In Memory of Mike Cuellar

Former Astros All-Star pitcher Cuellar dies at 72
Chronicle Wire Services
April 3, 2010

(c)Houston Astros

Former Astros pitcher Mike Cuellar, a crafty left-hander from Cuba whose darting screwball made him a World Series champion and Cy Young winner with the Baltimore Orioles, died Friday of stomach cancer. He was 72.

Cuellar spent four seasons with the Astros. After a stint with the Reds and a season with the Cardinals, Cuellar pitched for the Astros from 1965-1968. Cuellar was named to his first All-Star Game in his third season with the Astros.

Cuellar made his major league debut in 1959 and bounced around Cincinnati, St. Louis and Houston for almost a decade before a trade brought him to Baltimore. Wearing the black-and-orange bird logo, he blossomed on one of the most imposing pitching staffs in baseball history ó in 1971, he was among the Oriolesí four 20-game winners.

A four-time All-Star, Cuellar was 185-130 overall with a 3.14 ERA. He was voted into the Oriolesí Hall of Fame.

"He sure was an ace," Hall of Fame teammate Brooks Robinson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday night. "He had a way of making good hitters look bad, making them take funny swings."

Cuellar joined the Orioles for the 1969 season and that year became the first Baltimore pitcher to win the AL Cy Young Award, sharing the honor with Detroitís Denny McLain. Cuellar went 23-11 with five shutouts, including a game in which he held Minnesota hitless until Cesar Tovarís soft, leadoff single in the ninth inning.

Cuellar helped pitch Baltimore to three straight World Series from 1969-71. He finished off that run by teaming with Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson to become the only staff other than the 1920 Chicago White Sox with a quartet of 20-game winners.

Though often overshadowed in the rotation by Palmer, a future Hall of Famer, and McNally, another great lefty, Cuellar pitched more than his share of big games.

"I think when he got to Baltimore, he wanted to be like those other guys," Robinson said. "He wanted to win as many games as Palmer and McNally. He wanted the ball."

Cuellar started the first AL championship series game ever, in 1969 against Minnesota. He then outdueled Tom Seaver in Game 1 of the World Series ó it was the Oriolesí only win while getting upset by the New York Mets.

(c) Houston Astros

Cuellar won a career-high 24 games in 1970 and again excelled in the postseason, this time with his arm and bat. A career .115 hitter, Cuellar highlighted Game 1 of the ALCS with a grand slam.

He then closed out the World Series by beating Cincinnati in Game 5 at old Memorial Stadium. After giving up three runs in the first inning, he shut out the Reds on two hits the rest of the way. Cuellar raised both arms after the final out and skipped toward third base for an embrace with Robinson ó the picture is among the most popular in Orioles lore.

"I can still see it, his arms up in the air," Robinson said.

Cuellar pitched a gem in his final World Series appearance, but lost Game 7 in 1971 to Pittsburgh 2-1.

Cuellar finished up 143-88 with the Orioles and ended his career in 1977 with the Angels.

Robinson said he first saw Cuellar while playing against him in Cuba in the winter leagues.

"He and I were the same age. I used to kid him all the time that heíd already been pitching in Cuba for five years. That used to get him going," Robinson said.

Cuellar had been living in Orlando, Fla., in recent times and last year was a volunteer pitching instructor for the Orioles at spring training.

Last May, he returned to Baltimore for an Orioles reunion weekend and threw out the first ball at Camden Yards before a game against the New York Yankees. His ceremonial duties done, he then sat in the stands with family members and friends in the back row of the lower deck, enjoying the evening and hardly recognized by nearby fans.

"He was a humble man," Robinson said. "He didnít brag about himself."


Orioles pitching great Mike Cuellar dies at 72
Mike Klingaman, Baltimore Sun
April 3, 2010

The photo tells all.

Arms raised in a triumphant "V," body flushed with joy, Orioles pitcher Mike Cuellar leaps off the mound at Memorial Stadium, having stuffed the Cincinnati Reds, 9-3 in the deciding game of the 1970 World Series.

"I can still see the look on Mike's face," third baseman Brooks Robinson recalled Friday. "His mouth was wide open and he had a big, big smile."

Miguel Angel Cuellar died Friday of stomach cancer at the Orlando (Fla.) Regional Medical Center. He was 72.

Of his 185 big league victories, none meant more than that World Series win to Cuellar, the Cuban-born left-hander who revived his flagging career in Baltimore -- as well as the Orioles' fortunes.

He was a 32-year-old junk-ball pitcher thought to be past his prime when obtained in a trade from Houston Astros for outfielder Curt Blefary in 1968. Instead, Cuellar blossomed into a workhorse who helped anchor a storied rotation that carried the Orioles to three American League pennants, five playoff appearances and three World Series.

Four times, he won 20 or more games. Seven times, he pitched at least 248 innings. His first year in Baltimore, Cuellar went 23-11, pitched five shutouts and became the first Oriole hurler (and Latin American) to win the American League Cy Young Award, sharing it with Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers.

"When Mike came, he solidified the whole pitching staff," center fielder Paul Blair said. "We had complete confidence in him, Dave McNally and Jim Palmer when they walked out on the mound.

"We knew that if we scored two or three runs -- four at the most -- we'd win the game. That's a great feeling for a team."

In Cuellar's first three seasons in Baltimore, the club won 318 games, reaching the Series each year. In 1969, the Orioles lost to the New York Mets in five games, Cuellar recording the only victory.

"Mike was a monstrous part of the great teams we had from 1969 to 1971," said Earl Weaver, the Hall of Fame manager. "He was an artist on the mound and a player [whose acquisition] put us over the top.

"Several times, down the stretch, he pitched with two days' rest, when we needed it."

Cuellar's best year was 1970, when he went 24-8 and led the league in both victories and complete games (21).

"He should have won the Cy that year, but not doing so never affected his performance," Palmer said. "Mike was, arguably, the best left-hander in the game from 1969 to 1974, but he never got his due.


Steady Cuellar a master of the screwball
Rob Neyer, ESPN.com
April 3, 2010

Every time something like this happens, a little piece of me dies, too...

Mike Cuellar, a crafty left-hander from Cuba whose darting screwball made him a World Series champion and Cy Young winner with the Baltimore Orioles, died Friday. He was 72.

The Orioles confirmed Cuellar's death, but did not release other details.

Cuellar made his major league debut in 1959 and bounced around Cincinnati, St. Louis and Houston for almost a decade before a trade brought him to Baltimore. Wearing the black-and-orange bird logo, he blossomed on one of the most imposing pitching staffs in baseball history -- in 1971, he was among the Orioles' four 20-game winners.

A four-time All-Star, Cuellar was 185-130 overall with a 3.14 ERA. He was voted into the Orioles' Hall of Fame.

"He sure was an ace," Hall of Fame teammate Brooks Robinson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday night. "He had a way of making good hitters look bad, making them take funny swings."

Cuellar joined the Orioles for the 1969 season and that year became the first Baltimore pitcher to win the AL Cy Young Award, sharing the honor with Detroit's Denny McLain. Cuellar went 23-11 with five shutouts, including a game in which he held Minnesota hitless until Cesar Tovar's soft, leadoff single in the ninth inning.

Cuellar, born in Cuba, got his professional start in 1957 with the Havana Sugar Kings, then the Cincinnati Reds' top farm team. He was still pitching for Havana three years later when Cuba was torn apart by civil war; in July, the Sugar Kings moved to Jersey City and became the Jerseys.

By then Cuellar was 23, but he continued to toil in the minors; after Jersey City, there was Indianapolis and Syracuse and Monterrey and Knoxville and then chunks of three seasons in Jacksonville. He'd been the property of the Reds, then the Tigers and the Indians and the Cardinals, and finally the Astros ... who finally gave Cuellar a real chance to pitch in the majors.

In a pattern that he would repeat almost exactly with the Orioles, Cuellar pitched brilliantly in his first season with Houston, then was merely quite good in his next two seasons. Perhaps the Astros believed that Cuellar had peaked, because they traded him to the Orioles for outfielder Curt Blefary, who was coming off a terrible season (and Blefary would struggle terribly in the remaining four seasons of his career).

Cuellar's Cy Young Award came in his first year with the Orioles. He wouldn't pitch as well again, but in his first six seasons in Baltimore he averaged 21 wins and posted a 2.99 ERA. In the process, Cuellar's screwball -- which he would throw at three different speeds -- became one of the game's more famous pitches. He employed a variety of other offerings, including a fine fastball. But Cuellar's money pitch was the screwball; he and Fernando Valenzuela are the only two notable starters of the last 50 years who relied on the pitch

Here's my favorite bit of writing about Cuellar, from the great Roger Angell: "At its best, Cuellar's attack on the plate reminds one of a master butcher preparing a standing roast of beef -- a sliver excised here, a morsel trimmed off the bottom, two or three superfluous swishes of the knife through the air, and then a final slice off the ribs: Voila!"


Thanks for the Memories, Mike Cuellar
George Diaz, Orlando Sentinel
April 3, 2010

Often times, we tend to embellish someoneís legacy when they die. The stories grow bolder and better.

That isnít necessary with Mike Cuellar.

Cuellar, one of the greatest players in Baltimore Orioles history, passed away Friday afternoon at Orlando Regional Medical Center. He was 72.

There will be no mourning in this space.

I was fortunate enough to write a column on Mike, published the day before he died. The outpouring of e-mails reflects that Mike Cuellar is loved, present-tense intended. You feel it in the passion of Cuban-Americans who remember him during his early days pitching for Almendares. You hear it from the legion of fans in Baltimore and elsewhere, and teammates who honor him with so many words of praise. You even sense it from sports writers, objective souls for most of their careers. Iíd like to share some of these stories. I am sure there are plenty more:

I grew up in Maryland loving the Orioles and trying to throw a screwball just like Mike Cuellar. In 1971 we had tickets to Game 2 of the ALCS. The Orioles beat the Aís behind Cuellarís pitching. We were driving home on the Baltimore Parkway when we came upon a big car driven by none other than Mike. My cousin and I were embarrassed when my mother started beeping the horn and waving at him. Our embarrassment went away when we heard Mike beeping back and saw him smiling and waving. We ended up following him to Friendship Airport, where we were about 200 fans who saw the Orioles board their charter and fly off to Oakland. Thanks for a tale well told and stirring happy memories.

Regards, Mike Sherman, Sports Editor, The Oklahoman

I get a big smile on my face when I see that photo. Heís one of those guys like Stu Miller, who could make guys look so bad. Iíve never seen as many funny swings as hitters had off him. He had a great screwball and overhand curve. He was a terrific guy and lot of fun. I love that guy.

Former teammate and Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, recalling the picture (featured above) that catches them celebrating a decisive Game 5 World Series victory in 1970.

My wife was the bar manager at Casselberry Golf Club back in Ď03 and Ď04 when he was the starter there. Iíd pop over there in the morning a couple of times a week to play nine holes.

He was only introduced to me as Mike, and for months I only knew him as Mike: the wise-cracking starter who loved to come joke around with me, or join me for my morning nine.. On the first day of the 2003 World Series, I was standing on the 10th tee box. Iím a huge Yankees fan, so I was wearing a Yankees hat. Cuellar popped out of the side door by the snack bar, looked at me, and said, "Yankees not gonna beat the Marlins." To which I (incorrectly) replied, "Of course they are, theyíre the Yankees!"

"Nah, not their time.", says Cuellar. I started to address my ball and shot back, "Whatever. What do you know about the World Series?". "I pitched in four.", he said, holding that giant left hand up with four fingers extended.

I had to play a whole nine holes wondering if he was yanking my chain. I asked my wife what his last name was, rushed home to Google him, and, wow, he was much more than a 4-time World Series pitcher. Even with his true identity revealed, he was much more interested in talking about my sonís Little League than about his own legendary career. What a great guy.

Mike Darrah

One Saturday in the early 70ís Mike Cuellar showed up at a small Little League field in Watersedge and watched as we played. He got out of his car and was immediately recognized by every kid there and was swamped. He stayed with us for a couple of hours and took the time to talk and teach us how to throw and enjoy the game. My most vivid memory of that day was him watching me pitch and telling me that I needed to learn to throw before I could pitch and I needed to learn to use my body instead of my arm.

It was a defining moment in a childís life. It is moments like this that build a legacy and a true love for others. I hope that the Lord looks down on Mike and his family and fills their hearts and eases their pain knowing that others share in their loss.

NCBirdwatcher (blog post in Baltimore Sun).

I saw Cuéllar pitch when I was 11-years-old. It was Dec. 28, 1959, and his Almendares team beat my beloved Cienfuegos team, 6-3.

José Fernández, Central Florida resident

I grew up in Baltimore and covered Oriole teams he pitched for in the mid 1970s. He was a terrific guy, and he once saved me from my most embarrassing moment as a baseball writer. A relief pitcher named Dyar Miller was going through a bad stretch, and he gave up a game-winning home run in Detroit on the last day of an otherwise miserable road trip. In those days, the elevator to the clubhouse in Tiger Stadium let you out right at the visitorsí locker room, so I was down there quickly to talk to players after the game. Miller was nowhere to be found.

So, in my story, smart ass that I was in those years, I wrote that Miller left so fast he couldnít have taken a shower. Next night, back in Baltimore, some of his teammates had read the story and thought it was funny, so they left bars of soap in his locker. After that nightís game, I came down, typewriter in hand, and found Miller livid, steam coming out his ears and he raced over to me. And he was naked. "Iíll show you who takes a shower," he said, then bear-hugged me and dragged me into the shower, typewriter and all.

Some of the players found it pretty funny, but it was Cuellar who saw how ridiculous it was. He reached out to take my typewriter so it wouldnít get ruined. Then he calmed Miller down and apologized to me for his teammateís childish behavior. Iíll never forget that night; it was the night Mike Cuellar became a real hero to me. He probably wouldnít remember the incident, but if you have a chance, please express my deepest condolences to his family from a guy who really looked up to him.

Michael Janofsky

Iíve got my own story to share, too. I only met Mike a few times. Sadly, the last time I saw him he was incoherent, just a few days before he died. The other time was six years back, when I did a piece documenting some struggles he had living in Central Florida.

But the connection I have with Mike runs much deeper than that. I grew up in Miami and quickly became an Orioles fan as a kid. They trained in Miami, and back then in the late 1960s and early Ď70s, it was as close as you could get to Major League Baseball.

I felt the sting of the loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series (I still loathe the "We Are Family" song) in 1971. I felt the euphoric rush of the five-game World Series set against the Cincinnati Reds in 1970. But most importantly, I felt the bond of mother and son.

My dad was a baseball fan, but nowhere near as passionate as my mom. We shared that passionate gene, reflected in the screams in the household whenever our beloved Orioles played. We despised ever other team, including the Yankees of course.

I remember taking my mom to a high school awards ceremony, back when I worked for The Miami Herald as the prep sports editor. New York owner George Steinbrenner was the featured speaker. I introduced her to Steinbrenner, and she wasnít about to compromise her love of the Orioles for any meet-and-greet protocol.

"Yankees NO," she said (she spoke little English).

For everyone who was an Orioles fans back in those days, before Peter Angelos came in and wrecked the franchise, the Orioles epitomized a fabulous working-class ethic, and a clubhouse full of stars who brought us so many great memories.

Brooks and Frank, Boog, Mark the Blade, and Mike aka Crazy Horse were all part of the family. They donít need last names or formal introductions.

Many people who reached out said they laughed and cried when they thought of Cuellar, and the memories he evoked.

Count me in, too.

My beloved mom died last year after a long battle with Alzheimerís Disease. Thanks to Mike, I felt my love of her grow stronger in thinking back to all those wonderful times we shared.

Thank you, Miguel Angel Cuellar Santana.

Rest in Peace, my friend.


Mike Cuellar, ex-Baltimore Orioles pitcher, dead of cancer
Matt Schudel, Washington Post
April 4, 2010

(c) Houston Astros

Mike Cuellar, a left-handed pitcher who won a Cy Young Award and helped lead the Baltimore Orioles to the 1970 World Series title, died April 2 of stomach cancer at an Orlando hospital. He was 72.

Mr. Cuellar had found modest success earlier in his career with other teams, but it wasn't until he joined the Orioles as a 31-year-old journeyman that he blossomed into a star.

In Baltimore, the Cuban-born Mr. Cuellar became an anchor of one of the most successful pitching staffs in baseball history. With his fellow starters Dave McNally and Jim Palmer, Mr. Cuellar led Baltimore to three straight American League titles, with the team winning more than 100 games in each of those seasons.

In his debut season with the Orioles in 1969, Mr. Cuellar shared the Cy Young Award as the American League's best pitcher with Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers. Throwing his tricky screwball, Mr. Cuellar won 23 games that year, with five shutouts, and had the league's third-best earned run average, at 2.38. He was the first Latin American pitcher to receive the Cy Young Award.

The Orioles finished the season with their best record ever, 109-53, but lost the World Series in five games to New York's "Miracle Mets."

In 1970, Mr. Cuellar compiled a 24-8 record to lead the Orioles to 108 victories during the regular season. He won the fifth and decisive game in the World Series that year, vanquishing the Cincinnati Reds, 9-3, in a complete-game performance at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.

His teammate, Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, told the Baltimore Sun, "Mike was, arguably, the best left-hander in the game from 1969 to 1974, but he never got his due."

Mr. Cuellar was one of three Orioles pitchers to win more than 20 games in 1970 -- McNally also won 24, and Palmer won 20 -- but the staff made more history the next season. In 1971, Cuellar, Palmer and Pat Dobson won 20 games each, and McNally won 21. It marked only the second time in major league history that four pitchers on one team won 20 games each. (The only other time the milestone was achieved was in 1920, when the Chicago White Sox had four 20-game winners.)

In the seventh and final game of the 1971 World Series, Mr. Cuellar allowed just two runs in eight innings, but the Orioles lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2-1.

"Mike was a monstrous part of the great teams we had from 1969 to 1971," Orioles Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver told the Sun. "He was an artist on the mound and a player who put us over the top."

Miguel Angel Cuellar Santana was born May 8, 1937, in Las Villas, Cuba, and was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1957 after pitching for a Cuban military team. He made his big-league debut with the Reds in 1959, then pitched in the minor leagues before returning to the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964.

Mr. Cuellar found some success after being traded to the Houston Astros, winning 12 games in 1966 and 16 in 1967.

He never threw particularly hard, but his baffling array of change-ups, curveballs and screwballs kept opposing batters off balance. After his three 20-win seasons with the Orioles from 1969 through 1971, he won 22 games in 1974. In 1973, after winning 18 games in the regular season, Mr. Cuellar suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 loss in the third game of the American League Championship Series against the Oakland Athletics. Mr. Cuellar pitched an 11-inning complete game in the defeat.

Mr. Cuellar pitched for the Orioles through the 1976 season, then finished his career the next year with the California Angels. He attempted a comeback in Puerto Rico and Mexico in his 40s but never returned to the major leagues. He finished with a career record of 185-130, including 143 victories for the Orioles, and an ERA of 3.14. He was an all-star in 1967, 1970, 1971 and 1974.

Mr. Cuellar, who was nicknamed "Crazy Horse," was known for his many superstitions. Once, when he forgot to take his lucky cap on a road trip to Milwaukee, the Orioles had to send it by airmail before he would take the mound.

In later years, he lived near Orlando, worked at a golf course and helped coach Orioles pitchers in spring training.

Survivors include his wife, Myriam Cuellar, and two children.