clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The 40 Greatest Orioles of All-Time - No. 14 - Milt Pappas

14. Milt Pappas, RHP (1957-1965)

All-Star: 1962, 1965

I don't want this to sound wrong, so I'll just say it point blank: There's not a huge difference between Milt Pappas and Don Drysdale and Catfish Hunter, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame. In fact, you can make a fine argument that Pappas was better than Hunter, but everyone knows Catfish was overrated, and Drysdale was better than Pappas but not by a lot, and most people realize that Drysdale was overrated.

I don't really have a point with that, it just strikes me as odd -- as it does in all situations like this -- that Drysdale and Hunter are immortalized in the Hall of Fame while Pappas is just kind of a name from the old days. I suppose part of it could be that Pappas, while he had a 17-year career and won 209 games and was generally above average the whole way, never had a great season or even one that was particularly memorable. He won at least 15 games seven times in his career, but never won more than 17, and he did that (twice) toward the end of his run.

Bill James covered this whole thing in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, which I've never actually been able to find. Baseball Library has the excerpt concerning Drysdale v. Pappas, however.

Pappas came up in 1957 at age 18, pitching four games of relief. At 19, he made 31 appearances (21 starts) and went 10-10 with a 4.06 ERA. Not great, but then again, he was 19. At 20, Pappas won 15 games, pitched 200 innings for the first time, and had a 3.27 ERA (116 ERA+). His best seasons with the Orioles were his final two. He went 16-7, 2.97 over 251 2/3 innings in 1964, and in 1965 he was 13-9, 2.60 over 221 1/3.

While Pappas was a fine pitcher and the best of the Baby Birds, it is doubtless that anyone would say his greatest contribution to the Orioles wasn't being traded on December 9, 1965, with Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson, to the Cincinnati Reds for Frank Robinson. Pappas never really panned out for Cincinnati (he was pretty good in '67), and he didn't do much in Atlanta afterward, but he pitched some of his best baseball for the Cubs at the end of his career, winning 17 games in 1971 and 1972. The best run of his career was with Baltimore, though.

Pappas also had plenty of quirks, I guess you could say. He had a reputation very early in his career, complaining a lot with umpires and making a show of doing so. He once called the press box during a game to complain about a scorer's decision that credited him with four earned runs. And he was considered, at the time, to be a bit soft. Nowadays, a guy who throws the amount of innings Pappas did would be considered a workhorse, really, but at the time pitchers completed their starts a good deal of the time, and Pappas was never that guy. He was, basically, a modern (as in, now) pitcher in a time when that wasn't the norm. While you could say it's unfair, that's how it was.

Would you put Pappas in the Hall of Fame? I'm not even sure that's the real question, actually. The question is does Catfish Hunter belong there (not really), and does Drysdale? Disregard his name.