Oriole pitcher Steve Stone, a self-proclaimed "baseball hobo," culminated his storybook summer today by winning the American League Cy Young Award by a narrow margin over Oakland's Mike Norris.
"I have been taken from the ranks of journeymen and lifted to the pinnacle of my profession," the dapper 33-year-old said in a crowded press conference here at Memorial Stadium.
"After 12 years in the major leagues and four teams, I'm tired of being a baseball hobo. It's time for me to settle down. It may as well be here in Baltimore.
"I've always looked at this award as something that someone else was supposed to win," continued Stone, who kept the coveted trophy "in the Oriole family" by becoming the fifth Baltimore pitcher in eight years to win the award (Jim Palmer won it three of those years).
"A great season has always eluded Steve Stone in the past," he said. "I could never put six good months together in one season before 1980. But I feel good about this. If you were to write a script for this year and put down everything you could possibly want to happen, it would unfold just like this."
The stylish right-hander, 25-7 with a 3.23 earned run average, led the major leagues in victories last season, winning 14 straight games during one stretch, after starting off 2-3. Stone, who had never before won more than 15 games, set a club record for victories and credited his success to his unshakeable confidence, his superior-fielding teammates and his pitching coach, Ray Miller.
Miller revamped Stone's mound style. Stone, who began his career with San Francisco in the National League, relied last season on the accuracy and change of speeds of his curve ball, and took less time between pitches. This established him as the Oriole "stopper" and he pitched 251 innings.
Stone predicted today he will win at least 30 games next year.
The Baseball Writers Association of America gave Stone and Norris 13 first-place votes each, but Stone received more second- and third-place votes, totaling 100 points to Norris' 91. New York reliever Rich Gossage, with his league-leading 33 saves, was third and his teammate, Tommy John, was fourth. Kansas City's Dan Quisenberry was fifth, his teammate Larry Gura sixth and Baltimore's "Cy Future" Scott McGregor seventh. Six of the seven pitchers came from three teams.
Stone, a wine connoisseur and restaurateur, started last season with a 78-79 career record and had been written off by several teams and most observers as too small and not durable enough. More than a third of his 103 career victories have come the last two years, since Baltimore signed him as free agent for $200,000.
"A lot of people in Chicago (where Stone pitched for the White Sox twice and for the Cubs) said my career was over. One reporter wrote that I was finished, and I told him if I made a successful comeback I'd saute the article," Stone with a laugh. "Every time I've had to progress to a higher league, they've said, 'Well, he did well at this level, but he's not 6 foot 5, 200 pounds.'
"But I've learned that the ball still has to come in between the waist and the knees, no matter where it starts from. I went out the last season and a half with a great amount of confidence. I truly believed I could win every time I went out to the mound.
"At this point, when I say I can win 30 games, I truly believe that with this ball club, that's not impossible. This team doesn't beat itself and with Earl Weaver managing and the bullpen we have, I'm expecting another season like this next year."
Stone, who had to rebuild his right arm after rotator cuff surgery in 1976, said he telephoned Miller at 3 a.m. after he had received the award to say, "Hey you old goat, you got two in a row." Baltimore lefty Mike Flanagan won it last year.
"Steve's not overpowering, but he showed this season that he's one of the most intelligent in baseball," said Weaver, who flew in from Miami this afternoon for a club luncheon.
So seemingly slim were Stone's chances of drastically improving his previously mediocre career that Oriole management agreed to include in his contract a $10,000 "Cy Young bonus" clause.