Steve Barber was a southpaw who amassed some strong numbers as a young pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles in the early 1960’s. He played during some of the Orioles lean years, before the emergence of future stars like Jim Palmer and Boog Powell and the trade for Frank Robinson. I was in college when I first started following him, and was honored to become his teammate several years later. He was a genuinely nice guy. The story I heard is that the Yankees saw him for the first time during a 1960 spring training game in Miami where he struck out Mickey Mantle three times. Steve had pitched AA ball in 1959 (his mentor was a young minor league manager named Earl Weaver), but he had such an impressive spring that he made the major league team. He went 10-7 in 27 starts for the Orioles in 1960, and really broke out in 1961 when he went 18-12, with 14 complete games and 150 strikeouts. In 1962, Steve was on active duty in the U.S. Army; the Army gave him weekend passes to pitch, and while he started just 19 games, he had a 9-6 record. His best year was in 1963, when he went 20-13 with 150 strikeouts and made the American League All-Star team. That turned out to be his career year; he was 9-13 in 1964, 15-10 in 1965, and 10-5 in 1966 (when he was again named to the AL All-Star team). Steve developed tendinitis in his elbow, which forced him to miss the All-Star game, and the World Series.
Steve was 4-9 in fifteen starts for Baltimore in 1967 when he was traded to the Yankees on July 4 for Ray Barker, some cash, and a player to be named later – eventually this would be two minor league prospects who never made the majors, Chester Trail and Daniel Brady. His first start in Pinstripes was on July 8, against the Orioles at Memorial Stadium; he gave up six runs in 3 1/3 innings and his old team went on to beat his new team, 12-5. I still remember the look on his face when Ralph Houk went out to the mound to take him out of the game. Unfortunately, in baseball not every story turns out well. He started seventeen games for the Yankees that season and went 6-9. He was 6-5 in nineteen starts in 1968. Clearly his best years were over. His elbow problems were not going away.
One of the things that always impressed me about Steve was his perseverance. As a former two-time All-Star and 20-game winner, he took a demotion to the minor leagues in 1968 and played for the Syracuse Chiefs. The Seattle Pilots took him in the 1969 expansion draft; he was 4-7 in sixteen starts for them. Released by the Brewers during 1970 spring training, Steve refused to give up. He cobbled together another five years in the majors (and at times, in the minors) for the Cubs, Braves, Angels and Giants. He had a nice career: 121-106, with 950 strikeouts.
I heard that in his later years, he volunteered driving a school bus for special needs kids. Not surprising, considering how good a person he was. I was saddened when I learned eight years ago that he had passed away and I’ll always appreciate the privilege of being his teammate.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.