Career Year: Wally Bunker – 1964
The Baltimore Orioles of the early 1960s were a fountain of young pitching talent, from the likes of Chuck Estrada, Milt Pappas and Steve Barber at the beginning of the decade to later arrivals such as Jim Palmer, for whom the 1960s were a struggle until he matured into the Hall of Fame bound ace of the O’s staff in the 1970s.
One of the latest of the Baltimore “Kiddie Corps” was also one of the most immediately successful. Wally Bunker was a right-handed power pitcher who was the ace of the Orioles staff at age 19 and then retired from baseball by age 27.
Bunker was signed by the Orioles in 1963 and was a member of the starting rotation a year later. The 1964 season marked his career year, as Bunker was the ace of the Orioles staff, going 19-5 with a 2.69 ERA. He threw 12 complete games, second on the Orioles staff to Pappas. Bunker led the American League with a .792 winning percentage and pitched a pair of one-hitters. He finished second in the balloting for American League Rookie of the Year to the Minnesota Twins outfielder (and league batting champion) Tony Oliva.
In late September of 1964, Bunker felt something give in his right arm and was never the same pitcher, plagued by consistent arm miseries for the rest of his career. He was 10-8 for the Orioles in 1965 and 10-6 for the American League champion O’s in 1966. He was the winning pitcher in the third game of the 1966 World Series, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0 with a six-hitter and outdueling Dodger lefty Claude Osteen.
Bunker struggled with arm problems over the next two seasons, going 3-7 in 1967 and 2-0 in only 18 appearances in 1968. He was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 1968 expansion draft, and was the Opening Day starter, throwing the first pitch in Royals history. At 12-11, he was the team’s winningest pitcher in the Royals’ inaugural season, but was only 2-11 for Kansas City in 1970. He was released by the Royals after seven appearances in 1971, going 2-3 in his final season.
Bunker pitched for nine big league seasons, posting a 60-52 record with a career earned run average of 3.51.