Milt Pappas

Baseball legend Milt Pappas is one of those few players in the history of baseball to throw a no hitter. He reflects back on his entire career with four teams and playing from 1957-1974. One of the legends of baseball who played for four teams the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago Cubs.

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Chris Yandek: First off how are you?

Milt Pappas: “Fine Chris.”

CY: You started your baseball career signing with the Baltimore Orioles for 4000 dollars which was a lot of money back then. Tell me about what you remember when you were signed by the Orioles in 1957?

MP: “Well, I was right out of high school. I was excited. You say $4000 was a lot of money back then, but I beg differ with you because today the minimum baseball salary is $385,000. It’s not relative at all the way we were treated back then as to now. I was a kid and here I am going to the Major Leagues, which was totally unheard of at that time. I thank Paul Richards, my first manager for changing the thoughts of baseball people that you don’t have to play in the minor leagues for four, five, or six years to come to the Major Leagues. I was tickled to death.”

CY: On August 10th, 1957 you made your big league debut against the New York Yankees as a relief pitcher. What was it like starting your first big league game against the New York Yankees back then?

MP: “Well, I was quite shocked because I thought, Paul Richards for me being 18 years old out of high school would pitch me against Kansas City or Washington the two lowly teams in the American League. I for sure thought he wouldn’t let me pitch against the big bad New York Yankees. ON August 10th, 1957 there were 40,000 people in the stands in Baltimore and I was told to go warm up in the seventh inning and we were losing at the time. I don’t remember what the score was, but I told George Zuverink to hang in there and will score some runs and convincing with people in the stands.

With Mickey Mantle, I never saw a man hit a ball so hard as he hit the face of the scoreboard earlier in the game. I was told I was in the ball game and I almost fainted on the mound. I came down from the dug out and tripped on the stairs. Here I am 18 years old walking out to the mound in Memorial Stadium in Baltimore facing the big bad New York Yankees. I was kind of mad for Paul Richard’s doing it at the time. The first four guys I pitched to in organized baseball were Enos Slaughter, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Bill Skowron.”

CY: You posted a 10-10 record your first season in the Major League’s which was the first of 11 straight seasons where you posted double digit wins.

MP: “To the dismay of many critics who thought I wouldn’t last or be doing much of anything in the Major Leagues, I obviously had to prove a point. I spent the two weeks in the minor leagues in 1957 and my teammates wouldn’t talk to me because of the fact I was 18 years old. They were struggling for years in the minors before making it to the Major Leagues. I wasn’t appreciated till I won a few ball games and knew I had a point to prove that I deserved to be there. I was tickled to death for what I did. I thank Paul Richard’s for my stay in baseball. He put me on a pitch count my first year in the Major Leagues. We pitched every fourth day and started 45 games a year. Today they start 15 to 20 games a year.”

CY: You became the ace of the Baltimore Orioles staff and started the 1965 MLB All Star Game. What was it like starting the All Star game for the American League?

MP: “In 1965 I did start for the American League and that was obviously a thrill to not only being voted to the All Star game, but to be the starting pitcher. It was quite an honor.”

CY: You were traded to the Cincinnati Reds in a blockbuster deal on December 9, 1965 that sent Frank Robinson to Baltimore. What was it like adjusting to your new home in Cincinnati?

MP: “Well, I was very disappointed. When I got the news of the trade, Steve Barber another Baltimore Orioles pitcher wanted to get traded and didn’t want to play there anymore. I figured if anyone was going to get traded it would have been Steve Barber, but low and behold I got traded for Frank Robinson. It was a blockbuster trade and obviously we are talking about different eras. When I got my contract from Cincinnati, I felt I would get a nice raise because of the trade for Frank Robinson, but it was the same amount that I began playing for with Baltimore. I said oh my lord. What is in store for me? I got booed every time I pitched because I was traded for Frank Robinson. My Stay in Cincinnati was not that glorious.”

CY: While with the Cincinnati Reds you stated that the Cincinnati Reds were in violation of their contracts with the players because they weren’t allowing them to fly first-class. Tell me about that.

MP: “Well, it wasn’t a violation. The problem was that the coaches, newspaper reporters, and managers were in first class and the ball players were in the back of the plane. It was totally ridiculous as these guys played in 100 degree weather and should be allowed the opportunity to fly in first class. First class was taken up by newspaper and TV people. I filed a grievance and obviously another strike against me in Cincinnati for doing what I did. I wasn’t liked by the media or the fans and it kept getting worse.”

CY: You were traded to the Atlanta Braves on June 11, 1968 where you lead them to the NL West Title. Tell me about that whole experience.

MP: “It was a change of scenery obviously. I was back with my buddy Paul Richards who was a general manager for the Atlanta Braves at the time. I guess the fact I was a player rep in Baltimore, Cincinnati, and now in Atlanta I wasn’t very well liked by management and by Paul Richards unfortunately. He didn’t like Marvin Miller at all and was very vocal at the players association with Marvin Miller. Unfortunately a lot of it was taken out on me. I hurt myself in spring training as I got hit by a pitch from the pitching machine. For some reason the team doctor didn’t think I was hurt enough to go to a doctor. I couldn’t throw a ball as it hurt so much. I found out four weeks later that my finger was broken.

I wasn’t very happy with the Atlanta Braves organization at that point. Unfortunately I had a broken finger and wasn’t taken care of. I was told not to throw or pick up a ball for five weeks, but two weeks later I am throwing and a ball and three weeks later back in a ball game. It was just another decline and a bad chapter of what happened in Cincinnati moved into Atlanta.”

CY: After some injuries you were purchased by the Chicago Cubs on June 23, 1970. You became the Wrigley Field Wonder posting a 10-8 record in your first stint as a starting pitcher in Chicago and than won 17 games the next two years in each of those seasons. What do you remember about your first season with the Chicago Cubs?

MP: “I was just thrilled to death as it was a change of scenery. A friend of mine Blake Cullen was a traveling secretary who wanted me over there badly. I played with a tremendous team with the likes of Ernie Banks and the people we had there. Wrigley Field was fantastic. The fans were just unbelievable. I just loved every minute of it. In 1972 I shut out the Cincinnati Reds in a 1-0 win the one time they came here. The fans were outstanding and the press was great. It was the best time of my baseball career. I wish I could have played my whole career there.”

CY: You won your 200th game and pitched a no hitter in 1972 with the Chicago Cubs against the San Diego Padres on September 2, 1972 . Tell me about the experience of pitching a no hitter and being added to that group of other pitchers with no hitters.

MP: “It was the only no hitter pitched in my career going back to high school. The only unfortunate part of the no hitter was the fact that I had a perfect game going into the 9th inning. I had retired the first 26 men in a row. I had one ball and two strikes on the 27th hitter, which would have been a perfect game, but the idiot umpire Bruce Flemming decided to call all three pitches on the outside corner balls and spoiled a perfect game. Bruce Flemming walked that man and the 28th man Jerry Justad popped up and Carmen Fanzone made the catch. I think Ron Santo epitomized the no hitter by saying after the game it’s the first time he has ever had a let down after a no hitter.”

CY: On April 1, 1974, you were released by the Chicago Cubs, which ended your baseball career. Tell me about what you thought when the Chicago Cubs released you and did you try to get other teams to give you a chance to pitch again.

MP: “I was very disappointed when the Chicago Cubs released me. I was not very fond of Whitey Lockman. The whole spring I think he talked to me two times about what my role should be. I told Whitey that I have won 110 games in the American League and 99 games in the National League. I would like to have the opportunity to win one more game. It would give me 100 wins in each week and after that whatever I can do to help the Chicago Cubs I would do that.

I just would like to win that one ball game and go from there and that’s the last time we talked. Unfortunately a week before the season when everyone has their roster set, Whitey choose to release me. I had a good spring up till that point. There were 15 pitchers in camp at that time. I had won more games then all of them. I was extremely disappointed. The fact that I was a player representative didn’t help my case as one team contacted me, which was the San Diego Padres. Mr. Ray Crock was the founder of McDonalds and I had met him on many occasions and was a friend who wanted me to come to San Diego. All they wanted to pay me was the rest of my salary with Chicago and I was a free agent. I would have to fly my family back and fourth, rent a car, and a house.

Ray Crock got on the phone and said, ‘What’s the matter? You don’t like me Milt?’ I love you Ray, but the offer your making me is ridiculous. I slept on the offer and called Ray back the next day, and I said I will come to San Diego, but you give a McDonalds franchise in Chicago. He started laughing and said, ‘That offer was as ridiculous as the one you made me.’ That was the only team that was interested in me.”

CY: What do you think of baseball the way it is today and the high salaries players are getting these days and do you still watch the game?

MP: “I still watch the game. I think it’s ridiculous as the ball players are demanding what they want to do. They go to the general manner saying they want to leave or be closer to home. If we tried back during the time I played the general manager would told you don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out. There is over 40 percent of Latin American’s in baseball today, which I have nothing against as they want to play. The American kids there is Nintendo, girls, soccer, cars, and so much more then playing baseball which is sad. It’s so far out of whack. You go by these baseball fields today where these youngsters play and their lighted and manicured. We played on stones and gravel. We only had one field where I grew up in Detroit, Michigan and that was the high school field. When the big kids came you got kicked off the field. You go by these fields today and their empty and that is sad.”

CY: Finally, tell me what you do to keep busy these days?

MP: “Well, I have been with Prime Source Building Products for the last 19 years. I sell nails and screws. We have 40 warehouses through out the USA. People are surprised I am still working at 65, but you are talking about the wrong era. The highest salary I had was $65,000 and today the minimum is $385,000. I wouldn’t give up anything for what I did in baseball. There are so many teams and players that don’t belong in Major League Baseball today. I think two teams would have to go bankrupt to bring everyone back to reality. I don’t understand if so many teams are losing money why someone isn’t doing something about it.”