Friday, February 7, 2014

#640 - Milt Pappas



After a few card hiatus we get back to the final cards with this panoramic action shot of Milt Pappas on the mound at Wrigley Field. Judging by the guys in the bullpen behind him it looks like Milt is facing either Atlanta or Houston, so that the crowd is huge is a big testament to the durability of Chicago fans. I think these panoramic action cards are among the best in the set since there can be lots of interesting background noise but there’s no way I’ll be able to get a handle on the bullpen members in the background. There is also a shot this photo isn’t even from ’73 since other Chicago action shots have been quite dated. If this shot is from ’73 and that warm-up jacket towards the end is a Houston one, then this game is from May 30 and was a loss for Milt. That means it was a sadly typical effort for him that season since his record more than reversed it self from the dynamic one form ’72. Run support was a bit of an issue for the Cubbies in ’73 but Milt too had issues: too many hits, particularly homers, and too few strikeouts led to an unusually elevated ERA his final year in Chicago. Towards the end of spring training in ’74 he was released and the only team that showed any interest was San Diego, pretty ironic after what happened in ’72, which gets covered below. Milt was a loudly opinionated guy, which did not make him friends in management but which could be glossed over when he won but impeded his hooking up with anyone after this season. So a guy who once seemed a shoo-in for the Hall was done at age 34. But he left behind quite a legacy.

Milt Pappas grew up in Detroit where he attracted tons of looks from MLB teams due to his pretty awesome fastball and excellent control. His senior year at Cooley High School he went 7-0 with a 0.50 ERA and during the season Milt and his dad reviewed all the AL and NL pitching staffs to see which one was oldest and therefore had better potential to open up a roster spot to him. The winner was Baltimore and that spring of ’57 Milt signed for a $4,000 bonus, finished his American Legion season, and then joined the Orioles for whom he made his debut in August, throwing a couple shutout innings at the Yankees and calling out Mickey Mantle in the process. He threw another inning against NY, got three starts in A ball which would be his only time in the minors, and finished the season back in Baltimore. In ’58 he stayed there as a spot guy until he missed some games in May due to an injured shoulder. He came back to go 7-3 with a decent ERA through mid-year but then reversed that record the rest of the way as his ERA fattened. In ’59 he joined the rotation full-time with his new pitch, a slider, which would help his control considerably as he became the first official member of the Orioles “Kiddie Korps.” In ’61 he again missed most of May to an injury but then in ’62 rode a fast 9-4 start to his first All-Star game before cooling off the rest of the way. He bounced to record his best seasons in Baltimore in ’63 and ’64 and then in ’65 took another fast start – 9-3 with a 1.74 ERA – to another All-Star game though he missed some more time to injury, of course in May. By the end of that year he was only 26 with 110 wins under his belt with an excellent ERA and great control numbers on a team that seemed on the cusp of greatness.

By the end of ’65 Baltimore had a pretty impressive team with an excellent infield anchored by Brooks Robinson and a new bunch of young starting pitchers developed in the highly-touted farm system. The only missing ingredient, it was generally agreed, was another big power guy, preferably an outfielder. And one of those was on the market in Cincinnati’s “aging” Frank Robinson. Unfortunately for Pappas he would be the main piece of the big trade that hooked Robinson and in December he, Dick Simpson, and Jack Baldschun went over to the Reds in what would become one of the most lopsided trades ever. Milt’s ’66 started off well enough but he would have a hard time finishing games and a lousy summer moved his ERA to nearly two runs higher than the prior year. His numbers improved substantially in ’67 but after a slow start to the ’68 season the Reds decided to cut their losses and sent Milt to Atlanta in June with Ted Davidson and Bob Johnson for Tony Cloninger, Clay Carroll, and Woody Woodward. For the Braves Milt had a pretty rocking second half, shaving over three runs off his ERA. His good fortune did not carry into ’69, though, as some nagging injuries restricted his mound time late in the season and his record deteriorated followed by a not great post-season. Then, as in ’68, his ’70 season kicked off with a bad run in limited use before a June trade to a new home in Chicago, this time in a sale. Again, Milt went 10-8 in the second half while posting another excellent ERA for a new club. This time he remained on track with two successive 17-win seasons. In ’71 he led the NL with his five shutouts and in ’72 he had arguably his best season, certainly his best August-on run as he won his eleven games in a row. Game number six of that run was pretty special: a no-hitter against San Diego that was only spoiled by a two-out walk in the ninth inning about which – according to many sites – Pappas still fumes. After his discounted ’73 season he was done. Milt finished with the record on his card back supplemented with 129 complete games, 43 shutouts, and four saves. In the post-season he put up an 11.57 ERA in a few innings. As a hitter he wasn’t so hot with a .123 average but he did clout 20 homers, including two in one game (though they were gimme’s).

In off-seasons Pappas had returned to Baltimore in a business sense to open and run his restaurant. After playing he also returned to the Midwest where he was a distributor and salesman for a wholesale beverage company. Then in ’83 he became a salesman and then officer at Prime Source, a building supplies company, with which he is still affiliated. He has done some pitching coaching work as well and does the card show circuit. There are a few recent interviews with him around the web.


Milt has zero space for star bullets so he only gets the cartoon. As usual the player rep gig was the kiss of death career-wise.

The big Watergate-related news is coming to a climax in the summer of ’74 now:

7/29-7/30/74 – The last two Articles of Impeachment are adopted by the House Judiciary Committee on these dates (I erroneously said they were all adopted July 27 on my earlier post). On the 29th, the Committee adopted the Article charging President Nixon with misuse of power and violation of his oath of office. On the 30th, the Committee adopted the Article charging Nixon with failure to comply with House subpoenas. The Committee was made up of 21 Democrats and 17 Republicans. On each of the first two charges all Democrats and six Republicans voted for the Articles; on the last one all Democrats and two Republicans voted for the articles.

8/4/74 – in a last ditch effort to appease the Committee and the Special Prosecutor, President Nixon released six specific tapes he’d withheld until then in spite of the subpoenas and later the decision by the Supreme Court. All six were made shortly after the ’72 break-in and the subject matter was nearly exclusively the break-in and its aftermath. One tape, from June 23, 1972 – which would earn the nickname the Smoking Gun tape – includes a specific discussion regarding the FBI investigation into the break-in. H.R. Haldeman suggests, and Nixon then reinforces, the notion of having the CIA tell the FBI to back off the investigation with the implication that those orders came from the White House. Once details of the tape are made public, all Republican members of the Committee who’d voted against the first two Articles of Impeachment indicated they would now change their votes to for as well.

Another kid and old guy hook-up, though Pappas was only 34 when his card came out:

1. Pappas and Fergie Jenkins ’70 to ’72 Cubs;
2, Jenkins and Joe Lovitto ’74 to ’75 Rangers.

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