One of the biggest sports thrills of my life, and it may rank No. 1, was attending the final game at Memorial Stadium and choking back tears as the Field of Dreams music played and the four 20-game winners from the ‘71 season stood together on the mound.
I can’t believe only one of them is still with us.
We lost Mike Cuellar today after a courageous battle with stomach cancer that he never had a chance to win.
I guess heaven needed another crafty left-hander.
David McNally passed away in 2002. Pat Dobson left us four years later. And it never gets easier to accept.
I had the unenviable task of breaking the news of Dobson’s death to Jim Palmer, now the last surviving member of that storied rotation. I remember him saying that the hardest part about growing older was reaching an age where he’s starting to lose his friends. You can imagine how he’s feeling tonight.
I knew that Cuellar had suffered a brain aneurism over the winter, which prevented him from attending FanFest, but I only learned about his stomach cancer yesterday after reading an article in the Orlando Sentinel. I barely had time to collect my thoughts before receiving the inevitable call this afternoon from my friend and colleague, Steve Melewski, after returning to my hotel.
The Orioles are holding a reunion of the 1970 World Series champions later this summer at Camden Yards. Curt Motton died earlier this year. Now Cuellar is gone. And we all feel a little more vulnerable, a little more detached from our youth.
Brooks Robinson was hospitalized over the winter, but I’m told he has a couple of appearances scheduled in the coming weeks, including a card show signing that’s being advertised on radio. Paul Blair suffered a heart attack in December, but assured me at FanFest that he was doing much better. I look forward to seeing them both in Baltimore, now more than ever.
I feel fortunate that I had the chance to interview Cuellar last spring while he served as a guest instructor. He walked around the Fort Lauderdale complex with a huge grin on his face, looking so happy to wear an Orioles uniform again and be part of an organization that he loved so deeply. It warmed my heart.
I never expected to be writing about his death a year later, but he always did seem ageless to me, even when he was twisting batters into the ground with that screwball.
The Orioles lost another member of their family today.
Heaven gained a sweet, gentle man, and one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history.
If you’re out tonight, raise a glass to Mike Cuellar and the other 20-game winners. And continue to cherish the heroes that we have left.
RIP Mike. And thanks for the wonderful memories.