This is my first special request card, courtesy of my Uncle Jeff, who called last night to inform me that he had lost an entire evening while reading this blog and my NumerOlogy website. I'm happy to accommodate his request, since he has been a die-hard Orioles fan for his entire life and has played an important role in my own fandom. This Steve Stone card was one of the first (and oldest) cards in my collection, part of the mysterious stack of 1980s cardboard that came into my possession before I was even following baseball myself. It may have come from Uncle Jeff; at any rate, he's augmented my collection greatly throughout the years, including the recent generous donation of the entirety of his own collection. My uncle got me involved in fantasy baseball ten years ago, and I always look forward to talking sports with him at family gatherings.
In recent years, he's lost a lot of his passion for the sport, having been disillusioned by the usual suspects: the labor disputes, the steroid taint, and of course a decade of mismanagement by the Orioles' brass. So it was a great compliment when Uncle Jeff called and told me that my writing reminded him of the good times, the rich and colorful history of the Baltimore Orioles. In that spirit, he asked me to feature Steve Stone in this space. He vividly recalls Stone's magical 1980 season, in which he won a team-record 25 games and posted a 3.23 ERA to capture the last Cy Young Award to date by an Oriole. He owned one-quarter of the O's 100 victories, as the team fell three games short of the division champion Yankees.
My uncle described Stone's season as amazing, and it truly was, especially in the context of his own career. Setting aside 1980, Steve's career high in wins was 15 in 1977 (with the White Sox). In eleven years, only three times did his ERA meet the league average. Most incredible - and unfortunate - of all, Stoney pitched only twelve games in 1981 before calling it a career. The card at the top of this entry is his last.
The truth is that Steve Stone sacrificed everything for one great season. He consciously chose to throw more curveballs in 1980. As he said later, "I knew it would ruin my arm. But one year of 25-7 is worth five of 15-15." Still, the amount of pitches he threw were probably just as damaging as the type of pitch he threw. Stone started 37 games that year, five more than any other year in his career. In those 37 games he pitched 250 and two-thirds innings, obliterating his previous best of 214 and one-third. That kind of workload is bound to take a toll on a 32-year-old pitcher.
Uncle Jeff's warm remembrances would seem to indicate that Steve Stone had a point. Given the choice between one year of greatness and five years of mediocrity, what would you choose?