I didn’t watch the Orioles game last night — so someone please tell me if this is inaccurate — but a reader passes along a bit of byplay between Gary Thorne and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, the color man. The subject: Mike Cuellar. The issue: why he didn’t win the 1970 Cy Young. Palmer thinks he knows:
Trivia Question: Who was the first Oriole to win the Cy Young Award?
Answer: Mike Cuellar, 1969
Jim Palmer: He should have won two years, 1969 he shared it with Denny McLain, and the next year, how about going 24-8, and you don’t even get a third place vote from one of your beat writers, because you’re not a good interview, because you’re from Cuba and you speak Spanish.
Gary Thorne: Was that the reason given? Did the writer actually say that?
Palmer: No, but that’s what happened.
Thorne: Oh, okay. Well, I’m not doubting you.
Palmer: 24-8, and you don’t get a third place vote. Not a second place vote, not a first place vote. Jim Perry won that year.
Hurm. Apparently the anti-Cuban bias disappeared for 1969 when Cuellar shared the award with Denny McLain and returned to bite Cuellar the following season.
I’m also sure his snub had nothing to do with the fact that Dave McNally and Palmer himself each also won 20+ games, thereby splitting the vote with their teammate Cuellar in a way that few award votes have ever been so effectively split. Indeed, Palmer himself would have been a better choice than Cuellar that year.
And I’m sure that it had nothing to do with the fact that, won-loss record aside, 1970 was a major step back for Cuellar compared to his 1969 — his ERA was up more than a full run, to a very-average-for-1970 3.48 — and voters often move on to a new face the next year. Especially faces that don’t have the league-leading run support the 1970 Orioles starters had.
Finally, I’m sure it had nothing to with the fact that, quite simply, Jim Perry had a better year than Cuellar did. Perry walked fewer guys, allowed fewer base runners and allowed half-a-run fewer earned runs per game.
Know who really got boned in 1970? Sam McDowell. Dude struck out over 300 guys, pitched more innings, gave up fewer hits and had a lower ERA than Cuellar or Perry. Unfortunately, America had not yet moved beyond its anti-Yinzer prejudice and McDowell — like so many Pennsylvanians before him — suffered because of society’s ignorance.
Palmer may be right that the Baltimore writer he specifically mentioned had something against Cuellar. I have no idea. But it sure as hell didn’t cost him the 1970 Cy Young Award.