Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mike Cuellar, 2005 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites #136

On the list of promising sights as the first full week of Orioles Spring Training commences, 71-year-old Mike Cuellar in an O's uniform instructing the lefthanded pitchers of today and tomorrow is right up there. No matter how far the team has fallen in the past decade-plus, it still has a rich and successful history to draw upon. Not only is the screwball-tossing southpaw sharing his knowledge and expertise with younger generations, but he is serving as a living bridge between the model franchise of the 1970s and the club that is now taking baby steps toward being a potential superpower in the 2010s.

Though you might expect that Cuellar has more to offer to the younger pitchers in camp, guys like Brian Matusz and Rich Hill, today it was 37-year-old Jamie Walker that spent the most time picking the Cuban's brain. Walker is a true rarity: a professional baseball player who is a student of the game's history. When he signed with the Orioles as a free agent two years ago, he apparently devoured a few books about the team's past. He was effusive in his praise of Cuellar and his storied career, and acknowledged that pitchers like him "set the foundation" for Walker and his contemporaries. He also expressed awe for the amazing durability of pitchers from that era, who often exceeded 300 innings and completed upwards of 20 starts per season.

It's really a breath of fresh air when the oldest pitcher in a team's camp (who is also one of the highest-paid), says something like, "I don't know it all." I'm not sure whether Walker is healthy and able to rebound from his miserable 2008 season, but I like his chances that much better with a 185-game winner offering suggestions for his release point and grip.


Commish said...

Nice story about Walker. When he says most guys in camp don't know who Mike Cuellar is, it makes me blink. I believe it, I'm just amazed.

Mike Cuellar is 71? I didn't need to hear that. My Cuellar stories... One of the first games I ever saw at the Astrodome was in June 1968. My dad scored some company seats right behind home plate, I mean RIGHT behind home plate. We sit down and just before the game starts I notice that the two guys sitting next to us, separated by a couple of empty seats look familiar. It was Cuellar and Fred Gladding. Cuellar was charting pitches (he started the next night) and Gladding was kibitzing, he was hurt at the time and had nothing better to do I guess. But guys were dressed in those shiny gray pants and short sleeve turtle-neck shirts that a lot of ballplayers wore then. I still have the autographs I got on my program cover.
Some years later I was at Arlington Stadium with my family for an O's game. We were in the front row of the outfield seats and the O's pitchers were doing their warning track running. My little brother kept yelling at Cuellar, asking for a ball every time he passed below us. Finally on one sprint Cuellar stopped, tossed a ball to my brother and asked him to please stop yelling.

Good times.

Kevin said...

Bob - Those are some good Cuellar stories! My father, for some reason, doesn't have many fuzzy memories of watching him pitch. He says that "you could tell right away whether he had his stuff or not on any given night". Of course, the statistics indicate that the Birds would be lucky to have a Mike Cuellar pitching for them now, but who am I to say?

Anonymous said...

Al Dark: "Cuellar's fastball couldn't black an eye from 5 feet away.''
Cuellar: Get his ass up there.''
Who can forget Cuellar's wind-blown grand slam in the playoffs against the Twinkies.
A great hurler who helped make the O's the best in the world.

Jeanene said...

Mike Cuellar is my grand father that I haven't seen since I was born. Mike if you see this please look for me.. Jeanene