Editor’s note: The text of this article was originally published on Camden Chat on January 17, 2014, when Steve Barber was the #32 Oriole on our then-top 40 countdown. It is being re-posted today with light edits to reflect Barber’s place on our new top 50 list.
#33 - Steve Barber (1960-67)
One of the easiest ways for an Orioles player to be memorable is for him to have been born or raised in Maryland. Local players are always popular, except if they sign with the Yankees. Steve Barber, born in Takoma Park and a product of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, got his chance when the home Maryland team, the Orioles, signed him as an amateur in 1957.
The last time Mark and I put together a top Orioles list, Barber was one of the names that surprised us when he ended up on there. The players who are memorable for being a part of the golden age of the Orioles are the ones who were there in the 1969-71 run. Although Barber was part of the 1966 World Series champion Orioles, and was even an All-Star that year, he wasn’t someone we knew much about.
One thing that stands out with Barber is that he began his career with some serious command problems. As a rookie in 1960, he pitched to an ERA of 3.22 despite walking 113 batters in 181.2 innings. He walked more batters than he struck out. Few pitchers could make that walk rate work and stick in a starting rotation today. He led the league in both walks and wild pitches. At least in his favor, he only allowed ten home runs.
Barber always struggled with his control, but after his rookie season he was able to get his walk rates down into the mid 3’s per nine instead up over 5. In 1963, Barber was a 20-game winner, with a 2.75 ERA and the lowest walk rate of his career, 3.2 BB/9. He pitched 258 2/3 innings in ‘63 and both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference agree that it was his most valuable season. He was a 3.9 bWAR player as he earned an All-Star roster spot that year.
In 1966, Barber was on his way to his best season yet. He made 22 starts with a 2.30 ERA, pitched in the All-Star Game, and looked like the ace of a pitching staff that also included Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, and Wally Bunker. But towards the end of July he was diagnosed with elbow tendinitis and shut down. He tried to come back in September, but after pitching in four games (outings of 1 IP, 2 IP, 5 IP, and 1 IP) it was clear he wasn’t ready.
It’s sad, really. Barber was one of the best pitchers on the Orioles from 1960-1966, but when they finally went to the playoffs he wasn’t able to contribute. The Orioles still swept the Dodgers without him, but he deserved to have a chance to be a part of that after what he’d done with the team earlier in the decade, and he wasn’t able to pitch. In a big league career that stretched to 1974, he never got to make a postseason appearance.
Things really went awry for Barber in 1967. Perhaps it was residual effects from his earlier injury, but he just lost it. He made 15 starts for the Orioles ‘67 in which he walked 61 batters in just over 74 innings. Despite these struggles, Barber pitched one of his most memorable games, and one of the most memorable games in franchise history, that year.
Barber took a no-hitter into the ninth inning on April 30 and retired the first two batters before walking two men. The Orioles held a slim 1-0 lead that fell apart as the tying run scored on a wild pitch and the go-ahead run for Detroit scored on an error after Barber was out of the game. Stu Miller retired one batter without giving up a hit to complete a combined no-hitter, but the Orioles still lost, 2-1.
On July 4, 1967 the Orioles traded Barber to the New York Yankees for three guys who never ended up playing in the majors. Barber pitched for seven more seasons with seven different teams, and other than some success out of the bullpen for the California Angels in 1972-73, he never showed with those teams what he did with the Orioles for eight seasons.
Barber was elected into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 1988. He passed away on February 4, 2007 at the age of 68.