Chicago Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas poses during spring training baseball in 1971. Pappas, who won 209 games during his 17-year career with the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs died Tuesday morning of natural causes at his home in the northern Illinois community of Beecher, his widow, Judi Pappas said. He was 76. | AP file photo

Former Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas dies at age 76

SHARE Former Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas dies at age 76
SHARE Former Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas dies at age 76

Milt Pappas, who came within a disputed pitch of throwing a perfect game for the Chicago Cubs in 1972 and was part of the lopsided trade that brought Frank Robinson to Baltimore, died Tuesday. He was 76.

Pappas died of natural causes at his home in the northern Illinois community of Beecher, said his widow, Judi Pappas.

The 6-foot-3 right-hander won 209 games during his 17-year career with the Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves and Cubs, finishing with a career ERA of 3.40 to go along with 1,728 strikeouts and 43 shutouts. He also hit 20 home runs.

“He had a really good career. I think people forget he won over 200 games,” said Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper, who got to know Pappas over the years from his frequent 7th-inning stretch appearances. “And he during the ‘Golden Era’ of baseball, throughout the ‘60s, facing all the best hitters in the game.

“And then the no-hitter ended up becoming the big story, with Bruce Froemming.”

The defining moment of a long, productive career came down to three consecutive pitches Pappas threw to the San Diego Padres’ Larry Stahl, the 27th batter he faced on Sept. 2, 1972 at Wrigley Field. Pappas had retired the first 26 and had a one-ball, two-strike count on Stahl.

Umpire Bruce Froemming called the next three pitches balls, and Pappas’ lost his bid for a perfect game. He retired the next man to finish with the no-hitter but expressed bitterness over Froemming’s calls in the Stahl at-bat the rest of his years.

“He still would talk about that like it happened yesterday,” Kasper said.

Pappas was a teenager when he joined the Orioles in 1957, and he started quickly.

“He spent two weeks in the minors and then he was in the major leagues pitching to Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle,” Judi Pappas said.

Pappas won at least 10 games every year he was in Baltimore and was part of the Baby Birds staff in 1964, a young rotation with great promise. He was an All-Star by 1962 and started the Midsummer Classic in 1965, months before he and two other players were dealt to Cincinnati for Robinson, the future Hall of Famer who won the Triple Crown and was the World Series MVP in his first season with the Orioles.

Pappas was sent to Atlanta two years later, where he pitched 2 1/3 innings of relief and gave up three runs in the 1969 NL Championship Series against the Mets, and then to Chicago in 1970.

Twice in the next four seasons he won 17 games with the Cubs, including 1972, when he went 17-7 and came within one pitch of throwing a perfect game. Instead he walked San Diego’s Larry Stahl with two outs in the ninth and finished with a no-hitter. He disputed the calls by umpire Bruce Froemming for years and his widow said he forever insisted he had thrown a strike.

Pappas’ name was in the news a number of times after he retired before the 1974 season. In 1987, the body of his then-wife, Carole, who disappeared five years earlier, was found in a vehicle in a pond in suburban Chicago. The coroner determined there was no sign of foul play and the Wheaton police chief said it appeared she was on her way home and accidentally drove into the pond.

Last year, Jake Arrieta won his eighth straight start to become the first Cubs pitcher to win that many consecutive games since Pappas won 11 in 1972.

Cubs executive chairman Tom Ricketts said the team was saddened by news of Pappas’ death.

“The Cubs organization is sad to learn of the passing of Milt Pappas, who not only had a special place on the field with the team in the early 1970s, but also maintained a relationship with Cubs fans as a frequent guest at Wrigley Field, the Cubs Convention and other team events,” he said in a statement.

“Milt will forever be remember for one of the most dramatic pitching performances in team history as he delivered a no-hitter that neared perfection in 1972. Pappas ended his impressive career wearing a Cubs uniform and we will always consider him part of the Chicago Cubs family. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends, relatives and fans as we mourn this loss,” Ricketts added.

Though Pappas spent nearly half his career in Baltimore and just four seasons in Chicago, Judi Pappas said he always considered himself a Cub.

“He was first and foremost a Cub, absolutely,” she said.

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