Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 36

Orioles victory number 36: 6-3 over the New York Mets

1960 Topps Arnie Portocarrero

As far as I can tell this is the oldest Baltimore Orioles card in my collection. I don't remember how I came to acquire it. Chances are I picked it up from a dollar box at a card show or through a trade, although I can't imagine what I would have parted with that would have been acceptable to someone else. It's not like people are willing to part with a 1960 Topps in exchange for 10 1989 Topps.

Still, I have it and I'll keep it. Despite an awesome name, say it out loud and enjoy having "Port-o-ca-rer-o" roll off your tongue, I knew nothing about this pitcher from the Orioles early days. It's fitting that the post follows a victory over the Mets as Portocarrero was a New York native.  He debuted in 1954 for the Philadelphia Athletics and compiled an 18-37 record over 94 games for the Philadelphia/Kansas City organization. In parts of three seasons with the Orioles he would tack another 20 wins and another 20 losses to his totals to finish with a career record of 38-57.

It's a rather pedestrian record for a player who was highly touted coming out of high school. He signed with the Athletics in 1949 and spent the next couple of years in their minor leagues posting impressive numbers in all fields except the win/loss columns. Drafted into the army in 1952 his big league career was delayed two years as he served his country.

Following his military stint he was finally called up to the big club and pitched fairly well for a bad club, garnering a 9-18 record with a 4.06 ERAin 248 innings. Following the season he went to Puerto Rico for winter ball and suffered a shoulder injury that drained the velocity of his fastball. He would struggle to stay in the Athletics rotation over the next three seasons. Once hailed as the savior of the organization, he soon became an afterthought.

In April of 1958 he was traded to Baltimore for Bud Daley*. Daley had spent all of two weeks with the Birds as he had been traded from Cleveland with Dick Williams and Gene Woodling for Larry Doby and Don Ferrarese earlier in the month.

The 1958 Orioles finished 74-79 under manager Paul Richards. Portocarrero had a career year going 15-11 with a 3.25 ERA. Sapped of his fastball he was a pitch-to-contact hurler as he only struck out 90 hitters in 204.2 innings. At 26-years-old it looked like the Orioles might have found a diamond in the rough. Despite the lackluster final record, the 1958 Orioles did have a few of the pieces that would become the foundation for their run over the next couple of decades.

At third base was a 21-year-old Brooks Robinson. Teenage hurler Milt Pappas won 10 games for them. There was some hope for this team, which had only been in Baltimore for four years was turning it around. Unfortunately, Portocarrero wouldn't be around for the payoff. The only highlight of 1959 that he was involved in was not his, but Rocky Colvaito's. On June 10th the Indians clean up hitter slugged 4 home runs against the Orioles. Portocarrero was on the mound for two of those blasts, both of them off of sliders. Injuries limited him to just 39 appearances over the next two seasons and 1960, the year the above card was released, would be his last in the majors. He left baseball the next year and worked as a salesman in the Kansas City area for the rest of his life.

Had he pitched in a different era, a more modern era, perhaps his arm injury would have been diagnosed earlier or he would have rehabbed differently and been able to have a productive career. Instead he became another highly touted prospect that was out of the game before his 30th birthday. 

*Oddly enough - much like Portocarrero sporting a .500 record for the Orioles (20 wins and 20 losses) Daley did the same thing for the Athletics as he went 39 and 39 in four years with Kansas City before he was dealt to the Yankees in 1961.

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