It was August, 19, 1980 and it dawned on me that the Orioles were on the West Coast. It was getting late and I was hanging out with friends. “Hey, put on the radio, Stone is pitching tonight,” I yelled.
It didn’t take us long to figure that the former White Sox and Cubs pitcher was flirting with a no-hitter.
What the heck is going on? Pardon the expression but this guy was no good in the past. How could the very average Steve Stone be headed for a 20-win campaign? Didn’t he know that Jim Palmer, Scott McGregor, Mike Flanagan and Dennis Martinez were clearly better than him?
Here’s the quote I got from the great Ken Singleton about Stone’s magical year in 1980.
“It was amazing,” Singleton said. “We thought he had sold his soul to the devil. If you put money on him winning 25 games, you would have been retired and living in a penthouse. You can ask most Orioles fans who is the biggest single-season winner in club history is and most will say Jim Palmer.”
That’s the way I felt in 1980. Stone came via free agency to Baltimore. He was clearly the fifth starter behind those other heavyweights. And then he began to give up plenty of homers. He won 11 games for the super 1979 AL champions. They actually put something in Stone’s contract stating in any year he won the Cy Young Award, he would get a $10,000 bonus. I laughed out loud when I heard that.
After I left the Orioles organization after the dismal 1987 season, I moved to Chicago. And there I spotted the one-year wonder Stone on television doing color commentary with legendary Cubs announcer Harry Caray.
It wasn’t until 2003 when I decided I wanted to write a book about Stone’s stunning year in Baltimore. Here is a guy who had never made an All-Star team and he ends up starting the 1980 All-Star game and retires all nine in a row.
So, I decided to write a book about his crazy year in Baltimore. Here’s a guy who had a lifetime losing record coming to Baltimore and wins 25 games.
How was I going to do that anyway? First, there was some very good news. The 1983 World Champion Orioles were going to have a 20-year reunion at Camden Yards. I knew I had to be there. I had friends in DC and stayed with them. I then studied every newspaper at the Pratt Library. There went every quarter I ever had. And then on Sunday, I drove to Baltimore and went from player to player asking the same question. How did Stone win 25 games? I got some great answers from Tippy Martinez, Gary Roenicke, Lenn Sakata, Scott McGregor, Dan Ford, Rich Dauer and even former general manager Hank Peters.
Now Stone was nice enough to call me back but decided he didn’t want to talk about it. I groaned naturally.
And then a fax came to my office a few years later. It said that Steve Stone, Cy Young Award winner, would be signing autographs in Highland Park, IL for a cool $25 each. Can you imagine?
I had to go. I walked up to his table and showed him what I had written. His agent asked me to give him my phone number. Stone interrupted him and asked me to call him directly the next day.
A literary agent joined the fight to get this book published. But he came up short. Finally, I figured, I better print the darn thing myself.
And I did get some free publicity, too.