George Bamberger, 80; Famed Orioles Pitching Coach and Brewers Manager

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

George Bamberger, the former manager of the Milwaukee Brewers and the New York Mets who was probably best known for his wizardry as a pitching coach with the great Baltimore Oriole teams of the 1960s and 70s, has died. He was 80.

Bamberger, who coached the Baltimore pitching staff that had four 20-game winners in 1971, died Sunday of cancer at his home in North Redington Beach, Fla., according to an announcement on Major League Baseball’s website.

Hired by Milwaukee as manager in 1978 after 10 years as pitching coach with the Orioles, Bamberger led the Brewers -- nicknamed Bambi’s Bombers -- to 93 wins in his first season, an improvement of 26 wins over the previous season and a third-place finish in the American League East. It was the first winning season in the team’s history, and Bamberger was named American League manager of the year by United Press International. The next year the team won 95 games, but the team finished second to the Orioles.


“He was perfect for Milwaukee,” baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, whose family has controlled the Brewers since 1970, said Tuesday. “I remember he’d get to the ballpark early, see people tailgating and he’d stop and have a beer with them. He was really a beloved figure.”

Bamberger had a heart attack during spring training in Arizona the next season and his participation with the Brewers was limited to 92 games. He retired after the season.

Two years later, the Mets talked him out of retirement, but Bamberger couldn’t repeat his Brewers magic and the team finished last in the National League East. They weren’t playing much better the next season, when Bamberger resigned during the season. He returned to manage the Brewers in 1985 and 1986.

He had a 458-478 record as a major league manager, including 377-351 with the Brewers.

But for many baseball purists, he will be remembered for his work with the Baltimore pitching staff.

The 1971 starting staff included Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson. Baltimore was the second team in major league history to have four 20-game winners in one season. The Chicago White Sox was the first to do so, in 1920.

Orioles pitchers won 20 or more games in a season, 18 times during the Bamberger era. Palmer, the team’s ace, won three Cy Young Awards while Bamberger was his coach. Cuellar shared a Cy Young Award with Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers.

“You knew he was going to be there for you when things weren’t going well,” Palmer told the Baltimore Sun last month. “You knew he was on your side, and that your relationship with him wasn’t going to be dependent on how well you did. It wasn’t a day-to-day thing. He wasn’t going to be very judgmental. He was just going to be there to help you.”

Bamberger thought pitchers should pitch more, so to end arm soreness he urged more complete games. He also stressed hard running to build up endurance.

He had some interesting ways to relax his pitchers during his visits to the mound.

“He’d come out sometimes and talk about woodworking,” Mike Flanagan, Orioles vice president of baseball operations who pitched under Bamberger, told the Sun last month. “Or he’d come out and say, ‘This is a hell of a mess.’ It made you feel like you sort of controlled your outcome. He just went about it differently than most coaches.”

Bamberger was born on Staten Island, N.Y. and served in the Army during World War II. A right-handed pitcher, Bamberger spent most of his playing career in the minor leagues, including 15 years at the Triple-A level. He appeared in seven games with the New York Giants in 1951 and 1952. He pitched for the Orioles in three games in 1959. He retired as a player in 1963.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Wilma; three daughters, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.