With their 6-5 victory in Detroit on Saturday, the Orioles denied Justin Verlander the opportunity to become baseball’s first 25-game winner since Bob Welch went 27-6 for Oakland in 1990. Thanks to Bill Pemstein, I spent time this season reading about the Orioles’ only 25-game winner, Steve Stone.
Pemstein, a former Orioles employee turned Midwest sportswriter, chronicles Stone’s magical 1980 season in his self-published effort, “A Stone’s Throw.” The book provides abundant game details in telling the story of how Stone, a self-described “nine-year overnight success,” relied on visualization techniques and a heavy diet of curveballs to earn 25 wins, his lone All-Star game appearance and the Cy Young award.
Teammates, and Stone himself, attributed his emergence as one of 1980’s best pitchers to his ability to locate the curve along with the quality of the players behind him.
“Steve always had a great curveball,” Tippy Martinez says in the book. “If anything, he probably threw a lot more strikes. It was a combination of being on a team that stresses defense as well as pitching. You can’t take anything away from Steve. He had a good breaking ball and good command of the breaking ball. And if you can throw it behind in the count, you are going to be successful.”
More than half of Stone’s pitches in 1980 were curves. He pitched only 15 games in 1981 and was out of baseball after that.
Stone also benefited from a reliable bullpen that blew just one game for him all season. Leading the charge was closer Tim Stoddard with 26 saves, followed by Martinez with 10. Unlike Stone, Stoddard didn’t rely on the curve. Pemstein makes that point by quoting Earl Weaver, who noted, “Stoddard can throw a fastball through a car wash without getting it wet.”
The 1980 Orioles won 100 games, but failed to make the playoffs in those pre-wild card days, finishing the season three games behind the New York Yankees in the American League East. Pitching led the way for the Birds; in addition to Stone’s 25 wins, Scott McGregor won 20 while Mike Flanagan and Jim Palmer both won 16.
At the time, the success of the Weaver-led Orioles was of little surprise to the baseball world; Stone’s efforts, however, came seemingly from out of the blue. The 5-foot-10 right hander’s 25 wins accounted for nearly a quarter of his 11-year career total of 107 wins with the Giants, White Sox, Cubs and Orioles.
Asked why it took him so long to figure things out on the mound, Stone offered this simple reply: “Einstein didn’t develop his theory of relativity overnight.”
Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.