Pappas gives us his life, warts and all

November 28, 1999|By JOHN STEADMAN

There was a total self-assurance to Milt Pappas, almost approaching arrogance. Either it was natural or contrived -- an effort to be mature beyond his tender years, a swashbuckling big-time attitude. At the age of 18, only days out of high school and a young Oriole of imposing presence, he took to calling manager Paul Richards by his first name.

Pappas has now told his life story to not one ghostwriter but two, and the recitation has been published by Angel Press of Oshkosh, Wis., under the title "Out At Home, or the Triumph and Tragedy in the Life of a Major Leaguer." He confesses to actions he's not proud of -- such as running around on his wife, taking up with a Playboy bunny and airline stewardesses while citing time and place for such dalliances.

He writes that the first Mrs. Pappas became an alcoholic, a condition he acknowledges that he may have contributed to because of his strong personality. Carole Pappas was among the missing for five years, until her body was found in a car at the bottom of a pond only minutes from where they lived in Wheaton, Ill. Pappas underwent interrogation and lie-detector tests, but investigating police exonerated him.

It was believed that Carole, mother of his two children, had too much to drink that morning after leaving a hair salon, made the wrong turn at a red light, going left instead of right, and ran the car into the water. The previous day she had had dental surgery, and it's thought the drugs administered, along with the drinking, disoriented her.

Pappas was to marry again, have a daughter, but that relationship ended in divorce. In 1966, the Orioles, in the most important deal they ever made, traded Pappas and others to the Cincinnati Reds for Frank Robinson, who immediately led them to their first pennant and a World Series sweep over the Los Angeles Dodgers. During spring training of that year, a wire-service photographer asked Milt to join in a picture with Frank. Pappas kept the appointment and waited 20 minutes, but Robinson finally decided he didn't want to comply.

Did Pappas get revenge? Yes, even if he had to wait seven years. Pappas was then pitching for the Chicago Cubs and Robinson had been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. When Frank came up, he went down -- four straight pitches. And, in subsequent trips to the plate, Milt gave him more of the knockdown treatment. Robinson asked catcher Randy Hundley: "What in hell is wrong with this guy? He's trying to kill me. What in hell is going on?" Just Pappas squaring the account because he felt Robinson had slighted him in not posing for the picture in 1966.

Another time, in a game against Pedro Ramos, the two pitchers, at Pappas' suggestion, made a pact to throw each other nothing but fastballs. Pappas, a strong hitter, had 20 home runs in the majors. He drilled two home runs off Ramos and won, 2-0. He also talks once more of how he told Roger Maris he was going to groove pitches for him when he was approaching Babe Ruth's home run record in the 154th game of 1961 at Memorial Stadium.

As a rookie in 1958, Pappas went against the Yankees in New York. Mickey Mantle, batting left-handed, doubled to left-center and was on second base. Pappas turned and hollered, "Mickey, you don't show me ----." Mantle answered, "What in hell did you say?" Pappas repeated the denunciation. Mantle shouted back, "What in hell is wrong with you, kid?" He believed Pappas, who said Mantle hadn't been able to pull his best fastball, was either crazy or delirious.

In this reflective look at himself, with the introduction by his friend, entertainer Milton Berle, the now 60-year-old Pappas, page after page, seems obsessed with the challenge to win 20 games. He got to 17 on two occasions and would figure how many starts he had remaining and what he needed to do to reach 20. But it never happened.

Pappas, a fastball-slider pitcher, heard from the critics, many on his own team, that he Pappas looked for an easy exit after six innings. But he counters by saying he pitched 43 shutouts, which is difficult to minimize. He recorded 99 wins in the National League. One more and he would have had an even 100, to go with the 110he had earlier in the American League.

His no-hit performance in 1972 against the San Diego Padres should have been a perfect game, but the last hitter, Larry Stahl, was given a walk by umpire Bruce Froemming. Pappas insists it was done deliberately; that even Stahl said he should have been called out. Instead, Pappas, because of what he says was the umpire's prejudice, was denied the ultimate pitching performance -- a perfect game -- and had to accept the next best thing, a no-hitter.

Pappas says he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, citing the record of Don Drysdale, who won 209 games and lost 166.Pappas totaled 209 victories against 164 defeats. But Drysdale was more intimidating and never missed a start in 11 years, plus his ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched exceed Pappas' numbers by a wide margin.

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