Kiddie Corps of 1960

At least once before, a season that began with untested players took the Orioles to the brink of a championship.

April 02, 2001

The 2001 major league season begins today with the Baltimore Orioles at a crossroads, shifting away from a dependence on veterans and free agents and toward a more youthful cast featuring homegrown talent.

But this isn't the first time in the club's long history that it has undertaken such a change. In 1960, with a group of rookie pitchers nicknamed the "Kiddie Corps" and an assortment of other new faces, the Orioles managed to challenge the New York Yankees for the American League pennant for the first time.

In the following excerpt from his just-released book "From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles" (Contemporary Books, $24.95), Sun sports columnist John Eisenberg revisits the 1960 season in interviews with former players such as Brooks Robinson, Jim Gentile, Steve Barber, Jackie Brandt, Milt Pappas and Gus Triandos - a half-dozen of the almost 100 players, managers, owners and other prominent figures from the Orioles' past and present whom Eisenberg interviewed in tracing the many ups and downs of the franchise from its arrival in 1954 through the Peter Angelos era.

It remains to be seen whether this year's new-look Orioles such as Jerry Hairston, Chris Richard, Ryan Kohlmeier, Jay Gibbons and Mike Kinkade can leave the same indelible mark as the "Kiddie Corps." But either way, the fresh, new faces are a welcomed change from the Orioles' recent, tired past. Hey, if you can't dream a little on Opening Day, when can you?

With four starting pitchers aged 22 or younger and rookies playing first base, second base and shortstop, the Orioles were unlikely contenders in 1960, their seventh season in Baltimore. But they had their first winning season and contended for a pennant, chasing the Yankees until the season's final weeks. The Orioles would experience many championship seasons in the coming years, but few were as surprising or enjoyable as the 1960 season.

The club's stable of young pitchers was the talk of the major leagues. Chuck Estrada, a rookie, won 18 games. Milt Pappas won 15; Jack Fisher won 12. Steve Barber, jumping all the way from the Class D minors, won 10. Veterans Skinny Brown and Hoyt Wilhelm backed them up with spot starts and solid relief work, combining for 23 wins. Overall, Orioles pitchers led the American League in complete games and tied for the lowest ERA.

Lee MacPhail (general manager): "It was after the All-Star Game in '59 that we decided we were going to go with younger players. It was a joint decision between myself and [manager] Paul [Richards]. We were going with the kids. It was time. Practically everyone on the team was younger than 30. And so many fine, young pitchers. If they had an arm, Paul was all for bringing them up."

Jerry Walker: "I was the Opening Day starter, but I think I went about eight or 10 starts before I got a decision. I wasn't pitching that well. Fisher and Pappas and Barber and Estrada were. Barber threw a heavy, sinking fastball and was just wild enough to be effective. Estrada threw a high fastball. Pappas threw sinkers. Fisher threw more conventionally, with a big curveball. I was somewhere in between. We had an interesting group of young arms."

Jackie Brandt: "Barber threw a shot put. Estrada threw the hardest. Pappas was slider, slider, slider. Fisher's fastball wasn't too much, but he had a grinding curveball. Walker tricked you."

Ron Hansen: "Barber threw awfully hard and never straight. I mean, he had great movement. Guys hated to hit against him because he was a little bit wild. Guys wouldn't really want to stand in there because he would throw so hard."

Steve Barber: "That spring I got timed as the fastest pitcher in the major leagues. I hadn't even thrown a pitch yet. This [newspaper] Sunday supplement set up the thing for an article. They used a high-speed camera and got a panoramic view and computed it mathematically. They'd already timed Bob Turley, and someone said, `You better go time that new left-hander with the Orioles.' That's how I got included. They did six of us. Turned out I was the fastest at 95.5 mph. Don Drysdale was just behind me, and Sandy Koufax was right after him."

Boog Powell: "Barber was incredible when he was young. He had probably the best stuff of all of them. Very intimidating. No one wanted to stand in there on him. And Pappas was no slouch. When he wanted to pitch, he was one of the best you ever saw. Fastball, slider, bang, bang, inside, outside."

Gus Triandos: "The young guys didn't spot pitches; they just wound up and threw good stuff. They didn't work on things. They just called a fastball and zinged it. You knew they'd be somewhere around the plate. They had good stuff, had good control. And then when Wilhelm relieved with the knuckler, it was tough on the hitters."

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