11. Mike Cuellar, LHP (1969-1976)
1969 American League Cy Young
All-Star: 1970, 1971, 1974
Mike Cuellar (born Miguel Angel Cuellar Santana in Santa Clara, Cuba, on May 8, 1937), was a good pitcher. Not quite a great one, but his run with the Orioles was pretty special, partly because he was a member of the best run in team history, and partly because one of his seasons really was great, and was one of the best seasons an Oriole pitcher has ever had.
Cuellar's career started in 1955 for the Cuban Army team, and two years later he signed with the International League's Havana Sugar Kings. At 22, he made it to the majors for the Cincinnati Redlegs, pitching four innings of relief and getting beaten around pretty good (seven earned runs). It wasn't until 1964 that he'd make it back to the majors, when he pitched 32 games (seven starts) for the World Series champion Cardinals. Before he got to the Cardinals, he bounced from Monterrey of the Mexican League to the Tigers, and then the Indians. Cuellar was on St. Louis' World Series roster, but didn't get into a game.
On June 15, 1965, Cuellar and Ron Taylor were traded to the Houston Astros for Hal Woodeshick and Chuck Taylor. He pitched 56 innings in 1965, but got a chance to start more regularly in 1966, going 12-10 with a 2.22 ERA over 227 1/3 innings. In 1967, he won 16 games with a 3.03 ERA and had 203 strikeouts, the only time in his career he would top the 200 K mark.
Cuellar pitched one more season for Houston, going 8-11 with a 2.74 ERA in the pitcher-dominated 1968 season. The Astros sent Cuellar, Enzo Hernandez and a minor leaguer named Elijah Johnson to the Orioles for Curt Blefary and John Mason (another minor leaguer) on December 4, 1968, which is where Cuellar really made his mark. Outside of Frank Robinson, it was probably the best trade the Orioles ever made.
Immediately, the 32-year old Cuellar became the ace of the staff, though it would really only stay that way for the one season. Dave McNally had a tremendous season in '68, but came back to earth in '69, though he was still good. Jim Palmer was making his mark (16-4, 2.34) but was still just 23 years old and pitched 181 innings. Cuellar pitched 290 2/3 innings, went 23-11, had a 2.38 ERA (149 ERA+) and tied with Detroit's Denny McLain for the AL Cy Young award. Cuellar was also the only Oriole to beat the Mets in the World Series that year.
In 1970, Cuellar, like McNally before him, couldn't quite follow his great season, but he was still a fine pitcher, and he won 24 games with a 3.48 ERA. By this point, Jim Palmer was the ace of the staff, and it would stay that way for a while. The Orioles swept the Twins in the ALCS, with Cuellar hitting a grand slam off of Jim Perry, and beat the Reds in the World Series, 4-1.
1971 saw four Orioles win 20 games as the starting staff basically dominated the league. Cuellar was 20-9 with a 3.08 ERA. From '72-74, Cuellar went 18-12, 18-13 and 22-10 with ERAs of 2.57, 3.27 and 3.11. That was Cuellar's wall, as he went 14-12/3.66 in 1975, and then 4-13/4.96 in 1976.
The Orioles released Mike Cuellar on December 21, 1976. A month later, he signed with the Angels, but only lasted 3 1/3 innings. He pitched his final game on May 3, 1977.