February 22 – Happy Birthday Steve Barber
It may be hard for younger fans to believe this but at one time, the Baltimore Orioles had one of the best pitching traditions in baseball. The Birds Golden Era of pitching was definitely the 1970′s. In fact, of the 12 AL Cy Young Awards presented from 1969 to 1980, half of them were won by Baltimore starters (Mike Cuellar, Jim Palmer(3) Mike Flanagan, Steve Stone.) Remember all the talk this time last year about how the Phillies’ staff had the opportunity to produce four twenty-game winners in 2011? The Orioles actually accomplished that in 1971 with Cuellar, Palmer, Dave McNally and one-time Yankee, Pat Dobson.
Baltimore’s outstanding breeding of pitching excellence had begun way back in the late fifties, just a few years after the franchise had moved to B-town from St. Louis. In 1959, a nineteen year-old right-hander with the rather odd name of Milt Pappas made his first big league start against the Senators. A year later, he was joined by a 22-year-old southpaw named Steve Barber. During the six seasons they pitched together on the Orioles, Pappas (85) and Barber (81) would win 166 games between the two of them, and help turn visiting team road trips to Memorial Stadium into many a batting slump.
In December of 1965, Pappas was traded to the Reds for future Hall-of-Famer, Frank Robinson. “Robbie” would lead Baltimore to the Oriole’s first World Championship the following season. Barber played a huge role in the team’s success by getting off to a 10-3 start that year. When he was named to the 1966 AL All Star team that July, his ERA stood at 1.96. Then tendinitis struck his pitching arm and he only appeared in seven games the second half of that season and completely missed the Birds World Series sweep of the Dodgers that year. By the start of the ’67 season, his left arm felt better and he was pitching the best ball of his career early that April. But he cooled off considerably in the following weeks, and at 29, Barber was by then the oldest member of a very young and very talented Orioles pitching staff, experiencing tendinitis in his throwing arm. Baltimore decided they didn’t need him and dealt him to the Yankees for a backup first baseman named Ray Barker and two Minor League pitchers. None of the three players the Orioles acquired ever appeared in a game for Baltimore.
I remember being thrilled about the trade because the 1967 Yankees were a really bad team that could use all the help it could get. Barber went from being the oldest member of the Orioles rotation to being the senior citizen on a Yankee starting staff that included Mel Stottlemyre, Al Downing, Fritz Peterson and Fred Talbot. Barber’s first start in pinstripes was against his former team in Baltimore on July 7, 1967. He got shelled for six runs and three innings and took the loss. But then he won three of his next four starts rather impressively giving Yankee fans hope that the old Steve Barber was back and now pitching for our side. Unfortunately, that was not the case. He ended up going 6-9 his first half-season in pinstripes and then just 6-5 in ’68. There were moments along the way where you could tell why he had been a 20-game winner in 1963 but for the most part, the old Steve Barber had disappeared. In October of ’68 he also vanished from New York when the Yankees left him unprotected in that year’s AL Expansion Draft and he was selected by the Seattle Pilots.
Barber would pitch until 1974 before retiring with a 121-106 lifetime record and a fine 3.36 career ERA during his fifteen-season big league career. He was born in Takoma Park, MD on February 22, 1938 and passed away in 2007. He shares his birthday with this grandfather of a number 1 Yankee draft pick, this one-time Yankee closer and this former Yankee phee-nom.