Stomach cancer took the life of Baltimore Orioles great Mike Cuellar on Friday. A standout on a team with Hall of Famers, Cuellar was 72 years old.
A left-hander and one of the game's top pitchers at a time when the Orioles dominated the American League, Cuellar shared the AL Cy Young with Denny McLain in 1969. He had a combined 60 complete games from '69-71, pitched in three World Series and, after going 24-8 in the regular season, was on the mound for the last out of the O's Series victory against the Reds in 1970.
Signed by Cincinnati out of the Cuban Army in the years just before Fidel Castro's revolution, Cuellar bounced around the majors, the minors and the Mexican League for nearly a decade before establishing himself with the Houston Astros.
He joined the Orioles in '69 at age 32 and immediately transformed his career.
From the Baltimore Sun:
"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."
Though Cuellar wasn't a regular major-league contributor until age 29, he finished with 185 career victories and 36 shutouts over 13 seasons.
Cuellar didn't throw that hard, but had a dominating screwball and a big, sweeping curve in his arsenal.
"His fastball couldn't black my eye, but he owns my hitters' minds," Detroit Tigers manager Billy Martin once said.
Said to have a colorful personality, Cuellar was known to teammates as "Crazy Horse." He stuck to numerous superstitions and rituals, including once when a lucky cap didn't make it on a road trip to Milwaukee.
"We had to call the clubhouse man back in Baltimore to airmail that [bleeping] hat to us," Weaver said.
In '71, four Orioles — Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Pat Dobson and Cuellar — won at least 20 games, a feat equaled only by the 1920 White Sox and one that is unlikely to happen again.
Of those four men, only Palmer remains alive. Dobson died in '06, McNally in '02.
That Cuellar had cancer wasn't widely known until the end, Orioles writer Roch Kubato wrote. But Cuellar missed the recent Orioles FanFest because of a brain aneurysm and was not a spring training instructor as he had been in 2009.
The Orioles are having a 40th anniversary celebration of the '70 world champions at Camden Yards this summer. With Cuellar and others gone, it will be a bittersweet reunion.