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Milt Wilcox

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1983 Fleer Stickers #248 Milt Wilcox

Milton Edward Wilcox

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Contents

[edit] Biographical Information

[edit] Youth

Milt Wilcox's father was a track star in Hawaii and tried to get his sons to follow suit. When Milt opted for baseball instead, his father purchased lots of baseball books to try to teach him the game.

[edit] 1968-1971: The early years with the Reds and their farm clubs

The younger Wilcox was taken in the second round of the 1968 amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds and he split the year between the GCL Reds (1-2, 4.15) and the Tampa Tarpons (3-3, 1.34, 28 H, 48 K in 47 IP). Returning to Tampa, he was only 4-1 with one save and a 5.48 ERA in '69. In 1970, the 20-year-old hurler had a 12-10, 2.84 line for the Indianapolis Indians. He led the American Association with five shutouts, was second to Cisco Carlos in wins and second to Ross Grimsley in ERA. He and Vida Blue were the All-Star pitchers in the AA that year and he won the Allie Reynolds Award. Called up to the Reds, he went 3-1, 2.84, won a game in the 1970 NLCS, then lost one in the 1970 World Series. Through 2005, he holds the record for the youngest pitcher ever to win a postseason game, a few months ahead of Francisco Rodriguez. In the NLCS win, he struck out Matty Alou, Freddie Patek, Roberto Clemente (on three fastballs on the outside corner) and Willie Stargell in order.

Wilcox had another fine year for the 1971 Reds (2-2, Sv, 3.32) and for the 1970 Indianapolis Indians (8-5, 2.20, 22 BB in 102 IP). He tied two other pitchers for the American Association shutout lead (3) and joined J.R. Richard as the league's All-Star hurlers. In Cincinnati, Milt ran into conflict with Johnny Bench and Sparky Anderson after repeatedly shaking off their signals - "For some reason both Bench and Anderson thought they knew more about pitching than a twenty-year-old rookie."

[edit] 1972-1974: Cleveland, trying to learn the spitball, injuries

Milt was dealt to the Cleveland Indians for Ted Uhlaender in December of 1971. With Cleveland, he benefited from the tutelage of Gaylord Perry. Wilcox tried to learn the spitball from Perry, but had little success - "[t]hrowing it was easy. Throwing it near home plate was the tough part." Batters around the American League knew Wilcox was trying to learn the spitball, but did not know of his failure to do so. As a result, he was able to play mind games with hitters. He went 7-14 his first year in Cleveland, but his 3.40 ERA was about average for an AL starter.

For the 1973 Indians, Wilcox fell to 8-10, 5.83. He got his first arm trouble that year. Perry gave him some balm to help but it made it worse and he allowed four runs and let the bases get loaded with none out in his next outing. He lost some velocity, essential for a guy who relied heavily on his fastball. The Indians tried converting him to the bullpen and he was a bit better in '74 (2-2, 4 Sv, 4.67).

[edit] 1975-1976: Back to the farm

Wilcox was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for Dave LaRoche and Brock Davis. Used primarily as a mop-up man, manager Jim Marshall shipped him to the Evansville Triplets, promising him a call-up if he got in shape after six weeks. He went 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA for Evansville. When he was not called up, he called the general manager, who said he was unaware of the deal and brought him back after a talk with Marshall. Overall, Milt had a 5.63 ERA and went 0-1 in 25 outings for the Cubs that year.

Milt did well in spring training but was sent down to the Wichita Aeros to begin '76 as the long reliever and 5th starter in a 4-man rotation. The Detroit Tigers acquired Wilcox on a loan as their Evansville club needed help with an upcoming string of doubleheaders. Evansville eventually purchased Wilcox for some old uniforms and he finished the year 6-7, 3.81 between the two stops.

[edit] 1977-1984: Big years in Detroit

Wilcox started 1977 well in Evansville (9-4, 2.44) and was called up to Detroit, where he was put in the regular rotation in the majors for the first time since his arm injury four years earlier. He went 6-2 with a 3.64 ERA for Detroit to finish the season with 15 wins between the majors and minors. Having been a thrower before, Wilcox says he learned to pitch in Detroit.

Milt had a 13-12, 3.76 year for the 1978 Tigers, starting a run of years of solid starting. He was 7th in the 1978 AL with 16 complete games. He followed with seasons of 12-10, 4.35 in '79, 13-11, 4.38 in '80 and 12-9, 3.03 in 1981, when his 125 ERA+ was the best of his career. He was 7th in the 1981 AL in victories.

In 1982, Wilcox had a 12-10, 3.63 year, again an above-average starter. In 1983, he had a 11-10, 3.97 season. On April 15, he retired the first 26 batters he faced. Pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston ruined his perfect game bid by lining one just out of the reach of Lou Whitaker. Milt did get credit for a one-hit shutout however but "felt rotten." He did not even go to bed that night, roaming the streets of Chicago instead. It was the third time in Major League history that a perfect game had been broken up with one out to go.

In 1984, he became the first pitcher to spend an entire season in a team's starting rotation without recording a complete game. This is odd as Wilcox had pitched at least 8 complete games each year in the majors to that point. He had a 1-0 lead after 8 against the Kansas City Royals in the clincher and Sparky Anderson was willing to leave him in, but Wilcox opted to let Willie Hernandez finish up, which he did. 14 years after he had clinched the NL pennant for Cincinnati, he clinched it for Detroit. He said he was looking forward to October 5, 1998. In 1984, Milt had a 17-8, 4.00 line to set his career high in wins, tied for sixth in the 1984 AL. He won games in the 1984 ALCS and 1984 World Series to help Detroit claim the world championship.

[edit] 1985-1986: Injuries again

Wilcox hurt his arm early in 1985 and needed surgery, ending his season early at 1-3, 4.85. He even contemplated learning the knuckleball. Detroit released him after 9 years together and he was picked up by the Seattle Mariners, but only had a 0-8, 5.50 record for them in 1986, signalling his career was over.

[edit] 1989-1990: Senior sensation

In 1989, he went 12-3 with a 3.19 ERA for the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the Senior Professional Baseball Association. Wilcox led the league in wins. In 1990, he again played for the Pelicans and pitched in 5 games and was 3-1 with a 4.50 ERA when the league folded.

[edit] Career summary

Wilcox had gone 119-113 in the majors with a 4.07 ERA and was 3-1 in the postseason. In the minors, he had been a two-time All-Star at AAA and had been 47-44.

[edit] Superstitions

Milt claimed not to be superstitious - it was only a coincidence he ate blueberry pancakes on the day he was to pitch, he never stepped on the foul line because of a habit, threw the same eight pitches in his warm-up as a routine, etc.

[edit] Trivia

In 2005, Wilcox competed with his dog "Sparky" (named for Sparky Anderson) at diving dog competitions (sort of a canine long-jump) and placed 5th in the national finals. He now owns Ultimate Air Dogs, a national dock jumping organization that sponsors dock jumping events.

Milt coaches at Tiger Fantasy Camp in Lakeland, FL as of 2007.

Sources: 1969-1972 and 1976-1978 Baseball Guides, The Fall of the Roman Umpire by Ron Luciano

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (1984)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (1978)
  • Won a World Series with the Detroit Tigers in 1984

[edit] Further Reading

[edit] Related Sites

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