Talk to just about anybody connected with the Baltimore Orioles and he will tell you, wistfully, that Milt Pappas has finally grown (or growed) up. Including Pappas. If this is a fact then baseball is the poorer, for it has all too few flakes, hot dogs and Milt Pappases. "I'm mellowing now," Pappas says, looking back, at age 24, over seven big league seasons of graphic remonstrance with umpires, teammates, managers, opposing players and official scorers. "Miltie is what you might call a visible hothead," says Baltimore's traveling secretary, Bob Brown. "The fans can tell when he isn't happy." "He's a spoiled brat," says one writer who follows the team. "I've had the reputation of being brash, cocky and bullheaded," says Pappas cheerfully. "I'm probably the worst that's ever been."
Nothing brings out the worst in Milt Pappas like an umpire. "I like to show people I'm out there to take charge," Pappas says, "but I realize more and more that you got to get along with the umpires. If you dispute their calls, it looks like you're trying to show them up—which isn't so, of course—and that doesn't get you anywhere. I should be more diplomatic. Instead of giving the umpires a lot of head from the mound, I should talk to them when I go up to hit—quietly point out their mistakes.
"I like an umpire that's honest and will admit that he's blown a few. But when they start with the alibis.... You see, the vision I had when I was in high school was I thought that these guys would be perfect. After all, they were umpiring in the highest echelon. It took me awhile to find it out, but I soon realized that these people were human."
It takes awhile before you realize that Milt Pappas does not really think he is superhuman. On one occasion last year he called up the press box from the dugout after the official scorer declared that balls Jim Gentile and Luis Aparicio could not handle were base hits, and demanded to know, "How the hell can you call those things hits?" But that was only because, he explains, "I wanted to know why, and it's silly to go through channels when you can go directly to the source." And when you remind Pappas that Gentile told him off in the clubhouse after the game ("That's a bush thing to do, showing up your own teammates"), Pappas shrugs. "It only got in the papers," he says, "because a writer who happened to be there wrote it up—and anyway, I apologized."
Or mention to Pappas the time he refused to report to the bullpen and General Manager Lee MacPhail advised him he better get going or he would not get paid, and Pappas will tell you: "I knew it was like cutting my throat, but it's just that I didn't have a reason why. I'm not a bullpen pitcher. I'm a starter!"
To which MacPhail soothingly adds: "There wasn't any revolution. Miltie couldn't be more cooperative."
But how about that night in Kansas City when Pappas hit Billy Hitchcock in the chest with a baseball? Hitchcock, the Baltimore manager at the time, had come to the mound to take Pappas out. Instead of handing him the ball, Pappas flipped it at the startled Hitchcock and stalked to the dugout. "It was a close ball game," Pappas explains. "I think it was the seventh or eighth inning and I got a little perturbed. I don't know whether I was mad at Hitchcock or at myself. I didn't throw the ball at him, I lobbed it. If I wanted to hit him, I would have thrown it. I don't know whether he caught it or not. I didn't look."
"I'm not going to have any trouble with Miltie," says Hank Bauer, the new Baltimore manager. "He knows me and I know him, and he knows that I'm managing and he's pitching. He's a little on the brash side, a little argumentative, and he enjoys putting on a show, but he tries to do so damn good. That's why he gets mad—at himself. Once in a while, you're better off to let it out rather than keep it inside of you."
"I was the same in high school," Pappas says. "If I didn't have my way, I was mad. And I've always spoken what I felt. One day in 1958, my first full season with the ball club, I was pitching against the Yankees. The day before, Hoyt Wilhelm had thrown a no-hitter at them, so anything I could do would be anticlimactic. Right away, Mantle hits an opposite-field double off me. 'Mickey,' I yelled at him, 'you surprise me. I've heard how strong you are, how you pull the ball. You showed me nothing. You're losing your power.' Last year I had two strikes and no balls on Mickey. The next pitch was right down the middle, and the umpire calls it a ball. 'Mickey,' I said, 'no wonder you're so great. You get five strikes every time you come to bat.' I wasn't mad at Mantle, I was mad at the ump. I don't know why I took it out on Mickey. Those kind of guys, it's nice to have them on your side.
"I remember when I first pitched to Jimmy Piersall. He came up to the plate singing, 'I've got the whole world in my arms.' He hit a home run, and he sang that song all the way around the bases. The next time he came up I threw him a slider, and he hit a weak grounder back to me. 'Get on that, you bush——, I told him. I think everybody in the park heard me. They were all booing me. After the game, I apologized to Piersall. Ted Williams said I was a man to apologize, so I asked Ted to give me one of his bats, which he did. I was making bar stools out of baseball bats. Ted went two for three the next time I pitched against him. 'Thanks for the bat,' I said. 'Keep pitching me like that, and I'll give you a bat every day,' said Ted."