The Forgotten Brewers Series: Part VII

The player teammates called "Mr. Warmth" is this week’s Forgotten Brewer. Ralph Michael "Mike" Caldwell was known for his sinker and his near permanent scowl—hence the nickname. After six plus, mostly tough, years in the national league with the Padres, Giants and Reds, Caldwell came to Milwaukee in June of 1977 and found success. By the time he retired following the 1984 season, he was among Brewers leaders in games won (102, second), games started (217, fourth), innings pitched (1604.2, second) and complete games (81, first).

Mike Caldwell was born in Tarboro, North Carolina on January 22, 1949. He attended N.C. State, where, as a freshman in 1968, he led the Wolfpack to an ACC title and its only birth in a College World Series. In his four-year collegiate career, Caldwell posted a 32-10 record, was twice a first-team all conference selection and was the 1971 ACC Player of the Year. 

San Diego drafted Caldwell in the 12th round of the 1971 draft. He made his major league debut in September of that year, jumping all the way from Class A to the Padres. He appeared in six games in 1971 and made the club out of spring training the following year. Caldwell went 7-11 with a 4.01 ERA in 1972 and 5-14 with a 3.74 ERA in 1973. Following the ’73 season, the Padres sent Caldwell to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Willie McCovey and Bernie Williams. The change of scenery propelled Caldwell to the best season of his young career. In ‘74 he went 14-5 with a 2.95 ERA and 1.262 WHIP.

Follow the jump for more on Mike Caldwell.

 

Poor performances, injuries and subsequent elbow surgery plagued Caldwell for the next two seasons. After the 1976 season, Caldwell was back on the trading block. The Giants traded him, along with John D’Acquisto and Dave Rader to the Cardinals for Willie Crawford, John Curtis and Vic Harris. Prior to the start of the 1977 season, the Cardinals traded Caldwell to the Reds for Pat Darcy. Barely a month into the ’77 season, Caldwell was traded for a third time, this time to the Brewers in exchange for minor leaguers Dick O’Keefe and Garry Pyka. Caldwell came out of the bullpen in Cincinnati but returned to the starting rotation with the Brewers. He went 5-8 with a 4.58 ERA in his first season with Milwaukee.

In 1978, Caldwell earned a place in the starting rotation after an injury to Moose Haas. He flourished. Caldwell earned Comeback Player of the Year honors and finished second in AL Cy Young Award voting (behind Ron Guidry) based on his 22-9 record, 2.36 ERA and 1.064 WHIP. He led the league in complete games with 23. Caldwell credited manager George Bamberger and pitching coach, Cal McLish, for helping him regain his confidence.  Batters, especially members of the Yankees, complained that his turnaround wasn’t due to his confidence but rather his use of a spitball. The lefthander used a three-quarters delivery and threw sidearm to some lefties. His best pitch was his sinker. Caldwell denied that the success of his sinker was due to a little extra lubricant.

1978 also marked a turnaround for the Brewers as a team. They posted winning records from 1978-1983 and appeared in the 1981 and 1982 playoffs. Caldwell was an integral part of the rotation during that time. He pitched in games two and five of the 1981 division series against the Yankees. In 1982 he lost game one of the division series against the Angels but came back to win games one and five against the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series.

Caldwell started to lose his fastball in the 1983 and 1984 seasons and his performance suffered. The Brewers released him in January of 1985 and he retired from baseball. Caldwell finished with a 102-80 record as a Brewer with a 3.74 ERA, 1.284 WHIP and 15.9 WAR (Baseball Reference). In his 14-year career he went 137-130 with a 3.81 ERA, 1.319 WHIP and 17.5 WAR (Baseball Reference). In 1994 Caldwell began his career as a pitching coach and minor league manager. He currently serves as the pitching coach for the Arizona Giants.

The oddest little tidbit I could find about Caldwell was that he was the first pitcher to defeat Guidry in 1978. On July 7, 1978 the Brewers and Caldwell defeated the Yankees 6-0 and dropped Guidry’s record to 13-1. It would be the second of three shut outs that Caldwell would pitch against the Yankees that year. Guidry lost only three games in 1978 and all three opposing pitchers were left-handed and named Mike (Caldwell, Flanagan of the Orioles, Willis of the Blue Jays).

Mike Caldwell, you are no longer forgotten.

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