Underrated Pitcher Milt Pappas Dies at 76
On August 10, 1957, Milt Pappas stood on the mound of Memorial Stadium ready to make his Major League Debut as an 18-year old fresh out of Cooley High School in Detroit. With close to 37,000 people in the stands watching in Baltimore that day, the first three batters he would face as a big leaguer were Enos Slaughter, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. Pappas navigated that inning and went on to a very solid 17-year career in the bigs, winning 209 games along the way.
Pappas died Tuesday at the age of 76 of unknown causes.
Throughout his distinguished pitching career, Pappas frequently found himself around very visible moments in the game’s history. He is most noted for being one of the returning pieces for the Cincinnati Reds when they shipped Hall of Famer Frank Robinson to Baltimore in 1965. Although the trade is considered one of the most lopsided deals in MLB history, at the time, Pappas was viewed as a good return for Robinson, who was 30 years old at the time. At the time of the trade, Pappas was 110-74 for his career and still just 26.
Pappas is also known for being the only pitcher to miss a perfect game by walking the potential 27th out of the game on September 2, 1972. The controversial walk came on a borderline outside pitch that umpire Bruce Froemming called a ball. Pappas completed the no-hitter against the San Diego Padres by retiring the next batter.
When Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game on Jim Joyce’s blown call at first base, many people in the media reached out to Pappas for his opinion. Pappas said in an article on ESPN.com that he felt like he was the one who lost the no-hitter, not Galarraga with the way reporters were reaching out to him.
While pitching for the Orioles in 1961, Pappas was set to face Roger Maris in the season’s 154th game out of 162. This was significant because Commissioner Ford Frick said that unless Maris topped Babe Ruth in 154 games (the length of the MLB season when Ruth had his 60-home run season), that an asterisk would be placed next to Maris’ name. Pappas later stated that he disagreed with that decision so much that he through Maris nothing but fastballs that day. Maris hit his 59th home run off Pappas that game.
Pappas also held the distinction of being the last American League pitcher to hit a home run in a 1-0 win during the pre-designated hitter era when he did so in 1962. The feat was not accomplished again in the American League until 2015.
Pappas only postseason appearance came in 1969 when the Atlanta Braves were swept by the New York Mets en route to their miracle 1969 World Series win. Pappas allowed a two-run homer to Ken Boswell in the fourth inning as the Mets won Game 2, 11-6.
Pappas appeared in two All-Star Games during his career, starting the 1965 game in his final year in Baltimore. He gave up a home run to Willie Mays leading off the game and also surrendered a two-run homer to Joe Torre later that inning. Pappas closed out the 1962 All-Star Game, a 3-1 loss by the American League, as a 23-year-old.
Pappas reached double digit wins in 14 of the 16 full seasons he played, reaching 17 wins in 1971 and 1972. In 1973, he finished 7-12 and retired after the Chicago Cubs released him the following spring. It was just one of three seasons his record was below .500. Pappas had a career ERA of 3.40, with his best mark coming in 1968 when he finished with a 2.38 ERA. He still ranks 37th in Major League history with 43 career shutouts.
Pappas was also involved in a personal tragedy after baseball when his wife Carole disappeared in 1982. No trace of her belongings or her car could be located. At the time, it was theorized she may have been the victim of the “Ripper Crew,” a satanic sect of serial killers associated with John Wayne Gacy. However, five years later, her care and her remains were found in a shallow pod in Illinois. Her death was ruled an accidental drowning after an accident.
Pappas appeared on the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 1979 and received five votes in his only year on the ballot. He was inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame in 1985. Pappas is survived by his second wife, Judi, and three children.