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Jim Palmer thinks Mike Cuellar lost the 1970 Cy Young Award because of racism

Apr 20, 2011, 8:23 AM EDT

Mike Cuellar pitch

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.

  1. atworkident - Apr 20, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    That is the misquote of the century.

    He didn’t say that is why he lost the Cy Young. He said Jim Perry deserved to win if you listen further. He was saying that the LOCAL MEDIA VOTE didn’t go to Cuellar because the LOCAL REPORTER didn’t like Cuellar because he didn’t speak English.

    He was referring a particular reporter at the time not all of baseball when he said “24-8, and you don’t get a third place vote. Not a second place vote, not a first place vote.”

    Please pay attention next time.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Apr 20, 2011 at 8:58 AM

      Just went back and checked with MLB.tv. This is a verbatim quote from Palmer. 5th inning, after Butera’s at bat.

      Yes, he said that the writer had something against Cuellar. He also said clear as day that Cuellar desereved the 1970 CYA and he instantly linked it up with the writer’s alleged prejudice. If they are totally separate thoughts by Palmer, he sure has a funny way of separating them.

      • atworkident - Apr 20, 2011 at 10:14 AM

        Since you went back and checked did you also find the quote where he said Jim Perry deserved to win the Cy Young? It was after your quote above but before they discussed Jim’s favorite ice cream flavor (chocolate chip, if you were curious).

      • Craig Calcaterra - Apr 20, 2011 at 10:16 AM

        Well, it came after he said Cueller should have won it. Can’t have it both ways. My guess is that he truly believes Cueller deserved it (thus the impassioned defense) and then realized that it may sound like he was crapping on Jim Perry, and tried to walk that back some.

      • atworkident - Apr 20, 2011 at 10:48 AM

        Perhaps. You may be right, but I think his intent was to dump on the reporter more than Jim Perry. What I really wanted to know was who the writer was he was referring to. Any ideas?

        Jim is generally pretty good about respecting other players, he doesn’t generally dump on people like say a Joe Morgan or Orel Hershiser to build himself up.

    • heynerdlinger - Apr 20, 2011 at 8:59 AM

      “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…”

      The obvious implication is that:
      a) He should have won in 1970
      b) He came close but didn’t win because someone left him off the ballot entirely
      c) That person was a local reporter who should have been helping the local players out by voting for them

      That’s not a misquote at all, and in fact, you’re misreading this post if you think it’s targeted at “all of baseball”. Try taking your own advice next time.

  2. Jonny 5 - Apr 20, 2011 at 8:56 AM

    Cuellar was the Orioles 3rd best pitcher in 1970. Jim Palmer seems to specifically use the W/L stat as the measuring stick for the Cy Young.

    • The Baseball Idiot - Apr 20, 2011 at 9:22 AM

      In 1970, it pretty much was. I would say that was most likely the reason the Palmer referenced it.

      • Jonny 5 - Apr 20, 2011 at 11:32 AM

        Yup, that’s what I was thinking. And more than likely he still thinks on the terms of W/L which is just different than we see today.

  3. heynerdlinger - Apr 20, 2011 at 8:59 AM

    “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…”

    The obvious implication is that:
    a) He should have won in 1970
    b) He came close but didn’t win because someone left him off the ballot entirely
    c) That person was a local reporter who should have been helping the local players out by voting for them

    That’s not a misquote at all, and in fact, you’re misreading this post if you think it’s targeted at “all of baseball”. Try taking your own advice next time.

    • heynerdlinger - Apr 20, 2011 at 9:00 AM

      (This was meant to be a reply to the first comment.)

  4. jdmcmill - Apr 20, 2011 at 9:13 AM

    Angry much Craig. Dang! Palmer provides “Color” to the telecast, that is what he is paid to do. Often this means giving your opinion on certain things, and like every one else he is entitled to that opinion no matter how flawed it might be. But being that this was his teammate that year I would say he had a better view than almost anyone, including you.

    • heynerdlinger - Apr 20, 2011 at 9:27 AM

      Palmer is a babbling idiot. The few times that I’ve had the misfortune of catching his “color” I thank God that he’s not on my TV 162 times a year.

    • senatorsguy - Apr 20, 2011 at 9:43 AM

      “But being that this was his teammate that year I would say he had a better view than almost anyone, including you.”

      Its thinking like that that allowed Joe Morgan to keep a job far beyond the 3 minutes he was due.

    • gammagammahey - Apr 20, 2011 at 9:48 AM

      There’s a difference between giving your opinion and peddling inaccurate statements as historical fact.

  5. heffmessina - Apr 20, 2011 at 9:14 AM

    I saw a couple people tweet something interesting Palmer said about Manny Acta over the weekend but when I google it, the only place it comes up is on message boards.

  6. BC - Apr 20, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    I don’t remember Cuellar pitching, I was too young. Was he Puerto Rican or Dominican? Then again, there was some precident on Latino pitchers of that era. Juan Marichal was dominant in the 60s (not Koufax or Gibson dominant, but he was probably 3rd), and never got a whiff of the Cy Young. Of course he also beat a guy over the head with a bat so perhaps there was some influence there.

    • BC - Apr 20, 2011 at 9:29 AM

      Whoops. Cuba. Just caught that in the post. My bad.

      • mcsnide - Apr 20, 2011 at 1:15 PM

        Tough crowd. Thumbs down for a mea culpa?

  7. manute - Apr 20, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    My guess is that Palmer saw certain teammates of his experience racism – in fact he probably saw a lot if it – and that it affected him in some way. And when he says “that’s what happened,” he seems to be saying that one particular Baltimore writer disliked Cuellar because of his race/nationality/language and that this bias affected his voting. I find that pretty interesting. I’m sure those things have been factors in voting for years, but I don’t hear this talked about much. It’s certainly worthy of a brief discussion during a single game of a very long season. Maybe he’s wrong (in your opinion, and mine) about who “should have won” the 1970 CYA, but why rip him for that when he’s one of the few ex-ballplayers capable of making the other, more interesting point? I’m sure you of all people could write a pretty interesting piece about how bias has affected awards and HOF voting over the years.

    • heynerdlinger - Apr 20, 2011 at 11:44 AM

      The effect of racism on awards voting may be an interesting topic of conversation, but Palmer’s comment strikes me more of the annoying habit of ex-players to blame one or two voters for leaving an otherwise worthy candidate off the ballot and therefore costing that player an MVP or Cy Young award. It’s always described as a personal grudge that kept the player off the ballot, and never the fact that there may have been more deserving candidates.

      For the record, Cuellar finished 11 points behind Jim Perry in the 1970 Cy Young voting. One missing second or third place vote did not cost him that award.

      • dprat - Apr 20, 2011 at 2:35 PM

        IIRC, Hank Aaron has made the claim that racism nearly cost him his only MVP award. In 1957, Milwaukee won the NL pennant, and went on to win the WS. In a very close MVP vote, Aaron edged out Stan Musial and Aaron’s teammate Red Schoendienst, a scrappy, white former-Cardinal SS who had been traded to the Braves mid-season that year (yes, he was the original David Eckstein, but actually good). Aaron claimed some writers’ racism (he had specific ones in mind) made it easy for them to give far too much credit for the Braves’ success that year to Schoendienst, thus allowing Musial, and Schoendienst himself, to almost snag the award.

        For the record:
        Aaron – 239 MVP pts (9 1st place votes) – 7.5 WAR (2nd)
        Musial – 230 pts (5 1st place) – 6.6 WAR (5th)
        Schoendienst – 221 pts (8 1st place) – 5.1 WAR (9th)
        Mays – 174 pts (1 1st place) – 8.5 WAR (1st – but didn’t get more consideration no doubt due to his team finishing 6th that year)

  8. thefalcon123 - Apr 20, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    By Palmer’s logic, Bill Gullickson lost the 1991 Cy Young due to racism against native Minnesotans.

  9. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 20, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    “Especially faces that don’t have the league-leading run support the 1970 Orioles starters had.” Wow. That’s not a sentence you read every day in this day and age.

  10. Mark Armour - Apr 20, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    So Palmer thought his late friend and teammate deserved to win the Cy Young Award? Sounds reasonable to me. He was not under oath, he was just riffing about an old friend who was one hell of pitcher.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Apr 20, 2011 at 10:34 AM

      Which is fine if he’s talking in his living room or at the club. But MASN hires him to provide informed analysis of baseball too, and in this case he’s completely misrepresenting the merits of Cuellar’s 1970 season compared to Perry (and McDowell’s and others), and he’s using a pretty specious argument to do it.

  11. Mark Armour - Apr 20, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    He may be misinterpreting the merits. Palmer is a former player, a great player, but his skill set does not include an ability to properly value baseball statistics. This does not bother me at all actually. I like listening to him, and would love to watch a game with him–because of the insight that he does have on the game. This might make be an odd-ball among your readers. I don’t want Palmer to provide value analysis–I can do that myself–I am good at it, and he is not. What I want from Palmer is insight he has gleaned from being on the mound and in the locker room. I want him to behave as if he were sitting on the couch next to me. If he started babbling about WAR, I would tell him to shut up and talk to me about Mike Cuellar.

    As for whether Cuellar lost the award because of the prejudice of one or two Baltimore writers, this might be true, right? Whether or not it should have been true is not point–it might, in fact BE true. Cuellar’s statistics are perfectly keeping with those of a Cy Young Winner of the time (as were Perry’s).

    One interesting thing I noticed about Palmer a few years ago during a game. He spends a lot of time bragging about his fellow Oriole pitchers–McNally, Cuellar, Flanagan, McGregor, etc. and talked about how he was just trying to do his part and was fortunate to last longer. But Palmer was the best pitcher (by either ERA or WAR) on the Orioles 10 years out of 11 beginning in 1969. Not a bad staff to be the ace of either!

    • The Baseball Idiot - Apr 20, 2011 at 11:14 AM

      “He may be misinterpreting the merits. Palmer is a former player, a great player, but his skill set does not include an ability to properly value baseball statistics.”

      Actually, no one has that skill set. Even Bill James, as much as I like him, is presenting his opinion, and there is no ‘fact’ about any of it. That’s not against sabermetrics, it’s against traditional stats also.

      Some people have better ideas than others, and some study it more than others, but it’s still all subjective. I would think that Palmer has a much a right to express his opinion as any one else.

  12. paperlions - Apr 20, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    Only a small proportion of BBWAA members vote for each award each year, each writer only votes on 1 award each year (and the HOF), and some voters vote for no awards some years….is it known that the writer in question was even assigned the vote for the AL Cy Young that year?

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