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Mike Cuellar

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Miguel Ángel Cuellar Santana (May 8, 1937 – April 2, 2010) [KWAY-ar] was a Cuban left-handed starting pitcher who spent fifteen seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) with the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, Baltimore Orioles and California Angels. His best years were spent with the Orioles,[1] helping them capture five American League East Division titles, three consecutive American League (AL) pennants and the 1970 World Series Championship. He shared the 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.

Professional careerEdit

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.[3] 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.[4]

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 AstrosEdit

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.[5] The last of them was a 3–2 complete game over the Cardinals at the Astrodome on June 25, in which he ptiched a career-high 15 strikeouts.[6] In his 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 of Sammy Ellis to lead off the top of the fifth.[7] Cuellar finished at 12–10, with a 2.22 earned run average (ERA) which was second in the National League to Sandy Koufax's 1.73.[8]

Cuellar improved his win-loss record to sixteen victories in 1967 for the Astros, setting a team record for left-handed pitchers. (This stood for six years until Dave Roberts surpassed it with seventeen in 1973).[9] He made the first of four Major League Baseball All-Star Game appearances at Anaheim Stadium on July 11. He came into the contest in relief of Chris Short in the eleventh. 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 twelfth inning.[10]

Baltimore OriolesEdit

Cuellar was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in December 1968. Finally, Cuellar established a permanent role in the starting rotation with the Orioles. The Orioles began one of their strongest sequences of years in pro baseball in 1969. Then, in August, Cuellar accomplised a sequence of 35 batters gotten out in a row. This one was ended on August 10 by the batter César Tovar of the Minnesota Twins. Tovar also got his team's only hit in Cuellar's one-hit shutout against the Twins.

During the baseball season of 1969, Cuellar achieved a win-loss record of 23–11, struck out 182 batters, and recorded an excellent 2.38 earned run average. For his outstanding year, Cuellar tied the Detroit Tigers' pitcher Denny McLain for the American League Cy Young Award.[11] 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 very first American League Championship Series, in 1969 against the Minnesota Twins, but he recorded "no decision" for good or for bad in this game. The Orioles won this game 4–3 in 12 innings, well-after Cuellar had left the game. This was Cuellar's only appearance in this series while the Orioles were sweeping the Twins three games to none.

In the World Series against the New York Mets, Cuellar won Game One in a 4–1 game, and he left Game Four after seven innings, trailing 1–0. However, the Orioles tied the game 1–1, giving Cuellar a "no decision" game, but the Mets won the game 2–1 in the tenth inning. In the next game, the completed the Mets' big upset in the World Series, winning the series four games to one.

Cuellar's win-loss record was 24–8 in 1970 with a 3.48 ERA and 190 strikeouts. Cuellar lead the league in victorues and in complete games, but he finished just in fourth place in rather-odd 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 1 of the 1970 American League Championship Series, but Cuellar helped a huge amount with his bat. Cuellar hit the only grand slam home run by any pitcher in a League Championship Series thus far 2010. Also, since the designated hitter has become so well established in the American league, it seems to be likely that no other AL pitcher will ever have the chance again.

Nevertheless, Cuellar did not pitch long enough to earn a win in the championship series, since the Orioles manager, Earl Weaver, removed Cuellar from Game 1 during the fifth inning even though the Orioles had a 9–6 lead. Also, since the Orioles swept the Championship Series, there was no need for Cuellar to pitch in it again.

Cuellar had a rocky start in Game 2 of the 1970 World Series, with Weaver again pulling him out of the game again, this time in the third inning. Cuellar was again hit hard early in Game 5, giving up 3 runs in the first inning. Cuellar and his pitching coach decided to stop thowing his screwball for the rest of the game that day. Pitching with just his fastball, curveball, and changeup, Cuellar shut out the Reds for the next eight innings to defeat them 9–3. Thus, the Orioles were World Series Champions, 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 Eastern Division for the third year in a row. Then, in the American League Championship Series against the Oakland Athletics, Cuellar won Game Two by the score of 5–1.

However, Cuellar pitched and was the losing pitcher in Game Three and Game Seven of the 1971 World Series against the Pittsburgh 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 twenty-game winners in their starting rotation, and their manager, Earl Weaver, decided to continue his usual pitching rotation that had already been established.

During 1969–73, Cuellar was a part of a very strong pitching staff, teaming with Jim Palmer and Dave McNally to form the heart of the finest starting rotation that he Orioles have ever had. These three pitchers combined for eight individual twenty-victory seasons in the three years of 1969 through 71, and they racked up a combined win-loss record of 188–72 (0.723 winning percentage) record—while the rest of the Orioles' pitching staff recorded a very good 130–92 record (0.586 winning percentage).

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.

Cuellar's baseball career from 1972 onwardsEdit

Cuellar won of 18 games apiece in both of the baseball seasons of 1972 and 1973. In 1972, the Orioles did not make it to the playoffs, but they were back again in 1973. Unfortunately, in Game Three of the American League Championship Series, Cuellar pitched all of quite long 11-inning game, but he lost by a score of 2–1 to the Oakland Athletics.

Cuellar had a great pitching season in 1974, finishing with a win-loss record of 22–10, with a 3.11 ERA, but with just 106 strikeouts. Cuellar pitched 20 complete games, including five shutouts, but just earning sixth place in the quite odd 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 Oakland Athletics, who had established a dynasty of their own in the Western Division, winning the division four years in a row, and going to 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, and hence the Championship Series three games to one – with the final game again resulting in a very tight 2–1 final score.

After the followsing two sub-par seasons, Cuellar was released by Baltimore. He signed up 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 Puerto Rican League and Mexican Leagues.

During his 15-season career Cuellar had a win-loss record of 185–130 with a 3.14 ERA, 1632 strikeouts, 172 complete games, 36 shutouts, and 11 saves in 453 games and 2808 innings pitched. In five American League Championship Series and in three World Series, Cuellar won four games and lost four with 56 strikeouts and a 2.85 ERA in 12 games.

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, sportswriter 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.

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.[12]

Other career highlightsEdit

  • A four-time member of the American League All-Star Team (1967, 1970–71, and 1974)
  • Led the American League in winning percentage in 1974.
  • Finished eighth in the voting for the American League MVP in 1969, and tenth in the voting for MVP in 1974.
  • Became the first player to hit a grand slam in any League Championship Series in 1970 against the Minnesota Twins. He remains the only pitcher to hit a grand slam in any League Championship Series.


  • I gave Mike Cuellar more chances than my first wife. – Earl Weaver, former Orioles manager.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. Obituary Washington Post, April 4, 2010.
  2. Obituary Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2010; page A31.
  3. Philadelphia Phillies 14, Cincinnati Reds 9; Saturday, April 18, 1959 (D) at Crosley Field – Retrosheet.
  4. Milwaukee Braves 7, Cincinnati Reds 4; Tuesday, April 21, 1959 (D) at County Stadium – Retrosheet.
  5. Mike Cuellar (1966 pitching gamelogs) –
  6. Houston Astros 3, St. Louis Cardinals 2; Saturday, June 25, 1966 (N) at Astrodome – Retrosheet.
  7. Houston Astros 4, Cincinnati Reds 3 (2nd of 2); Wednesday, September 28, 1966 (N) at Crosley Field – Retrosheet.
  8. 1966 National League Pitching Leaders –
  9. Mike Cuellar (player profile) –
  10. National League 2, American League 1 (15 innings); All-Star Game; Tuesday, July 11, 1967 (D) at Anaheim Stadium – Retrosheet.
  11. "Cuellar, McLain Involved in First Young Award Tie", The Free-Lance Star, 6 November 1969, p. 8. Retrieved on 22 December 2011.
  12. Mike Cuellar – Orioles pitching great Mike Cuellar dies at 72


Preceded by:
Denny McLain
American League Cy Young Award
(with Denny McLain)
Succeeded by:
Jim Perry
Preceded by:
Denny McLain
American League Wins Champion
(with Dave McNally & Jim Perry)
Succeeded by:
Mickey Lolich

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