Tuesday, January 21, 2014

#631 - Steve Barber

This final card thing just keeps going and we’re not done yet. Here Steve Barber shows his game face on a field of which I am shamefully unaware (those blue girders look right for The Met but I don’t believe that stadium had an overhang. County Stadium?). Steve is air-brushed into his Brewers cap. He was one of the many guys on the other side of the Ollie Brown trade from a few posts back, and like Ollie, Steve never played an inning for his new team. After a decent year out of the pen for California in which he added four saves to his stats, Steve went – sort of – back to Milwaukee in that huge trade from which just about every other participant also has a non-Traded traded card in this set. But he got released during spring training and would later in the year hook-up with San Francisco in his last MLB run. Steve was an original Pilot – hence the sort of above – which means he got some print in “Ball Four” which I will get to below. Here he looks awfully non-commital or maybe sedated. All that moving around late in his career probably made him feel that way.
Steve Barber grew up in Maryland, not terribly far from the freshly-relocated St. Louis Browns, who would sign him as one of the first new Orioles in ’57. Steve had just finished high school during which he twice led his team to a bi-county championship and didn’t lose at all his senior year. He had a big fastball but was pretty wild and that whole one-pitch thing didn’t work too well in the minors. While he averaged a strikeout an inning he also averaged nearly a walk an inning and his first two seasons he went a combined 15-21 with an ERA over 5.00 as he couldn’t get above C ball. But he also gradually picked up a curve and in ’59 calmed down – a bit – in D ball when he went 7-11 with a 3.85 ERA and 172 K’s with 143 walks in his 159 innings. His curveball improved considerably that year and in ’60 it would help him make the improbably jump all the way to Baltimore.
Barber had a bang-up spring in ’60 and made the Orioles staff out of training camp. He started in the pen where he got a couple saves and then moved into the rotation where he had a real nice rookie year where he came in sixth in the AL with his ERA. Control was still an issue as he led the AL in walks (113) and wild pitches (10). He also officially joined the Orioles’ “Kiddie Corps”, a group of four young pitchers that also included Chuck Estrada, Jack Fisher, and Milt Pappas. Those guys would go on to various degrees of success but their first year together they went a combined 55-40 at an average age of 21 and seemed primed to lead the O’s out of the horrid history the team inherited from its Browns days. In ‘61 Steve did his part in cementing the Corps’ legacy by winning 18 and leading the AL with eight shutouts (the Corps overall went 56-43) as Baltimore made a big run for the pennant with its 95 wins. Things got pretty frustrating for everyone in ’62 when Steve had to do his Army hitch and could only pitch on weekend leaves the first half of the season and then missed a month-plus with a trip to the DL. His record literally halved though he pitched quite well, the Corps dropped big to 37-42, and Baltimore had a losing record. But he followed that up with a big ’63 in which he became Baltimore’s first 20-game winner, again finshed in the top ten in AL ERA, and made his first All-Star team. By then the Kiddie Corps was blown up as Fisher had been traded and Estrada had only a partial season in Baltimore, though the remnant had its best record of 39-24. In ’64 his first significant tendinitis struck and Steve missed a month through early June and never really got into a good groove in his first sub-par season. ’65 began as only a partial improvement and by the end of June Steve was 5-6 with a 3.72 ERA. But the rest of the way he went 10-4 with a 2.24 ERA in the best run of his career to salvage another nice year. Then in ’66 he was on another good run when the tendinitis nailed him again and he missed all but five games in the second half. He couldn’t even pitch in the All-Star game to which he was selected and he got shut out of any Series action. By ’67 the elbow pain was pretty devastating and after a not great start that year Steve went to the Yankees in July for infielder Ray Barker, a couple minor leaguers (one with the great name of Chet Trail), and cash. Steve pretty much matched his early season numbers with his new team as combined he recorded his worst MLB season. In ’68 he posted pretty good numbers in a spot role after some Triple A time before going to the new Seattle Pilots that winter in the expansion draft.
With Seattle Barber was sort of a legacy guy because of his big seasons with the Birds so he was going to get a real shot at the rotation. But his arm was a mess and he had a couple stints on the DL and some more in the pen in what was a pretty nasty season. He was released the following spring and hooked up with the Cubs. He threw real well in four Triple A starts – 1-1 with a 1.55 ERA – but poorly up top and by May was on the road again, this time to Atlanta. For the Braves, Steve turned the same trick, going 7-1 with a 3.36 ERA in ten Triple A starts while being below average in his MLB work. In ’71 his ERA remained high though he stayed in Atlanta the whole year and recorded a couple saves in his pen work. After an abortive beginning to ’72 he was cut and signed with California as a free agent. Back in the AL Steve recorded a good little season with an excellent ERA and another couple saves. After the trade here he was cut again by the Brewers in camp and then signed with the Giants. After some iffy Triple A work he came up to throw a few innings that summer in his final MLB work. He the pitched in Triple A for the Cardinals that August and was done. He finished 121-106 with a 3.36 ERA with 59 complete games, 21 shutouts, and 13 saves.
After playing Steve remained in Arizona where he established a business installing stereos in cars and trucks. In ’78 he relocated to Nevada where he became a fleet manager for a company that rehabilitated cars which he did through ’91. He then became a bus driver for a local school that worked with handicapped kids. He was still doing that when he passed away in 2007. He was 68.

 Steve’s signature differs a bit from his given name. I guess his hobby led pretty naturally to what he did after playing. In ’67 Steve threw all but one out of a no-hitter that he lost 2-1. In the game he gave up ten walks and hit two guys. In “Ball Four” Steve comes across as nearly a tragic figure. Jim Bouton said that all those years of throwing a curve permanently disfigured Steve’s left arm and that it was noticeably shorter than his right one. In nearly every scene in which Steve participates he is in a whirlpool bath or the diathermy machine. His price in the draft was pretty steep at $175,000 and at some point he earns Bouton’s resentment because he was asked to go to the minors while doing rehab and refused, which theoretically disallowed another pitcher coming up and may have contributed to Bouton’s stay in the minors that season.
By this point Watergate was all about the tapes, the tapes, the tapes...
10/10/73 – Spiro T. Agnew resigns as Vice President as part of a plea deal with the Justice Department. As it was becoming evident that Agnew would be found guilty of accepting bribes – unrelated to Watergate – he was offered a deal that he could plead guilty only to under-reporting his income by $29,500 in ’67 if he also stepped down as Vice President, which he accepted. In the wake of that departure President Nixon nominated Hose Minority Leader Gerald Ford to replace Agnew.
10/19/73 – After months of haggling over the tapes made by the system installed by President Nixon in the White House, Nixon and the Senate Committee reached an apparent agreement. Senator John Stennis, a democrat from Mississippi would be allowed to review requested tapes and then prepare summaries of those tapes to the Committee and the Special Prosecutor. It was unclear whether Nixon would or would not have final say over the selected tapes. While the Committee agreed to the deal, Special Prosecutor Cox did not and issued a statement that afternoon that he still demanded the tapes.
This hook-up gets done through the AL:

1. Barber and Jerry Adair ’60 to ’65 Orioles;
2. Adair and Tommie Agee ’66 to ’67 White Sox.

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