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.
The Baltimore Orioles were one of the toughest teams I ever played against. They won the World Series in 1966, my rookie year, the American League Pennant in 1969 (the first time there was a Divisional Series), the World Series in 1970, and the AL Pennant in 1971. They had an unreal team: Boog Powell at first, Davey Johnson at second, Mark Belanger at short, Brooks Robinson at third, Andy Etchebarren was the catcher, and they had Frank Robinson, Paul Blair and Don Buford in the outfield. And they had great pitching – one year it was four 20-game winners: Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson. So because they were so good in 1970, I feel compelled to recall one game between the Orioles and the Washington Senators that year – maybe just to embarrass my friend, Rick Reichert.
It was June 20, a Sunday afternoon at RFK, and it was Earl Weaver managing against Ted Williams. The game was tied 2-2, and in the top of the twelfth inning, with nothing more than a pair of walks, a pair of popups, and an error by Mike Epstein, the Orioles scored and took a 3-2 lead. In the bottom of the twelfth, Jim French drew a leadoff walk, and with one out, Rick came up to the plate to pinch hit for Lee Maye. He hit a walk-off, two run homer and delivered a rare and excruciating loss to the first-place Orioles. It was an amazing moment.
I had to look up the details, but I remember the game. The Yankees had lost to the Red Sox more than an hour earlier. We were 2 ½ games out of first place at that point and we all stuck around the clubhouse to find out how the Orioles game was going.
Happy All-Star Day! Today marks the 45th anniversary of my one appearance in the All-Star Game. I was honored to have been selected to the American League All-Star Team in 1970, and July 14, 1970 was one of the highlights of my career.
It’s the bottom of the ninth with the American League up 4-1 at Riverfront Stadium. Catfish Hunter entered the game to pitch and gave up a leadoff Home Run to Dick Dietz. Bud Harrelson then hit a single to left. Catfish got Cito Gaston to pop up, but then Joe Morgan hit a single to right, moving Bud to second. That’s when Earl Weaver walked to the mound and called me in to pitch. Weaver told me that I would be facing one of the greatest Home Run hitters of all-time, the legendary Willie McCovey. He said something like: “We’ll get him. I ain’t worried about him.” Easy for him to say! Bottom of the ninth, runners on first and second, one out, and our lead is now 4-2. And I’m facing Willie McCovey. Holy crap.
Now I’d like to tell the story this way: McCovey hits into a double play, Aparicio to Johnson to Yastrzemski, and the American League wins. But I can’t because things happened a bit differently.
McCovey hits a clean single to Amos Otis in center. Harrelson scores, and Morgan moves to third. Lead is now 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth And with the great Roberto Clemente coming up to pinch hit for Bob Gibson, Weaver walked back to the mound and called my friend Mel Stottlemyre in to pitch. Clemente hit an RBI sacrifice fly to center, tying the game 4-4. Then Mel struck out Pete Rose to end the inning. The rest of the story everyone knows: on Jim Hickman’s two-out, bottom of the twelfth single, Rose scored from second, barreling in to Ray Fosse at the plate. The National League won, 5-4 – but not without Ray suffering a serious injury that plagued the rest of his career. Another controversy Charlie Hustle has got to live with.
And so it goes into the record books: Fritz Peterson, 0 inning, 1 Hit, 1 Run, runners on the corners. But wow, I was there and it was amazing.