Mike Cuellar

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Mike Cuellar
Mike Cuellar.jpg
Born: (1937-05-08)May 8, 1937
Santa Clara, Cuba
Died: April 2, 2010(2010-04-02) (aged 72)
Orlando, Florida
Batted: Left Threw: Left
MLB debut
April 18, 1959, for the Cincinnati Reds
Last MLB appearance
May 3, 1977, for the California Angels
MLB statistics
Win–loss record185–130
Earned run average3.14
Career highlights and awards

Miguel Ángel Cuellar Santana (May 8, 1937 – April 2, 2010) [KWAY-ar] was a Cuban professional baseball player. He played for 15 seasons in Major League Baseball as a left-handed pitcher in 1959 and from 1964 through 1977, most notably as a member of the Baltimore Orioles dynasty that won three consecutive American League pennants from 1969 to 1971 and, won the World Series in 1970.[1] He also played for the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros and California Angels.

Cuellar shared the American League (AL) Cy Young Award in 1969 and won 20-or-more games in a season four times from 1969 to 1974. He was a part of the last starting rotation to feature four pitchers with at least twenty victories each in one season.[2] Cuellar, nicknamed Crazy Horse while with the Orioles, ranks among Baltimore's top five career leaders in wins (143), strikeouts (1,011), shutouts (30) and innings pitched (2,028), and trails only Dave McNally among left-handers in wins and shutouts. In 1982, Cuellar was inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame.[3]

Professional career[edit]

A clever pitcher with an excellent screwball and change-up, Cuellar was signed by the Cincinnati Reds as an amateur free agent in 1957 after drawing attention with a no-hitter he pitched for an army team in 1955 while serving in the Cuban army during the Batista regime.

Cuellar made his major league debut with Cincinnati in a 14–9 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Crosley Field on April 18, 1959. He entered the contest in relief of Don Newcombe in the second inning with the Reds losing 4–2. In his two innings of work, Cuellar surrendered a grand slam to Gene Freese in the third and a two-run double to Al Schroll in the fourth.[4] His only other appearance with the Reds came three days later in its 7–4 defeat to the Milwaukee Braves at County Stadium on April 21. Again he pitched two innings in relief, but he gave up two runs.[5]

Cuellar next spent five years in the minor leagues and Mexican baseball, including periods with the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians farm systems. He was acquired in 1964 by the St. Louis Cardinals, where his win-loss record was 5–5, primarily as a relief pitcher, while the Cardinals made a late-season surge as the Philadelphia Phillies collapsed in September. This took the Cardinals and Cuellar to the 1964 World Series.

Houston Astros[edit]

Cuellar was traded, along with Ron Taylor, to the Houston Astros for Hal Woodeshick and Chuck Taylor at the June 15 trade deadline in 1965. Upon joining the starting rotation in 1966 for the Astros, Cuellar won his first six decisions.[6] The last of these victories was a 3–2 complete game over the Cardinals at the Astrodome on June 25, in which he recorded a career-high 15 strikeouts.[7] In Cuellar's final start of the campaign, a 4–3 road win over Cincinnati in the second match of a September 28 twi-night doubleheader, he hit his first major-league home run, off Sammy Ellis, to lead off the top of the fifth.[8] Cuellar finished at 12–10, with a 2.22 earned run average (ERA), which was second in the National League to Sandy Koufax' 1.73.[9]

Cuellar improved his win total to 16 victories in 1967 for the Astros, setting a team record for left-handed pitchers. (This stood until Dave Roberts surpassed it with 17 in 1973).[10] He made the first of four Major League Baseball All-Star Game appearances at Anaheim Stadium on July 11. Cuellar came into the contest in relief of Chris Short in the 11th. Of the seven batters he faced, the only baserunner he allowed in the two shutout innings he pitched was Carl Yastrzemski, who hit a two-out single in the 12th inning.[11]

Baltimore Orioles[edit]

Cuellar was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in December 1968, whereupon he established a permanent role with one of baseball's up-and-coming franchises, as he won a spot in the Orioles' starting rotation. With the acquisition of Cuellar, joining the likes of Jim Palmer and Dave McNally, and sluggers Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell, the Orioles began a three-year run atop the American League in 1969. In August of that year, Cuellar accomplished a sequence where he retired 35 batters in a row, without issuing a walk or giving up a hit. The streak was ended on August 10 by César Tovar of the Minnesota Twins, as Cuellar was three outs away from recording his first career no-hitter; Tovar's hit, which came in the top of ninth inning, was the only one the Twins would manage against Cuellar in his complete-game shutout (a 2–0 home victory).

During the 1969 season, Cuellar achieved a win-loss record of 23–11, struck out 182 batters, and recorded a 2.38 ERA, as Baltimore won a club-record 109 games and the very first American League East Division title (prior to the season, both the American League and National League had added two teams and been divided into six-team East and West Divisions). For his outstanding year, Cuellar tied the Detroit Tigers' pitcher Denny McLain for the American League Cy Young Award.[12] Cuellar becoming the first pitcher born in Latin America to win the Cy Young Award. (Note that following this tie in the voting, the system for voting was changed in a way that did not eliminate the chances for ties for the Cy Young Award, but it did make this tie far more unlikely. No two pitchers have ever tied for the Cy Young Award in either Major League since then.)

Cuellar started Game One of the American League Championship Series against the West Division Champion Minnesota Twins, but he recorded a "no-decision." The Orioles won this game 4–3 in 12 innings, due to a Paul Blair RBI single, long after Cuellar had left the game. This was the left-hander's only appearance in this series, as the Orioles went on to sweep the Twins three games to none en route to the American League Pennant and a berth in the World Series.

In the World Series against the New York Mets, Cuellar started Game One and was the winning pitcher in a 4–1 victory. He also started Game Four, but left after seven innings, trailing 1–0. However, the Orioles tied the game 1–1, giving Cuellar a "no-decision" in a game the Mets eventually went on to win, 2–1, in 10 innings. In the next game, the Mets completed one of the biggest World Series upsets ever, winning the 1969 Series four games to one against the heavily favored Orioles.

Cuellar's win-loss record was 24–8 in 1970 with a 3.48 ERA and 190 strikeouts. Cuellar lead the league in victories and in complete games, but finished in fourth place in the voting for the American League Cy Young Award. Once again, the Orioles swept the American League Championship Series in 1970 over the Minnesota Twins, three games to none. Cuellar's pitching was rather ineffective in Game One of the 1970 American League Championship Series, but Cuellar helped a huge amount with his bat. Cuellar hit the only grand slam by any pitcher in a League Championship Series thus far as of 2020.

Nevertheless, Cuellar did not pitch long enough to earn a win in the Championship Series game, because Orioles manager Earl Weaver removed Cuellar from Game One during the fifth inning, even though the Orioles had a 9–6 lead.

Cuellar had a rocky start in Game Two of the 1970 World Series against the upstart National League Champion Cincinnati Reds, with Weaver again pulling him out of the game again, this time in the third inning. In Game Five, Cuellar was again hit hard early, giving up three runs to the Reds in the first inning. It was then that his pitching coach, George Bamberger, advised Cuellar to stop throwing his screwball for the rest of the game. Cuellar settled himself down and followed Bamberger's advice by relying on his fastball, curveball, and changeup, to shut out the Reds for the next eight innings for an impressive 9-3 complete game victory that clinched the World Series title for the Orioles, winning four games to one.

In 1971, Cuellar's regular-season win-loss record was 20–9 with a 3.08 ERA and 124 strikeouts as the Orioles won the American League East Division for the third year in a row. In the American League Championship Series against the Oakland Athletics, Cuellar won Game Two by the score of 5–1. The Orioles won the American League Championship for the third year in a row and earned a berth in the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In the 1971 Series, however, Cuellar pitched and was the losing pitcher in Game Three and Game Seven against the Pirates. Cuellar and the Orioles were narrowly edged in the decisive seventh game by a score of just 2–1. This was the very unusual year in which the Orioles had four 20-game winners in their starting rotation, and their manager, Earl Weaver, decided to continue his usual pitching rotation that had already been established.

During the five-year stretch of 1969–73, Cuellar was a part of a very strong Orioles pitching staff, teaming with future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and Dave McNally to form the heart of the finest starting rotation that the Orioles have ever had. Cuellar, Palmer and McNally combined for eight individual 20-win seasons in the 1969, 1970 and 1971 seasons, as the Orioles won the American League championship and advanced to the World Series all three years. Together, the trio racked up a combined win-loss record of 188–72 (.723 winning percentage), while the rest of the Orioles' pitching staff recorded a very good 130–92 record (.586 winning percentage).

On May 29, 1970, Cuellar became one of only 20 American League pitchers to throw a four strike-out inning.[13]

In 1971, Pat Dobson joined the Orioles, and he posted a 20–8 record as a starting pitcher, forming the Orioles' one-year-only "Big Four" of 20-game winners. Only one other team in major league history, the 1920 Chicago White Sox, has ever had four 20-game winners.

After 1972[edit]

Cuellar won 18 games apiece in both the 1972 and 1973 baseball seasons. In 1972, the Orioles did not make it to the playoffs, finishing behind the Detroit Tigers, but they were back again in 1973, winning the AL Eastern Division title. In Game Three of the American League Championship Series against the defending World Series Champion Oakland Athletics, Cuellar pitched every inning of an 11-inning game, ultimately losing by a score of 2–1 to the A's.

Cuellar had a great pitching season in 1974, finishing with a win-loss record of 22–10 and a 3.11 ERA, but with just 106 strikeouts. Cuellar pitched 20 complete games, including five shutouts, earning a sixth-place finish in the Cy Young Award voting that year. The Orioles won the Eastern Division once again, and they faced off again in the 1974 American League Championship Series against the Athletics, who were in the midst of establishing a dynasty of their own, winning the fourth of five Western Division crowns in a row, and winning the World Series three years in a row.

Cuellar split a pair of decisions against the Athletics, winning in Game One but losing the decisive Game Four; hence the Orioles lost the Championship Series to Oakland three games to one – with the final game again resulting in a very tight 2–1 score.

After two sub-par seasons in 1975 and 1976, Cuellar was released by Baltimore. He signed as a free agent with the California Angels in 1977. Cuellar was released that May after appearing in only two games. Attempting a comeback at age 42 in 1979, he had a combined 7–6 record with three clubs in the Inter-American League, Puerto Rican League and Mexican League.

During his 15-season career Cuellar had a win-loss record of 185–130 with a 3.14 ERA, 1,632 strikeouts, 172 complete games, 36 shutouts, and 11 saves in 453 games and 2,808 innings pitched. In five American League Championship Series and three World Series appearances, Cuellar pitched in 12 games, winning four games and losing four with a 2.85 ERA while recording 56 strikeouts.

Also, on August 10, 1971, Cuellar threw the pitch that Harmon Killebrew hit for his 500th career home run.

In a 1976 Esquire magazine article, columnist Harry Stein published an "All Time All-Star Argument Starter", consisting of five ethnic baseball teams. Cuellar, a Cuban, was the left-handed pitcher on Stein's Latino team.

Later life[edit]

After his baseball career ended, Cuellar resided in Orlando, Florida, and he was an active participant in the Hispanic Heritage Month event.

On April 2, 2010, Cuellar died of stomach cancer at the Orlando Regional Medical Center in Orlando, Florida. He was the third of the Orioles' four 20-game winners in 1971 to perish, following Dave McNally in 2002 and Pat Dobson in 2006. Only Jim Palmer survives them.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Obituary Washington Post, April 4, 2010.
  2. ^ Obituary Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2010; page A31.
  3. ^ "Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame at MLB.com". mlb.com. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  4. ^ Philadelphia Phillies 14, Cincinnati Reds 9; Saturday, April 18, 1959 (D) at Crosley Field – Retrosheet.
  5. ^ Milwaukee Braves 7, Cincinnati Reds 4; Tuesday, April 21, 1959 (D) at County Stadium – Retrosheet.
  6. ^ Mike Cuellar (1966 pitching gamelogs) – Baseball-Reference.com.
  7. ^ Houston Astros 3, St. Louis Cardinals 2; Saturday, June 25, 1966 (N) at Astrodome – Retrosheet.
  8. ^ Houston Astros 4, Cincinnati Reds 3 (2nd of 2); Wednesday, September 28, 1966 (N) at Crosley Field – Retrosheet.
  9. ^ 1966 National League Pitching Leaders – Baseball-Reference.com.
  10. ^ Mike Cuellar (player profile) – AstrosDaily.com.
  11. ^ National League 2, American League 1 (15 innings); All-Star Game; Tuesday, July 11, 1967 (D) at Anaheim Stadium – Retrosheet.
  12. ^ "Cuellar, McLain Involved in First Young Award Tie". The Free-Lance Star. Associated Press. 6 November 1969. p. 8. Retrieved 22 December 2011.
  13. ^ http://www.baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats19.shtml
  14. ^ "Mike Cuellar – Orioles pitching great Mike Cuellar dies at 72". Archived from the original on 2012-07-19. Retrieved 2010-04-02.

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