Call them flakes, misfits or screwballs. They are athletes whose offbeat antics mystify teammates and fascinate fans and, over three centuries, Baltimore has been blessed with its share. The Baltimore Sun is counting down The Daffy Dozen, the 12 most memorable characters in the city’s sports lore. Today’s oddball, No. 10, is former Orioles right-handed pitcher Billy Loes.
It was May 1956 when Buzzie Bavasi, vice president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, called the eccentric young right-hander into his office.
"If you were in my place," Bavasi asked, "what would you do with Billy Loes?"
"Trade him," Loes replied.
Next stop, Baltimore.
He pitched for the Orioles from 1956 to 1959. Before that, in four full years in Brooklyn, Loes pitched in three World Series, defeating the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the 1953 fall classic. But he also made headlines by claiming he'd rather not win 20 games "because they'll expect you to do it every year."
Teammates said Loes marched to his own drummer and, doing so, liked to call his own game.
"How can I say why he doesn't win 20 when I can't even tell what he's going to do from pitch to pitch?" Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella said.
The Orioles bought him on the cheap for $20,000.
"I know [Loes] has the reputation of being a screwball," Orioles manager Paul Richards said, "but I've heard he's all business when he is on the mound."
He shrugged off having booted a grounder, saying, "I lost it in the sun." When his catcher allowed a passed ball, Loes took the blame, saying the pitch had too much spit on it. And when an umpire asked to inspect a ball for saliva, Loes sometimes rolled it to him.
The Sun called Loes "the unfathomable pitcher with the unpredictable right arm."
Infield flies stirred him up. He'd stand on the mound, waving his arms in all directions.
"Loes directs traffic on pop-ups like a policeman at a busy intersection," The Sun wrote.
In the clubhouse, Loes would team with equipment manager Whitey Diskin to serenade players with their version of Mario Lanza's "Be My Love."
Despite chronic arm woes, Loes went 12-7 in 1957, won seven straight decisions and made the All-Star team. The next year, he won just three games and when 1959 rolled around, he set a goal of winning four.
"That would be an improvement, wouldn't it?" he said.
Four games is what he won.