Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Four Years Ago


One of my very favorite Orioles passed away four years ago today. Mike Cuellar died of stomach cancer on April 2, 2010. This is my 1959 Cuellar rookie from my 1959 Topps set. When I posted this one over on my '59 Topps blog I told the story of sitting next to Cuellar one night in the Astrodome.
We came to Houston in the late '60s because my father was transferred here by Shell Oil. One of the perks was scoring company seats at the Astrodome from time to time. And I'm here to tell you that Shell had goooood seats. Second row behind home plate. So nice in fact that they shared that row with the Astro management and sometimes we were sitting next to team executives and other front office types.
But we attended one game in 1968 that had us seated next to then-Astro Mike Cuellar and  reliever Fred Gladding. Fred Flintstone was on the DL so I understood his being in street clothes in the stands but why was Mike Cuellar sitting next to me with some sort of binder charting pitches? Didn't guys do that from the dugout? But there he sat, wearing expensive-looking shoes, shiny silver/gray pants and a mock turtleneck. That 'look' was pretty much the off-the-field 'uniform' of major leaguers back then. I got my program signed by both players and I remember having a few brief exchanges with Cuellar.
Cuellar became a favorite of mine and I was thrilled when he was dealt to my Orioles that winter even though the thought then was that the O's got snookered, picking up a washed up junkballer. But tossing that remarkable screwball he went on to become one of the best pitchers in O's history, winning the Cy Young in 1969. I skipped school to stay home and watch him beat the Mets in Game 1 of the 1969 World Series and he cemented his place in my heart with his great win over the Reds in Game 5 of the 1970 Series which wrapped up the championship for the O's. That was the same year he hit a grand slam in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Twins. Didn't pitch well that day but his slam was a huge kick for me.
I have all of the cards that were issued during his career and from time to time I add some of these post-career cards put out by Topps or Upper Deck or whoever. Here are two I have added in the last couple of months.

Topps American Pie from 2001.


And an Upper Deck Times Teams something or other from 2004.


 I'm certainly not a 'completest' when it comes to these modern issues but when the photo is one that I don't see regularly and/or I like the design, I'll buy it.

This Orlando Sentinal article, posted just a few days before Cuellar's death in 2010, is a nice if somewhat sad read. I had no idea before I read it that Cuellar struggled with finances in his post-retirement days. I'd bet that a lot of these retired player do.

Rest In Peace, Mike Cuellar.