Sunday, May 12, 2019

Tom Phoebus (#97)

Tom Phoebus was the first of a “second wave” of starting pitchers to come up through the Orioles’ farm system in the late 1960s.  This group included Jim Hardin (who we just looked at in the previous post on this blog) and Dave Leonhard, and came a year or 2 after the Dave McNally / Wally Bunker / Jim Palmer group.

Phoebus really stepped up for the Orioles in his rookie season of 1967, leading a pitching staff decimated by injuries to McNally, Bunker, and Palmer. (Hardin would join the team by mid-season.)

A Baltimore native, he was signed by the Orioles in June 1960 and played in their organization until making his major-league debut in September 1966. Phoebus pitched shutouts in his first 2 major-league starts, only the 4th AL pitcher to have done so.

Tom led the team with 14 wins in 1967 – the only pitcher with double-digit wins. He was named the Sporting News Rookie of the Year in 1967. He also won 15 games in ’68 and 14 games in ’69.

1970 saw him slump to a 5-5 record, but by that time McNally had returned to his old form (leading the AL with 24 wins in 1970 and in the middle of a 4-year 20-game win streak). The O’s also had Mike Cuellar on board now, who won the AL Cy Young award in 1969 and whose 24 wins in 1970 co-led the AL with McNally. Even Jim Palmer was back on top, beginning a streak of four 20-win seasons in 1970. My point is, Phoebus had done his job from 1967-69, holding down the fort until the big guns arrived.

Phoebus played for 2 more seasons after 1970, but never won more than 3 games again. In December 1970 he was traded to the Padres in a 6-player deal that brought pitcher Pat Dobson to Baltimore (we all know how THAT turned out).

In late-April 1972 he was sold to the Cubs, where he pitched unremarkably for the remainder of his final season.

That October he was traded to the Braves for infielder Tony LaRussa. Phoebus pitched for the Braves’ AAA team in 1973 before retiring.

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