Editor’s note: The text of this article was originally posted to Camden Chat on Feb. 5, 2014, when Milt Pappas was the #24 Oriole on our then-top 40 countdown. It is being reposted today with small edits to reflect his place on our new top 50 greatest Orioles list.
#28 - 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 games 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.
Pappas, in an interview preserved by PSAcard.com, was offended on behalf of Maris, who he felt had been “going through hell” in his treatment from both press and fans who felt Babe’s record should stand forever. Pappas decided to take matters into his own hands.
In his recollection years later, Pappas said that he encountered Maris and Mickey Mantle the night before the 154th game and he told Maris that Maris would get nothing but fastballs in the game the next day. Mantle asked, “What about me?” and Pappas replied, “You’re on your own, big boy.”
It was always a bit of a longshot for Maris to beat Frick’s deadline, because he entered this game with 58 home runs. A sympathetic starting pitcher can help, though. As Pappas recalled it, Maris drove a pitch a long way in his first at-bat but it stayed in the stadium. The second time up, he hit home run #59. Pappas didn’t face Maris again in the game; he said if he’d stayed in, Maris would have at least tied 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 in three seasons for the Reds and was solid, but didn’t pitch quite as well as the Reds probably thought he would. They gave up on him after a rough first half of the 1968 season.
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. As for Robinson, you know about him too. We’ll have more to say about him much closer to the top of this top 50 greatest Orioles list.
Over his 8+ season career with the Orioles, Pappas racked up a bWAR of 22. He had some good post-Orioles years, since he finished his career with 43.7 WAR, though the O’s, again, probably had few regrets. Pappas 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. He passed away in 2016 at age 76.