The Baltimore Orioles All-Time Starting Rotation; A Tale Of Two Teams

Jonathan StilwellCorrespondent IJune 4, 2010

Imagine you are chosen to select the all-time starting rotation for the Baltimore Orioles.  Your fantasy pitching staff would then compete against other all-time teams. Who would you pick? Who would toe the rubber against the best all-time pitchers from all over baseball? The rules are simple: you may select anyone from the team’s history – they must have pitched 1000 innings for your team, and relievers must have pitched 250 games.

The Orioles began their more recent history in 1954 when the team was moved to Baltimore.  There have been many proud pitching moments and careers for the Oriole team, and we will deal with them shortly. 

But the team actually began as a charter member of the American league in 1901.This team, the St. Louis Browns had 53 seasons of history that can’t be shoved under the proverbial rug and deserves to be shared here.

The team, the Browns, was named in respect of the NL team that had been contracted when the AL and NL began in 1901. Actually, the Browns of the NL had just changed their name to the Cardinals in 1900. The previous team had many successful seasons and had won championships.

The new Browns of the AL were the favorite team of the city for many years. They rarely had a winning team, but the fans were loyal and loved baseball! They built a new park in 1909, Sportsman’s Park.

Ownership eventually relented and let the Cardinals share the park. Under the guidance of Branch Rickey, the Cardinals began to develop a strong farm system which led to more star players  and better teams – drawing fans away from the Browns team.

Year after year the team was near the cellar of the league. Finally, through a twist of fate, during WWII, both teams won their respective pennants in 1944 and played a World Series, the only one that has been played in one stadium!

Around this time the team was sold to Bill Veeck. Veeck marched to the beat of his own drum, definitely different than the more competitive nature of the other league owners.   He was responsible for many promotions that kept the fans guessing what he would do next, like hiring a midget to actually come to bat.

By the early 50s, the Browns were again cellar dwellers. Veeck began looking to move the team, but was blocked by the other league owners, who just wanted to oust him.  Eventually, they got rid of Veeck in St. Louis, and allowed the team to be moved to Baltimore.

For decades the Browns fans loyally came to games knowing they had a losing team. We don’t see this too much today. Fans get down on their team if they don’t win. The Browns fans were for the most part content to be watching major league baseball. 

There have been some other teams with similar histories of losing for decades – the Boston Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Washington Senators, the A’s after the early 30s, and the Indians after the mid-50s.

The new ownership in Baltimore did their best to distance themselves from the former team. Unlike the other teams that moved in the 50s, the Braves, Giants, and Dodgers, they changed their name, and refused to acknowledge even the paltry successes of the former team in their ballpark.

Maybe this tack has come back to roost.  The Orioles of “the Oriole Way”, have been a team suffering from a lack of direction over the recent past!

So dividing the early and modern pitching staffs/rotations will not be difficult, and will fall along the division between the two respective teams.

The St. Louis Browns all-time starting rotation –

First, it must be stated that finding a starting rotation from among the Brown's history of pitchers is not easy. I found only one significant pitcher with a winning record! But here are the best pitchers as found from 1901-1954.

1 – Urban Shocker – 1918-1924 – 126-80; ERA+ 127; 23 SHO. Shocker went on to help the Yankees to success from ’25-’27.  He was one of the better pitchers of the 20s.

2 – Jack Powell – 1902-1912 – 117W; ERA+ 107; 27 SHO

3 – Carl Weilman – 1912-1920 – 84W; ERA+ 113; 15 SHO

4 – Harry Howell – 1904-1910 – 78W; ERA+ 122; 16 SHO

5 – Dixie Davis – 1920-1926 – 75W; ERA+ 107; 10 SHO

HM – Barney Pelty, Lefty Stewart, Bob Muncrief


The Baltimore Orioles modern starting rotation –

After the team was moved to Baltimore, it didn’t take too long for the Orioles to start accumulating fine young talent. This was due primarily to hiring Paul Richards, who scouted and traded for talent like Brooks Robinson. He was very focused on building pitching and defense, as he had for the White Sox of the early 50s.

Two of his pitching finds, Steve Barber and Milt Pappas starting turning Oriole fortunes around in the 60s.  Richards moved on to work with the new expansion Houston team, but the fruits of his labors kept paying off. The team won the World Series in ’66, and after hiring Earl Weaver, began a tremendous streak of success anchored by design by their pitching and defense.

Many consider these Oriole teams, appearing in three consecutive World Series from ’69-’71 to be some of the best teams in baseball history, with a balance of great pitching, defense, and timely hitting.

The first pitcher to join the staff and see 20 win success was Dave McNally. Then the team traded for Mike Cuellar, a Cuban pitcher with a devastating screwball. Finally, prospect Jim Palmer developed into a perennial 20 game winner. These following years together mark the success of one of the great pitching trios in baseball history.

In 1971, the Orioles staff featured four pitchers reaching 20 wins, when Pat Dobson joined the already established trio for the accomplishment. This had only been done one other season, the 1920 White Sox before Cicotte and others were banned.

Jim Palmer continued his amazing peak, stringing four consecutive 20 win seasons together twice!

By ’79 however, Palmer was beginning to falter, and the “We Are Family” Pirates came from behind to take the series after the Orioles had led three games to one.

The Orioles appeared in two division series in the mid-90s, but haven’t seen any other postseason play since a World Series win in ’83.  One pitching stand out for the team in the 90s was Mike Mussina.  He was a consistent winning pitcher for the Orioles with great style and control.

So the modern era Oriole starting rotation looks like this:

1 – Jim Palmer – 1965-1984 – 268W; ERA+ 126; 53 SHO

2 – Dave McNally – 1962-1974 – 181W; ERA+ 108; 33 SHO

3 – Mike Mussina – 1991-2000 – 147W; ERA+ 130; 15 SHO

4 – Mike Cuellar – 1969-1976 – 143W; ERA+ 110; 30 SHO

5 - Milt Pappas – 1957-1965 – 110W; ERA+ 113; 26 SHO

Spot Starters – Steve Barber – 1960 – 95W; ERA+ 115; 19 SHO

                       Mike Flanagan – 1975-1992 – 141W; ERA+ 100; 17 SHO


Now the Oriole team would probably prefer just to go with these pitchers.  However, if we were to combine the pitchers from the Browns history with the Orioles pitchers, Urban Shocker should make the list.  He could fit in as the fifth starter or first spot starter, depending on how you’d want to manage the team.

The relievers –

The Orioles have seen many famous names go through their bullpen, dating all the way back to the 50s: Satchel Paige and Hoyt Wilhelm. They also have had successful shorter stints by well known modern relievers like Lee Smith, Randy Meyers. But the most successful Oriole relievers to qualify for this staff are:

1 – Gregg Olsen – ’88-’93 – 320 games; 160 saves; ERA+ 176 – allowed only 10 HR in his 350 IP!

2 – Stu Miller – ’63 - ’67 – 297 games; 100 saves; ERA+ 146 - Miller allowed only 365 Hits in his 502 IP!

The history of the Baltimore Oriole’s  franchise really is a tale of two different teams. The success driven Orioles of Baltimore developed a “way” for developing talent throughout their organization. It paid off.

The more laid back Browns were more content to be lovable losers throughout their history. They watched in slow anguish as the more competitive Cardinals gradually drew fans away from them from one generation to the next, after generously allowing the Cardinals to play in their stadium. It was truly the thinking pattern of a different day and time.

While in the overall history, the Browns did not add much to the all-time pitching staff, the Orioles have a strong pitching tradition. The heart of this is the Palmer, McNally, and Cuellar trio.  The complete rotation is strong as are the relievers.



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