Once upon a time, the Orioles had the ‘Kiddie Korps’
With the Baltimore Orioles floundering with a disastrous 19-48 record, trying to muster a warm and fuzzy feeling about them is getting more difficult as the losing streaks, underperforming players with huge, multi-year contracts and bullet-pierced pitchers continue on a path that could lead to record-setting futility.
It wasn’t always this way in Charm City.
Once upon a time at old Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street, the Birds of Baltimore were actually making magic and not misery. They did it with a young, fuzzy-cheeked group of starting pitchers, none of whom were over 22 years of age. So inexperienced was the group of four starters that they drew the nickname “Kiddie Korps.”
There were rookies all over the diamond as the Orioles began the 1960 season as nothing more than afterthoughts among baseball’s purists and dingy pundits.
Three infielders – Jim Gentile, Marv Breeding and Ron Hansen – were starters. The 23-year-old Brooks Robinson was the third baseman.
Manager Paul “Slug” Richards petitioned general manager Lee MacPhail about endorsing a pitching staff that would have a starting rotation of Milt Pappas, Chuck Estrada, Jack Fisher and Steve Barber.
Baltimore, as was the tendency of the other seven teams in the American League, used a four-man starting rotation. Thus, the “Kiddie Korps.”
Fisher, a fleshy right-hander, was three years removed from Richmond Academy High School in Augusta, Georgia. He had been a curveballing instrument the school used to help win seven consecutive big-school state championships. He was 20 for the contending Birds of 1960.
A 12-game winner that year, Fisher was a workhorse who still had his knee-buckling curveball as his most effective pitch.
Chuck Estrada was the elder statesman of the “Korps,” at 22. He won his way to 18 victories with a high, riding fastball that he could control and stay away from walks. He would be the American League’s Rookie Pitcher of the Year in 1960.
Left-hander Steve Barber was just wild enough to keep many batters a little on edge. Barber was 21 and had played in the deepest Class D league in 1959. Another rookie, Barber was most successful with his sinking fastball that was judged to reach home plate at 95 miles per hour. He won 10 games for the pennant-challenging Birds.
Easily the most confident of the Baby Birds was 21-year-old Milt Pappas, he of the frequent sliders and out-producing sinkers.
Pappas, who became famous when traded to Cincinnati for Frank Robinson, won 15 games, as the Orioles somehow held a two-game lead on the second-place New York Yankees in early September.
The Orioles had Jerry Walker, Hal “Skinny” Brown and ageless Hoyt Wilhelm as other pitchers who could make occasional starts and do well in the middle of other games. Brown and Wilhelm combined to win 23 games that season.
In the end, New York would win the pennant. Baltimore was second.
With this year’s edition stumbling so badly – and falling 27.5 games behind division-leading Boston after playing only 67 games through last Thursday – it’s at least mildly comforting to remember the “Kiddie Korps” of talented youngsters that made a long-ago summer a thing of baseball pleasure.