Pitching coach helped O's to feats of glory on mound

Easygoing style produced 20-game winners 18 times

George Bamberger : 1923-2004

April 06, 2004|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

George Bamberger, the Orioles pitching coach who presided over the club's golden era of Cy Young Awards and 20-game winners, died from cancer Sunday in Florida. He was 80 and living in North Redington Beach, Fla.

Bamberger was the club's pitching coach from 1968 to 1977, a period when the Orioles produced Cy Young Award winners four times and pitchers who won 20 or more games in a season 18 times. Under his watch, Jim Palmer won three American League Cy Young Awards during the 1970s, and Mike Cuellar shared the 1969 award with the Detroit Tigers' Denny McLain.

Bamberger's 1971 staff accomplished a rare feat, with four 20-game winners - Palmer, Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson. The 1920 Chicago White Sox were the only other team to do so.

"He was a communicator. That's what made him so successful as a pitching coach," former Orioles first baseman Boog Powell said last night. "Day in and day out, George's philosophy was a simple one: `Throw strikes, keep the ball low and let Brooksie [Robinson] and the boys catch the balls for you.'"

After the 1977 season, Bamberger left the Orioles to become the Milwaukee Brewers' manager. In his first season, the Brewers had the first winning season in franchise history, going from a 67-95 record in 1977 to a 93-69 mark and a third-place finish in 1978. They improved to 95 victories and a second-place finish behind the Orioles in 1979.

He was replaced by the Brewers in midseason of 1980 with the club two games over .500. He went on to manage the New York Mets in 1982 and part of 1983, then returned to manage the Brewers in 1985 and 1986.

"Bamby to me is the greatest pitching coach who ever lived," ex-Orioles manager Earl Weaver told The Sun last month. "If there was a Hall of Fame for pitching coaches, he should be there without a doubt."

"You knew he was going to be there for you when things weren't going well," Palmer told The Sun last month. "You knew he was on your side, and that your relationship with him wasn't going to be dependent on how well you did. It wasn't a day-to-day thing. He wasn't going to be very judgmental. He was just going to be there to help you."

Visits to the mound during the Bamberger era weren't sprinkled with the usual talk, which further endeared the coach to his pitchers.

"He'd come out sometimes and talk about woodworking," Mike Flanagan, Orioles vice president of baseball operations who pitched under Bamberger from 1975 to 1977, told The Sun last month. "Or he'd come out and say, `This is a hell of a mess.' It made you feel like you sort of controlled your outcome. He just went about it very differently from most of the coaches.

"I think he knew we got enough bombardment from Earl on stats and the rest. He was very controlled and calm under fire. With every game being a war for Earl, George had a much more peaceful nature, and that was a great help to us."

Bamberger's watch began on Oct. 3, 1967, when he replaced Harry Brecheen as pitching coach.

"I had no doubt in my mind that I could do the job," Bamberger, who spent four years as a minor league instructor with the Orioles, told The Sun last month. "The only thing was, Harry was such a likable guy. All those guys loved him. But evidently, things worked out pretty good."

Bamberger said that Weaver let him run the pitching.

"He used to tell me once in a while in the middle of the year, 'George, why don't you let up on them a little bit?' I'd say, `Earl, how are we doing?' And he'd say, `Oh, we're going great. How can we do any better?' And I'd say, `If I let up on them, they're going to expect it all the time. I'll take it easy as the season goes on, but I don't think it's time.' He'd more or less let me do what I wanted to do, but I always reported to him. He was the boss."

Bamberger was a right-handed pitcher who spent most of his playing career in the minor leagues, including 15 years at the Triple-A level. He won 213 games in the minors from 1946 to 1963, but in 10 major league appearances, he never had a decision.

He made it to the majors with the New York Giants, appearing in seven games spanning 1951 and 1952. Near the end of his career, he pitched for the Orioles in three games in 1959. He spent the rest of his career in the minors, retiring in 1963.

Bamberger was born and raised in Staten Island, N.Y., where he went to school. He served in the U.S. Army.

Survivors include his wife, Wilma, to whom he was married for 53 years; daughters, Judy Sutton, 53, of Seminole, Fla.; Nancy Baldwin, 49, of Seminole, Fla.; Lori Bailey, 44, of Seminole, Fla.; a brother Charles Bamberger, of Clearwater, Fla.; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

At the request of the family, there will be no services. Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.

Sun staff writers Roch Kubatko and Mike Klingaman contributed to this article.

Bamberger's best

20-game winners

1968: Dave McNally 22-10

1969: Dave McNally 20-7, Mike Cuellar, 23-11

1970: Dave McNally 24-9, Mike Cuellar 24-8, Jim Palmer 20-10

1971: Dave McNally 21-5, Mike Cuellar 20-9, Jim Palmer 20-9, Pat Dobson 20-8

1972: Jim Palmer 21-10

1973: Jim Palmer 22-9

1974: Mike Cuellar 22-10

1975: Jim Palmer 23-11, Mike Torrez 20-9

1976: Jim Palmer 22-13, Wayne Garland 20-7

1977: Jim Palmer 20-11

Cy Young Awards

1969: Mike Cuellar (shared with Denny McLain, Detroit)

1973: Jim Palmer

1975: Jim Palmer

1976: Jim Palmer

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