Talk to just about anybody connected with the Baltimore Orioles and he will tell you, wistfully, that Milt Pappas has finally grown (or growed) up. Including Pappas. If this is a fact then baseball is the poorer, for it has all too few flakes, hot dogs and Milt Pappases. "I'm mellowing now," Pappas says, looking back, at age 24, over seven big league seasons of graphic remonstrance with umpires, teammates, managers, opposing players and official scorers. "Miltie is what you might call a visible hothead," says Baltimore's traveling secretary, Bob Brown. "The fans can tell when he isn't happy." "He's a spoiled brat," says one writer who follows the team. "I've had the reputation of being brash, cocky and bullheaded," says Pappas cheerfully. "I'm probably the worst that's ever been."
Nothing brings out the worst in Milt Pappas like an umpire. "I like to show people I'm out there to take charge," Pappas says, "but I realize more and more that you got to get along with the umpires. If you dispute their calls, it looks like you're trying to show them up—which isn't so, of course—and that doesn't get you anywhere. I should be more diplomatic. Instead of giving the umpires a lot of head from the mound, I should talk to them when I go up to hit—quietly point out their mistakes.
"I like an umpire that's honest and will admit that he's blown a few. But when they start with the alibis.... You see, the vision I had when I was in high school was I thought that these guys would be perfect. After all, they were umpiring in the highest echelon. It took me awhile to find it out, but I soon realized that these people were human."
It takes awhile before you realize that Milt Pappas does not really think he is superhuman. On one occasion last year he called up the press box from the dugout after the official scorer declared that balls Jim Gentile and Luis Aparicio could not handle were base hits, and demanded to know, "How the hell can you call those things hits?" But that was only because, he explains, "I wanted to know why, and it's silly to go through channels when you can go directly to the source." And when you remind Pappas that Gentile told him off in the clubhouse after the game ("That's a bush thing to do, showing up your own teammates"), Pappas shrugs. "It only got in the papers," he says, "because a writer who happened to be there wrote it up—and anyway, I apologized."
April 26, 1964
Or mention to Pappas the time he refused to report to the bullpen and General Manager Lee MacPhail advised him he better get going or he would not get paid, and Pappas will tell you: "I knew it was like cutting my throat, but it's just that I didn't have a reason why. I'm not a bullpen pitcher. I'm a starter!"
To which MacPhail soothingly adds: "There wasn't any revolution. Miltie couldn't be more cooperative."
But how about that night in Kansas City when Pappas hit Billy Hitchcock in the chest with a baseball? Hitchcock, the Baltimore manager at the time, had come to the mound to take Pappas out. Instead of handing him the ball, Pappas flipped it at the startled Hitchcock and stalked to the dugout. "It was a close ball game," Pappas explains. "I think it was the seventh or eighth inning and I got a little perturbed. I don't know whether I was mad at Hitchcock or at myself. I didn't throw the ball at him, I lobbed it. If I wanted to hit him, I would have thrown it. I don't know whether he caught it or not. I didn't look."
"I'm not going to have any trouble with Miltie," says Hank Bauer, the new Baltimore manager. "He knows me and I know him, and he knows that I'm managing and he's pitching. He's a little on the brash side, a little argumentative, and he enjoys putting on a show, but he tries to do so damn good. That's why he gets mad—at himself. Once in a while, you're better off to let it out rather than keep it inside of you."
"I was the same in high school," Pappas says. "If I didn't have my way, I was mad. And I've always spoken what I felt. One day in 1958, my first full season with the ball club, I was pitching against the Yankees. The day before, Hoyt Wilhelm had thrown a no-hitter at them, so anything I could do would be anticlimactic. Right away, Mantle hits an opposite-field double off me. 'Mickey,' I yelled at him, 'you surprise me. I've heard how strong you are, how you pull the ball. You showed me nothing. You're losing your power.' Last year I had two strikes and no balls on Mickey. The next pitch was right down the middle, and the umpire calls it a ball. 'Mickey,' I said, 'no wonder you're so great. You get five strikes every time you come to bat.' I wasn't mad at Mantle, I was mad at the ump. I don't know why I took it out on Mickey. Those kind of guys, it's nice to have them on your side.
"I remember when I first pitched to Jimmy Piersall. He came up to the plate singing, 'I've got the whole world in my arms.' He hit a home run, and he sang that song all the way around the bases. The next time he came up I threw him a slider, and he hit a weak grounder back to me. 'Get on that, you bush——, I told him. I think everybody in the park heard me. They were all booing me. After the game, I apologized to Piersall. Ted Williams said I was a man to apologize, so I asked Ted to give me one of his bats, which he did. I was making bar stools out of baseball bats. Ted went two for three the next time I pitched against him. 'Thanks for the bat,' I said. 'Keep pitching me like that, and I'll give you a bat every day,' said Ted."
"I wouldn't say that Milt is cocky," says Paul Richards, his first manager at Baltimore and now the general manager of the Houston Colts, "just brash. He was a little refreshing, to tell the truth. He was a problem only in an innocuous sort of way, like he didn't want to run. Make sure you use that word 'innocuous.' Pappas won't know what it means. Who was it, Edgar Allan Poe or Mark Twain, who said that he was so impressed at how much his father learned while he was growing up from 14 to 21? Well, Pappas was that way with me. I think he was probably amazed at how much I learned in the three years he was with me.
"Even as a kid he stood out because he was willing to find out if the big leaguers could hit him. A lot of kids have the stuff but never really find out before four balls go by. But with Pappas, one of the things was that he would show them that ball: Here it is, hit it if you can.
"In one of the first games he was ever in, we were playing Boston and Tommy Brewer was pitching. Brewer had a sharp curve that was particularly effective that day, but it got to a point where it was Pappas' turn to hit, and I didn't want to use a pinch hitter at that time. I asked Milt if he was a good hitter. He told me he was the best hitter on his high school team. 'All right,' I said. 'Go on up there.'
"He went up and watched Brewer break off a couple of those curves. Then he made the trip all the way back from the batter's box to the dugout to tell me: 'If that so-and-so keeps throwing that curve, what I just said don't go.' "
Like most pitchers, Milt Pappas is very pleased with himself as a hitter. It doesn't take long to find out he has hit 11 big league homers. He'll tell you all about it before you can say Miltiades Stergios Papastedgios, which is his real name, but you have to go to the record book to learn that on September 15, 1963 he bunted into a triple play. "If you hit home runs," Pappas reasons, "the manager is not apt to take you out, and you can stay in a lot more ball games you can win, and they pay pitchers on won-and-lost records.
"It's actually a shame that pitchers don't get more hitting practice. In spring training it's mostly bunting. Then the hitters who are paid to hit come down and the manager and the coaches don't pay any attention to you. Everything in baseball is done for the hitter. They changed the strike zone, but the umpires call the pitches the same. They say the pitchers slow down the game, so now you can only throw five pitches between innings, and you only have 20 seconds between pitches. What about that Colavito going through all those calisthenics and gyrations before he decides he's ready to hit the ball? Hitting the home run and driving the Cadillac appeals to the kids. Pitchers are in a very bad light these days."
In 1961 Milt Pappas actually hit two home runs in one game against Minnesota—under faintly extenuating circumstances. The day before the game, Pappas and Pete Ramos, who was scheduled to start for the Twins, were horsing around in the outfield and decided to throw each other nothing but fast balls the next day. By the sixth inning, Pappas had gotten a homer and Ramos had gotten mad. With the Twins behind, Ramos knew he would be taken out for a pinch hitter the next time up, so he threw a curve at Pappas. "Pete," said Pappas, "you are the dirtiest, lowdown——." "Too bad," said Ramos, and curved him again. This one, alas, hung and Pappas lost it. "It's got to be my best day," says Pappas. "We won 3-0, I struck out 11 and walked three."
Pappas has always had good control, even when he was 18 and had little more to show the batters than a rising fast ball. In 1958, for example, he gave up only 48 walks in 135 innings. Pappas was 10 and 10 that year, but completed just three games. "He was so young," Paul Richards recalls, "that at first I would take him out after five or six innings no matter how he was doing, but after a while, when he was pitching full games, we never even warmed up the bullpen near the end of the game because he handled the seventh, eighth, ninth with considerable ease. He would just bowl them over."
Pappas, who stands 6 feet 3 and weighs around 205, is still basically an overwhelming fast-ball pitcher, but he has added a fine slider, is working on his change and has learned to keep the ball down. "Eight out of 10 homers are hit off pitches in the high-strike zone," he says, the voice of experience.
Milt Pappas is one of the most precocious pitchers in the history of baseball. He will not be 25 until May 11 and, although he has never won more than 16 games in a season—he was 16-9 last year—his lifetime record is already 81-58. Since 1900, only 14 pitchers have had more than 81 wins before their 25th birthday, and only six of these began their major league careers after 1927: Wes Ferrell, Lefty Gomez, Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser and Milt Pappas. On the other hand, Cy Young, who holds the record for career wins—511—was only 37-27 at the same age, and Carl Hubbell (253 lifetime wins), Lefty Grove (300), Ed Plank (326) and Warren Spahn, who has won more games than any active player (350), did not win a single major league game before they were 25.
If Pappas has a weakness as a pitcher, it is that "if I'm 0 and 2 on a guy, I'll throw him a real good pitch. I even did it one time when my catcher called for a pitchout. No reason. It's just that I'm the kind of guy that likes to get them out quick. It's my character. I'm a little stupid."
Pappas was not so stupid when he signed with the Orioles in 1957, after graduating from Detroit's Cooley High. He was sought by 14 teams, but narrowed the choice down to the Phillies and the Orioles. As he once said: "The paper and the pencil are why I'm with Baltimore. Before I signed with any club, I averaged out the age of every pitching staff in the big leagues. Baltimore had the oldest staff, so I figured it was my best chance. I didn't like the National League anyway—I wanted to go home in the summer."
"Milt seemed to know where he was going right from the start," says Paul Richards. "In fact, when I tried to give him a sales pitch, to explain the advantages of playing for us, he stopped me cold. 'Mr. Richards,' he said, 'I've heard all that malarkey already. You don't have to feed me that line because I've made up my mind to sign with the Orioles.' "
The majors were not quite what Pappas had expected. "There was a lot of professional jealousy," he recalls, "a lot of resentment. The other players weren't too helpful—it was unheard of, coming out of high school to pitch in the majors. They would say hello or good by to me and that's about the extent of it. I didn't know how to react. I was so unaware. I thought they'd invite me to sit down and have a bottle of pop with them—I was underage for beer.
"I remember the first time the Yankees came to town. There were 35,000 people in the stands. Art Ceccarelli was pitching. Mantle hit one 400-odd feet, and come the sixth inning, we're losing, 6-2. Brecheen [Harry, the Orioles' pitching coach] told me and George Zuverink to warm up. I said, 'You can't be serious.' You don't put an 18-year-old kid in to pitch against the Yankees. The Senators, maybe. The A's.
"I go out to the bullpen and soon I see Richards signaling, so I give Zuverink a pat on the back. I can hear the crowd—the roar, the hush, the murmurs. Even when they're not talking, they make a lot of noise. In a daze, I hear Brecheen tell me Richards wants me. When I start for the mound, I trip and almost break my skull. Listen, when I joined the club I didn't even know how to put my pants on right or how to roll the two socks under the pants. I felt ridiculous. Here it is. Slaughter, Mantle, Berra and Skowron. What am I doing out here? Mantle got a hit. I pitched two innings, and that was the only hit I gave up. Luckily, the first pitch was a strike."
When Pappas had been up for about three weeks, the Orioles came to New York and Shortstop Willie Miranda asked him to come along to a Spanish restaurant. "After we got through talking to all his friends," says Pappas, "it's 2:30 a.m. I was rooming with Brooks Robinson and we had only one key, and Brooks had it and he was sleeping and the door was locked. While I was waiting for the assistant manager to get me a key, here comes Richards and the coaches. I'm looking at my watch and it's 3 a.m. Richards says to Brecheen, 'That's one of your pitchers, isn't it?' They rode up behind me in the elevator. I could hear them laughing. I was shaking.
"That was a Friday night and Paul let me fly home since we were beginning a series in Detroit on Tuesday. Monday, I'm playing catch in front of my house when there's a call for me. It's Richards. I knew there was only one reason for him to call—I was already in the majors, so I couldn't go up any higher. He told me he was sending me down to Knoxville and bringing up Lenny Green. It was a tremendous letdown, but I was the most likely guy to go and he had caught me in New York. He was showing me he was boss. But he was nice enough to let me stay on for a few days. I walked into the clubhouse on Tuesday and the wiseacres started saying, 'How come you're still here? I thought you got sent down.' I pitched batting practice that day, and I threw as hard as I could. I was aiming at their fists. I broke a few bats in their hands. 'That's what you guys get for mouthing off,' I told them. They complained to Richards, but he did nothing about it."
Pappas pitched only 11 innings for Knoxville, but he enjoyed his fortnight in Class A ball. "Everyone associated with everyone," he says. As it turned out, the day he had his best stuff he had to be taken out before the first inning was over because the Knoxville catcher couldn't handle him. Later, in the clubhouse, Pappas saw the frustrated catcher slashing up his brand-new catcher's mitt with a knife. Pappas returned to Baltimore, but pitched only seven more innings for the Orioles before the season was over. "I'd walk by Richards on purpose," he says. "I'd run by him on the field, trying to get his attention. He knew I was there."
The following spring, at Scottsdale, Ariz., Pappas was pitching well, but he began brooding about whether Richards would keep him. "Typical of me," he says, "I walked up to Richards one day and asked him what I should do with my car. That way I could find out whether I was staying in the majors. I'll tell you a little later,' Richards said. I pitched six or seven shutout innings against San Francisco, and Richards said to me, 'Find some guy to drive your car back to Baltimore.' "
Pappas still had not made the team, however. In his third start of the 1958 season, while he was beating Detroit, 3-1, he injured his arm and was taken out. He did not pitch again until six weeks had passed, and then Kansas City knocked him out inside of an inning. At that time the team was a man over the limit, but Pappas did not realize it, or that the expendable player was either Pitcher Charley Beamon or himself. In his next start Pappas beat Kansas City 3-1 on a two-hitter, throwing only 82 pitches. He was in Baltimore for keeps.
Milt Pappas' father and mother are Greek immigrants, and Milt grew up in Detroit where his father owned a grocery in a Negro neighborhood. Pappas has two brothers: Gus, 26, is a mechanical draftsman; Perry, 18, also a pitcher, signed with the Yankees this year for a $15,000 bonus. "I would love to pitch against Perry," Pappas says. "He's as good as I was at the same age."
Pappas never wanted to be anything but a baseball player since he was 9, a pitcher since he was 12. "When I was 12," he says, "I was a shortstop. One day we were losing 15-0 and everyone we had in there was doing nothing, so I asked to pitch. I don't remember how I did, but I threw hard and I threw strikes. I had control of the ball game. Right then and there I knew this was it. I felt I had more authority. It was a challenge, pitting your strength against the hitter's strength. The game's all a matter of who's stronger."
Pappas still loves to pitch. "Year after year," he says, "I'm anxious to get going again. My mind is in a daze all winter. It's a wonderful feeling to get up in the morning and look forward to going to the ball park and pitching." About January, Pappas starts getting on edge and begins to dream about pitching. "I dream I pitch a no-hitter," he says, "hit a homer and win 1-0. I dream I pitch 20 games without losing, wind up 30 and 2. I seem to get all the hitters out in my dreams."
Then, when the season starts, he feels another kind of strain. "You're constantly tired mentally on the mound," he says. "I got to take a sleeping pill if I pitch more than three innings. As soon as I go to bed, I rehash the ball game. Kubek hit a slider, low and inside. I thought it was a real good pitch, yet he hit a liner. I sleep four or five hours if I'm lucky, and I'm fighting that half the time, but I don't come home and beat my head against a wall if I lose."
"It's a nervous life," says his wife, Carole, "but he doesn't keep me awake. If he loses, I just let him bring it up. I try to take a soothing interest in what he does, but he doesn't expect me to remember every pitch he threw. He's an easy person to get along with. It takes a lot to make him angry, but he's very down-to-earth—and he'll speak his piece."
On the road, Pappas is one of a handful of major leaguers who have the privilege of rooming alone. "I just like to be alone," he says, "do what I want to do." At home, the Pappas family, which includes his son, Stevie, 2½, and his daughter, Michelle, 15 months, lives 11 miles from the ball park in Timonium, a suburb of Baltimore. Pappas is very proud of his club cellar, where his full-length portrait is sandblasted into the minor behind the bar. "It's really a work of art," he says. "You can see my number, 32; my leg is kicked up and the ball is in my hand. I am ready to pitch."
Last winter, when the Orioles released Billy Hitchcock and were looking for a new manager, Pappas announced that he was ready to take on that job as well, and listed his qualifications and plans. "Everyone says the team needs color," he said at the time. "I'd give it to them by going back to my original name. And I'd run a loose club. We wouldn't have a curfew. Maybe the players wouldn't be happy, but they'd be tired."
One day this February, Pappas sat in the house he had rented in Key Biscayne, an outlying section of Miami, and mused about how he would have managed the team if the Orioles had not gone ahead and hired Bauer in his stead. "In a close situation," he said, "I wouldn't need any relief pitcher. I'm a pretty good hitter—I'd be hitting sixth or seventh in the order—and would never take myself out. If the weather was cold, I'd let someone else start in my turn, unless we were playing the Senators or the White Sox. I'm 12 and three against Chicago.
"Of course, spring training wouldn't be nearly as long. I'd cut down on the running, too, so I could fulfill my other duties. I'm not a real firm believer in running. The only fines I'd have would be for guys coming to the ball park early, or reporting to spring training early. If they come in overweight, like I do, but can get down to playing weight within a month, they get a $500 bonus.
"We'd have a get-together party before spring training every year. I'd rent a suite and we'd drink, talk, eat—get to know each other a little better. If they show me that they're good boys, maybe we'd have two or three of these conferences. Anybody didn't show up for one, fine them $1,000. If the boys show me they like to play and win this game, they can have a little fun out of it, too.
"My son would be the bat boy and I'd give my wife a $7,000- or $8,000-a-year job to clip the newspapers.
"What could you be?" he asked Michelle. "When you grow up you can handle talking to the press—if you keep your fingers out of your mouth."
Milt Pappas reached for his daughter. "You got to inject a little humor into this game," he said, hoisting her onto his lap. "As I said, the game of baseball is for fun, too. That's why I enjoy playing it. I'd play even if they didn't pay me. Of course, this is the best place to play it. You enjoy it more up here."