hypochondriac. Palmer said the “only think Earl Weaver knows about pitching is that he couldn’t hit it.”
It probably didn’t help Palmer’s cause that he began doing Jockey underwear commercials while still in his playing days. The ladies loved the ads. Palmer was tall (6-feet-3) and had perfect, blown-dry hair. Weaver was short and kind of dumpy.
Palmer also began broadcasting part-time for ABC while still with Baltimore. A Hall of Famer since 1990, he has worked as an Orioles analyst for several years. Palmer is a 50-year link to the rich history of the Baltimore Orioles.
By Glen Sparks
OK, this is what you need to do: go to your baseball card collection–pore through a binder or sift through a pile–and find a Frank Robinson card. Look for one of his later cards. Maybe a 1975 Topps, the one with a portrait shot of Robby wearing a Cleveland Indians cap. Turn over to the back of the card and check out those stats.
Or, better yet, go to Baseballreference.com, the Internet’s reason for being. You’ll find everything you see on that baseball card, plus a lot more. Robinson put up some gaudy numbers. Over a 21-year career, he slugged 586 home runs, drove home 1,812 and hit .294 with a .389 on-base percentage, .537 slugging percentage and .926 OPS. He accumulated 107.2 WAR points. He remains, even now, baseball’s overlooked superstar.
The right-handed swinging Robinson, born in Beaumont, Texas, on Aug. 31, 1935, grew up in Oakland, Calif. He graduated from McClymonds High School and signed with the Cincinnati Reds as an amateur free agent in 1953. Frank blasted 38 home runs and led the N.L. in runs scored in 1956, winning Rookie of the Year honors and finishing seventh in the MVP voting.
Over his 10 seasons in Cincinnati, Robinson topped 30 homers seven times and hit 29 twice. He led the league in slugging percentage, OPS And OPS+ three straight seasons (1960-62), taking home an MVP trophy in 1961. The following campaign, Robinson finished second in the league in batting average (.342), third in home runs (39) and third in RBI (136).
In 1965, Robinson slugged 33 homers, drove in 113 and batted .296. He also celebrated a milestone birthday late that season. The Reds famously declared that Robinson was an “old 30” and shipped him to the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson. Huh? What? Old 30? (OK, for the record, Pappas, 27 years old when dealt and the star of this deal, compiled a 30-29 won-loss mark in three seasons in Cincy, with a 4.04 ERA, 93 ERA+. Baldschun, another pitcher, went 1-5 in two years as a Red, with a 5.25 ERA, 75 ERA+. Simpson, a 22-year-old outfielder, also lasted just two seasons in Cincinnati. He hit .246 in 138 at-bats.) Clink.
Robinson, meanwhile, continued pounding fastballs and curveballs into submission. One of the game’s great all-around talents won the Triple Crown in his first season with the Orioles. He hit 49 homers, drove in 122 runs and batted .316. That fall, he was awarded the World Series MVP as Baltimore won its first title, beating the Dodgers. Robinson also played on Baltimore’s 1970 World Series-winning team.
The future Hall of Famer (first ballot, 1982, 89.2 percent of the vote) wrapped up his career with the Dodgers (1972), the Angels (1973-74) and the Cleveland Indians (1974-76). The Indians, of course, hired Robinson to serve as player-manager before the 1975 season, the first African-American to skipper a team in the big leagues.
Later, he also managed the San Francisco Giants (1981-84), the Orioles (1988-91) and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (2002-2006). The writers named him Manager of the Year in 1989.
Maybe, Robinson, now 80, is more famous today as a manger than as a ballplayer, even one with 14 All-Star appearances. Supposedly, a former player once asked him if he had ever played in the big leagues. Frank probably smirked. Ever play? Did he ever.
By Glen Sparks
The old Milwaukee Brewers began play in the Western League in the late 19th century. In 1901, they joined the newly formed American League. The following season, the team moved to St. Louis and changed its name to the Browns, the original moniker of the National League’s St. Louis Cardinals.
More often than not, the Browns battled it out for last place in the A.L. “St Louis-first in booze, first in shoes, last in the American League.” The Browns made it to one World Series, in 1944, against the Cardinals. The Cards won the Streetcar Series in six games.
The Browns nearly moved to Los Angeles in 1942, but World War II intervened. They almost moved back to Milwaukee and finally left for Baltimore in 1954. Rechristened the Orioles, the franchise has won six pennants and World Series in 1966, 1970 and 1983.
Good luck with the quiz!
- Which Browns outfielder hit above .300 every season from 1919 through 1925, including a .355 mark in 1920 and .352 in 1921?
- Which Browns first baseman batted better than .400 twice and won the MVP award in 1922?
- Which Browns pitcher threw a no-hitter in his first start, May 6, 1953?
- Which Browns pitcher made his debut with the team at the age of 44 and compiled an 18-23 won-loss record over three seasons?
- Which Browns first baseman led his team with a .438 batting average in the 1944 World Series (minimum 10 at-bats)?
- Which Browns outfielder was the first player in MLB history to reach the 30-30 mark (30 homers, 30 steals) in one season?
- Which Browns shortstop, nicknamed “Little Slug,” led the A.L. in RBI (109) in 1944 and home runs (24) in 1945?
- Which Orioles outfielder, described by his former team as “an old 30,” won the MVP and Triple Crown for Baltimore in 1967?
- Which Orioles pitcher beat the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax 6-0 in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series at the age of 20?
- Which Orioles pitcher, with a 78-79 lifetime record, put together a Cy Young season in his next-to-last campaign?
- “Baby Doll” Jacobson. Supposedly, they called William Chester Jacobson “Baby Doll” because when he came up to bat once in the minors in 1912, the ballpark band was playing “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.” Jacobson promptly hit a home run and a lady fan shouted, “You must be that beautiful doll they were talking about.” He spent most of his career with the Browns and hit .311 over an 11-year career (.317 with the Browns.)
- George Sisler. He was the greatest Brownie of them all, no question. He played 12 of his 15 seasons in St. Louis, enjoying a .407 season in 1920 and .420 in 1922. Sisler also led the league in stolen bases three times. The Hall of Famer hit .340 lifetime.
- Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman. Holloman only went 3-7 in the major leagues, all of that in 1953. He made four relief appearances and kept bugging Browns manager Marty Marion to give him a start. Marion finally gave in, and Holloman no-hit the Philadelphia A’s on a rainy afternoon in front of about 2,500 fans. He never came close to repeating that effort and was out of the majors for good by July 19, never to return.
- Satchel Paige. He established himself as a legend in the Negro leagues. Baseball policy kept him out of the big leagues for much of his career. Finally, in 1948, at the age of 41, Paige made it to the Majors with the Indians. He spent three years in St. Louis and made two All-Star teams.
- George McQuinn. Several fine players put on the Browns uniform through the years. McQuinn, from Virginia, was another standout. He hit .283 in eight seasons with St. Louis. McQuinn recorded seven hits in 16 at-bats against the Cardinals in the 1944 Series. He hit just .130 (3-for-29) for the Yankees in the 1947 Series against the Dodgers.
- Ken Williams. The lefty batter belted 196 home runs in his career and swiped 154 bases. He was never better than he was in 1922. Williams hit .332 and drove in a league-high 155 runs. He also led the league with 39 homers and stole 37 bases.
- Vern Stephens. The shortstop broke in with the Browns in 1941 and played his first seven seasons in St. Louis. He made three All-Star teams during that time. Later, with the Red Sox, he played on four more All-Star teams and led the league in RBI in 1949 (1959) and 1950 (144). Stephens slugged 247 homers in his career.
- Frank Robinson. A six-time All-Star with the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson was dealt to the Orioles before the 1966 campaign. In his first year in Baltimore, he led the league in home runs (49), RBI (122) and batting average (.316). Robinson slammed 586 homers in his career and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
- Jim Palmer. The future Hall of Famer was in his second season in the majors and just 20 years, 11 months when he beat Koufax. The Orioles swept the Dodgers in the best-of-seven Series.
- Steve Stone. The stocky right-hander had a career losing record before going 25-7 and winning the 1980 Cy Young. He retired after a 4-7 campaign in 1981, with a lifetime record 107-93.
(Yesterday, I wrote about an episode in John McGraw’s career while managing the Baltimore Orioles in 1901. The date may have confused some readers who recall that the current Orioles team began play in 1954 after the St. Louis Browns left for Baltimore and adopted a new name. I hope this post clears things up a bit.)
By Glen Sparks
Baseball in the American Association began play in 1882, the same year that Thomas Edison flipped a switch to light parts of lower Manhattan and Robert Ford fatally shot Jesse James in the back. The Association aimed to compete with the National League for supremacy in a game that was becoming more popular every year. One of the original teams was the Baltimore Orioles.
The Cincinnati Red Stockings and the St. Louis Browns vaulted to the top of the Association hierarchy. The Orioles won some, lost some and dropped out of the league in 1889.
One year later, they were back in, replacing the Brooklyn Gladiators. This time, things would be different. First off, the American Association would fold after the 1891 campaign. The N.L., founded in 1876, simply was the more powerful, more established league, albeit just a few years older.
Some of the best AA teams had been jumping leagues for several seasons. The Pittsburgh Pirates left in 1886, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) and the Cincinnati Red Stocking (eventually shortened to “Reds,”) switched over in 1889 and so on. The Orioles made their move in 1892.
By Glen Sparks
Baltimore Orioles Manager John McGraw surely wanted to do the decent thing when he tried to pass off his prospect Charles Grant as a Cherokee Indian named “Chief” Tokohama. The fact that the plan didn’t work does not reflect poorly on either man.
Grant was an African-American baseball player from Cincinnati. On this date in 1901, The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper reported that McGraw had signed the hometown second baseman to a contract. Grant, 26 years old, had been playing with the Chicago Columbia Giants, a Negro League team. McGraw, always looking for talent, saw Grant while in Hot Springs, Ark., and figured the young man could make it in the majors. The color line, though, stood in the way.
Now, a little bit of background. Baseball’s color line was a bit fuzzy in the early days. When Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, he was breaking the modern-day color line. There were many integrated teams in the early days of baseball. Frederick Douglass Jr., son of the abolitionist, played on an integrated team, for instance, in upstate New York in 1859, according to Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game by John Thorn.
Black players “Bud” Fowler and Moses “Fleet” competed on integrated professional teams in the 1880s, according to Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues, by Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick McKissack Jr. Walker played for Toledo, Ohio, in the American Association, which did not prohibit black players.
Mostly, though, teams formed either black squads or white squads. Some of the early top African-American teams included the Uniques and the Monitors from Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Excelsiors from Philadelphia.