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Catching Up With ... Milt Pappas

Each Tuesday in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's going on in his/her life in a segment called "Catching Up With ... " Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ..."

He won 209 games in the big leagues, pitched one no-hitter and played in two All-Star Games as an Oriole. Yet Milt Pappas’ legacy will always be the part he played in the biggest trade in team history -- the one that brought Frank Robinson to Baltimore.

Never mind that in nine years here, Pappas never had a losing season. Or that he won 25 games for the Orioles before his 21st birthday. That Pappas was the bait that hooked F. Robby from Cincinnati in 1965 is what baseball fans remember.

Nearly half a century later, Pappas shrugs it off.

"That doesn’t bother me," the 70-year-old right-hander said of the deal. "There’s nothing I could have done to prevent it. What frosted me was that, two days before I was sent to the Reds, the Orioles told me I wouldn’t be traded. It rained that day, so I took my wife to the movies."

The feature? The Cincinnati Kid.

"I should’ve known," Pappas said.

Robinson led the Orioles to a world championship in 1966. Pappas won 12 games for the seventh-place Reds.

"That season was hard," he said.In an odd twist of fate, Pappas returned to Baltimore that fall to open a restaurant -- during the Orioles’ World Series run. At "Milt Pappas’ Scotch And Sirloin" on Howard Street, he watched all four games on television but never set foot in Memorial Stadium.

A year later, Pappas’ establishment burned to the ground.

Nowadays, Pappas resides in Beecher, Ill. His home is on a golf course, though he has never played golf. The father of three, he lives with his second wife, Judi.

His first wife, Carole, disappeared in 1982, touching off a nationwide search. Five years later, police found her body in her car which had plunged into a pond near their home.

"It was just so sad," Pappas said.

He chats regularly with former President George H.W. Bush, an acquaintance since Bush singled off the pitcher in an old-timers game in 1984. ("We’ve been friends ever since," Pappas said.)

Seldom now does he play any ball.

"I could probably throw it and run a few feet and catch it myself," he said.

Though he pitched for four teams over 17 years, the Orioles still matter most to Pappas, signed out of high school in 1957.

"They gave me my big shot," he said. "Baltimore had good fans, too, though not a lot of them came to games. Of course, the Orioles were the city’s step-children. The Colts were the cat’s meow."

He vividly recalls his debut at age 18, a brash rookie summoned in relief to face the heart of the New York Yankees’ lineup: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Enos Slaughter and Moose Skowron.

"My first warm-up pitch went 50 feet over [catcher] Gus Triandos’ head," Pappas said. "Mickey got a hit -- I heard it go by my ear, but I never saw the ball. It probably would have killed me."

He then retired the side.

When not pitching, the hungry youngster would sneak into the Orioles’ clubhouse for hot dogs despite manager Paul Richards’ ban on eating during contests.

"Paul would leave the game and come in determined to catch me," Pappas said. "But each time I’d eat in a different place -- the training room, shower or groundskeeper’s office. He (Richards) never found me."

As a rookie, many teammates thought him cocky and refused to speak to him, Pappas said. Two exceptions in 1958 were Triandos and pitcher Billy Loes, both of whom shared his Hellenic heritage.

"Imagine -- three Greeks on one team," Pappas said. "That will probably never happen again."

Milt Pappas will appear at Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards at 1 p.m. Saturday to discuss his playing days with the Orioles. Admission is $5 for museum members and $13 for non-members.

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