Top 40 Orioles of All Time: #24, Milt Pappas

1965 Topps #270 courtesy of Kevin Brotzman at Orioles Card O the Day

Milt Pappas is best known as being the guy who was traded for Frank Robinson. But he was a very good player in his own right.

#24 - Milt Pappas (1957-1965)

The first thing I want to tell you about right-handed pitcher Milt Pappas is that he was born with the name Miltiades Stergios Papastergios, which is a very cool name. Milt Pappas isn't bad either, though.

Pappas signed with the Orioles out of high school and pitched in just three minor-league games before he was called up to the Orioles at the age of 18. He appeared out of the bullpen some early on, but he was primarily a starting pitcher.

Early in his career, Pappas struggled with his control. We're not talking Daniel Cabrera by any means, but he walked his fair share and led the league in wild pitches in both 1959 and 1960. He was able to be successful in those years because he didn't give up many home runs (in ‘59 his HR/9 of 0.3 led the league) and because he didn't give up a ton of hits.

As Pappas got his control, um, under control, he got even better. From 1958-1962 his walk rate and his ERA fluctuated, but in 1963 he kicked it into another gear. For the first time in his career, he got his walk rate below three (2.9 BB/9) and his ERA dropped to 3.03. In ‘64 he only walked 1.7 per nine with a 2.97 ERA. And in ‘65, his final year with the Orioles, his ERA got all the way down to 2.60.

In doing my research on Milt Pappas I uncovered a fun story about something that he did in 1961. That was the year that Roger Maris hit 61 home runs of course, and then-commissioner Ford Frick had announced that if Maris didn't hit 61 by game 154 (the number of game Babe Ruth had played when he hit 60 homers), the record book would include an asterisk. The Yankees happened to be playing the Orioles in game 154, with Pappas on the mound. Here is the story in his words, courtesy of PSAcard.com (the entire interview is good, I suggest reading it):

The commissioner of baseball said that Roger Maris had to break the Babe's one-season home run record in 154 games or there would be an asterisk by his name and record. It was a stupid ruling.

Maris was a great guy, a fine offensive player and a tremendous defensive outfielder, but the press hated him. They hated him for two reasons. One, he gave one-word answers to their questions. Second, they had the attitude of "How can you do this to the Babe by breaking his great home run mark?" Maris was just a farm boy from the Dakotas and here he was under all this pressure and receiving all this hate mail. He was going through hell.

The night before the 154th game I saw Maris and Mickey Mantle walking under the stadium. We stopped to talk and I told Maris that I wanted to see him break the record. I told him that I was going to give him nothing but fastballs tomorrow. Maris said, "Really?!" I told him, "Absolutely."

Mantle was listening to all of this with wide eyes. Finally he said, "What about me?"

"You're on your own, big boy," I said.

So, the next night the game was nationally televised, which was a big deal in 1961. Maris was sitting on 58 homers for the year, so he needed two to tie and three to break the record. The first time up he tagged it, but it stayed in the park. The second time up he hit it out and now had 59 for the year. I didn't get to finish the game or he might have tied or broken the record that night.

Pappas didn't reveal that story until many years after it happened, and when I checked the box score I was at first aghast that Pappas would groove fastballs in a game that the Orioles ended up losing by just two runs. But then I checked the standings. Despite having 89 wins, the O's were 15 games out of first place with six games to play, so I swallowed my outrage and allowed myself to be entertained by the story.

By 1965, Pappas had been pitching for the Orioles for parts of nine seasons, and he was still only 26 years old. He was still so young and only getting better it seemed. He definitely looked like an ace in the making, on a baseball team that was on the rise in the standings.

Well, you know what happened then. The Orioles capitalized on Pappas' success the last few seasons and packaged him in a trade to Cincinnati with Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson for future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. Pappas pitched for 3 ½ years for the Reds and was solid, but didn't pitch quite as well as the Reds probably thought he would. Pappas went on to pitch for the Braves and the Cubs before retiring after the 1973 season. While with the Cubs, Pappas pitched a no-hitter.

Over his 8+ season career with the Orioles, Pappas racked up a bWAR of 22. He amassed a pitching record of 110-74 with an ERA of 3.24 and ERA+ of 113. He was selected to two All Star Games and was elected into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 1985.

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