To call Mike Cuellar one of the greatest pitchers in Baltimore Orioles history is saying a lot, considering how the Birds’ powerful pitching staff was the backbone of the team’s American League dominance in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
The native of Las Villas, Cuba, was a force on the mound during his era despite a slow start to his major league career, however. He made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 1959 at age 22, then spent the next four years floundering in the minors. A trade to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964 — Cuellar was 27 — led to his finally making it to the big leagues to stay.
But it wasn’t until he was dealt to the Houston Astros in 1965 that he began to establish himself. He spent four seasons with the Astros, during which he won 37 games with a 2.74 ERA, and was named an All-Star in 1967, when he went 16-11.
Cuellar was then traded to the Baltimore Orioles, where he spent the next eight seasons and became a star on a star-filled staff led by Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. During this time, Cuellar established himself as one of the best pitchers in the league, winning 20 games in four different seasons — and 18 games each in two other years — and helped lead the Orioles to three consecutive World Series appearances from 1969 to 1971.
Cuellar won the Cy Young Award in 1969 after posting a record of 23-11 with a 2.38 ERA — though he actually had a better year in 1970, when he went 24-8, 3.48 in 40 starts.
He signed as a free agent with the California Angels in 1977, then retired after the season at age 40 with a 15-year career record of 185-130 and 3.14 ERA.
Cuellar, nicknamed “Crazy Horse” by teammates for his superstitious nature, was known for his impeccable control and ability to keep hitters off-balance with his assortment of pitches. He finished his career with 1,632 strikeouts and just 708 walks. He died in 2010 at age 72.
Won the Cy Young Award in 1969 with a 23-11, 2.38 ERA
Won at least 20 games in four different seasons
Four-time All-Star (1967, 1970, 1971, 1974)
Led the American League in wins in 1970 with a career-high 24
Helped lead the Orioles to three consecutive World Series appearances from 1969 to 1971
Inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame in 1982