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Monday, Dec. 22, 2008

Milt Pappas

Sports in Real Life

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Former Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas signed with the Orioles out of high school back in 1957, before Robin Yount was a zygote. His signing bonus, $4,000-essentially what CC Sabathia drops on lunch. This was an anomaly as these were the days when almost every player went to the minors and earned their stripes, riding on crappy busses and learning how to throw a change-up.

In September of 1971, Pappas retired the first 26 Padres he faced. The 27th batter walked and cost him a perfect game on what some, including Pappas, considered off the plate. He had to settle for a no-hitter.

"The umpires back then weren't too lenient," Pappas said (via my pink princess phone) last week. "These days, some of them think they're bigger than the game."

Pappas' words come 37 years after he was denied one of the most prestigious accomplishments in sports-the perfect game. Only two-handfuls of pitchers before him were as masterful.

According to Pappas, the game has changed in some ways, particularly the way a pitcher can approach a batter. "You can't pitch inside anymore," he said. "The players will bellyache about a pitcher busting him inside, and that's the most important thing for a pitcher." Rules of the game have always benefited the hitter, and "the ballparks are designed for hitters, everything falls on the side of the hitter," Papas stated.

The rigors on teams in decades past cannot be underestimated. We've witnessed the switch to almost exclusively night games, the virtual elimination of double-headers. "We played all day baseball," Pappas said. In the sun, all the time. The good news was we had a two week home stand. The bad news was we were in the sun for two weeks straight."

Pappas will be remembered as a control pitcher, much like recently retired Greg Maddux. "He was just amazing," Pappas said. "No way to overestimate how good he was."

Pappas's manager on the Cubs, Leo Durocher, prided himself on getting along with the variety of characters that make up a Major League team. But Durocher lost all patience with Pappas, whom he considered an ingrate and a cancer on the team, despite the fact he thought Pappas was a good pitcher."

"Unfortunately, when I got to the Cubs, baseball had passed him by," Pappas says of Durcocher. Not only baseball had passed Durocher by, but so had copulating without the use of a new-fangled device. Durocher had undergone surgery for a penile implant when most of his colleagues were busy taking an eternal nap.

"Leo should have left the game a few years prior," Pappas said. "He was such a strange man when it came to his starting players." Pappas says Durcocher stuck with the starters to a fault. It was this fact, among many others, which pundits say caused the Cubs nuclear meltdown in 1969, falling out of the chase for the pennant and perpetuating the losing mystique.

"He'd look down the bench and say, 'number 12, grab a bat.' He didn't even know their names."

Let's see Ken Macha try that with today's players-they'd collectively run him out of town or just quit playing for him…sounds familiar.

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