This Cuban southpaw was a star hurler for the Baltimore Orioles dynasty of the late 1960s and early 1970s, teaming in a stellar rotation with Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and fellow lefty Dave McNally, the trio gave stumpy Earl Weaver three go-to guys in the rotation. Mike was a late-bloomer who didn’t stick in the Majors until his 27th birthday, but once he was stuck he never became unglued.
Cuellar made a forgettable debut with the Reds in 1959, posting an ERA above 15.00. He spent the next few years bouncing around the minor leagues–even seeing action in Mexico–before the Cardinals gave him another trial in 1964. After the ’64 season he was traded to the Astros for Hal Woodeshick and his career gained steam.
In Texas, Mike became a reliable pitcher for the Astros. His breakout year came in 1966 when he led the Houston staff in strikeouts, complete games and innings pitched on a terrific 2.22 ERA. He followed that up with a 16-win All-Star season in 1967. That year, Mike finished fifth with 203 strikeouts but the Astros had little talent outside of Mike and finished in ninth place. The Astros lack of talent hit Mike hard in 1968 when he posted a losing record despite fashioning a tidy 2.74 ERA.
Saved from the Astros in 1969, Mike was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in a lopsided deal for outfielder Curt Blefary. All Mike did for the Orioles was post three straight 20-win seasons after coming over from Houston. Supplying Mike with more support than he ever received with the Astros, Mike won 23 games (2nd in AL) his first year with Baltimore. Cuellar was phenomenal all year, posting a 2.38 ERA, striking out 182 batters and averaging just 0.732 hits per inning; better than Hall of Fame peers Catfish Hunter (0.850), Tom Seaver (0.740) and Ferguson Jenkins (0.913). For his exceptional season, Mike was voted the Cy Young Award winner. But more importantly, he led the Orioles to the World Series. In the 1969 Fall Classic, Mike won his only decision and posted a 1.12 ERA but the Mets beat Baltimore in their magical season.
Mike came close to repeating as the Cy Young winner in 1970 when he led the American League in wins, winning percentage, and complete games. An All-Star, Cuellar and his 190 strikeouts helped the O’s reach the postseason again. Teaming with Palmer and McNally, Mike gave Earl Weaver an uncommon three-man 20-win rotation. Although Mike got battered around by the Twins in the ALCS, he was back on form in the World Series. Mike won the deciding game in the World Series over the Reds, brining a championship to Baltimore.
Another 20-win season was in the cards for Mike in 1971. Weaver, who liked to ride his trio, handed Mike his third straight 290 inning workload in ’71 which enabled Baltimore to return to the postseason. He owned the A’s in the ALCS, out-pitching Catfish Hunter in Game 2. His pitching helped make the Orioles AL champs three years running, but he lost two contests in the World Series and the Orioles fell to the Pirates.
Cuellar still had it in 1972, winning 18 games on a 2.58 ERA but the Orioles finished in third place due in large part to off years by many position players. He had another 18-win season in 1973 and the Orioles returned to the postseason. Mike lost his only ALCS decision, dropping an extra-inning pitchers duel with Ken Holtzman.
An All-Star again in 1974, Mike led the AL with a .688 winning percentage. Pacing the Baltimore moundsmen in shutouts, Mike guided the Orioles to the postseason again in ’74, splitting two decisions in an ALCS loss to Oakland. Mike fell to 14 wins in 1975, which was his last effective season. He went 4-13 in 1976 and then pitched briefly with the Angels in 1977.
W 185/L 130/PCT .587/G 453/CG 172/IP 2,807/H 2,538/BB 822/SO 1,632/SHO 36/ERA 3.14