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Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Bamberger tutored multitude of 20-game winners news services

NORTH REDINGTON BEACH, Fla. -- George Bamberger, a former major league pitcher who became a coach and managed Milwaukee's "Bambi's Bombers" teams in the late 1970s, died of cancer. He was 80.

Bamberger, who also managed the New York Mets, died Sunday night at home in North Redington Beach, according to Garden Sanctuary Funeral Home and Cemetery in Seminole.

"He was perfect for Milwaukee," said baseball commissioner Bud Selig, whose family has controlled the team since 1970. "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 here."

Bamberger was Earl Weaver's pitching coach with the Baltimore Orioles for 10 seasons, during which he produced 18 20-game winners, including four for the 1971 American League champions -- Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson.

In all, Palmer won 20 games seven times under Bamberger's tutelage. Cuellar and McNally were four-time 20-game winners, while Dobson, Mike Torrez and Wayne Garland won 20 once each for Bamberger. As manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, Bamberger produced 20-game winners in Mike Caldwell and Teddy Higuera.

"George Bamberger will always be remembered for bringing the Brewers to the forefront of the baseball world for the first time," team executive Rick Schlesinger said. "His teams in the late 1970s, Bambi's Bombers, captured the imagination of all Brewers fans during that era."

Bamberger first came to the major leagues in 1951, briefly, as a member of the Bobby Thomson-led New York Giants, pitching in two games. He pitched in five games for the Giants in 1952, three games for the Orioles in 1959, all without winning or losing game, and spent most of his pitching career in the Pacific Coast League.

There he had more success, reputedly because of his reliance on his "Staten Island sinker" (he was born on Staten Island in New York City), a euphemism for a spitball.

His major league ERA was 9.42 and his winning percentage as a major league manager was .489, but as a coach he was very highly regarded, even if some of his pitchers' successes may have come from using the Staten Island sinker.

Frank Cashen, who spent many years with the Orioles organization and who as GM of the Mets hired Bamberger to succeed Joe Torre as New York manager, said "he was absolutely the best pitching coach I ever saw."

Speaking to Newsday on Monday, Cashen said, "Some of his theories were revolutionary. He grew up in the era of the four-man rotation and believed in it passionately."

He left the Orioles to manage the Brewers in 1978 and in his first two years won 93 and 95 games. In 1980, he had heart problems that led to bypass surgery and managed only 92 games before quitting.

"Certainly, I'm saddened," former Brewers star Paul Molitor said. "I hadn't had the chance to be in touch with George through the years, but I'll always remember him as my first manager. He was somewhat fatherly in his relationship with me. He took care of me.

"He made coming to the park fun every day. He had a good time but made sure we'd get the work done. He was a big part of the Brewers turning the corner to become a winning franchise in the late '70s and early '80s."

In 1982 and part of '83, the Mets he managed were woeful, but he did turn Jesse Orosco into a closer. He was Darryl Strawberry's first major league manager and had a hand in laying the groundwork for the Mets' outstanding teams later in the decade.

Bamberger returned to Milwaukee as manager in 1985 and '86, but his teams finished last both seasons.

"He taught me a lot," Selig said. "There's nobody who knew pitching like he did. He believed pitchers should throw more. He didn't like the five-day rotation."

Bamberger was a right-handed pitcher who spent most of his playing career in the minor leagues, including 15 years at Triple-A. He won 213 games in the minors from 1946 to 1963, but never had a decision and compiled a 9.42 ERA in 10 major league games over 14 1-3 innings with the New York Giants in 1951 and 1952 and Orioles in 1959.

Although baseball reference books list Bamberger's birth date as August 1, 1925, his daughter, Lori Bailey, said her father was born in 1923.

Bamberger, known as Bambi, was living in Redington Beach, Fla., with his wife, Wilma, when he died after battling cancer for three years.

Survivors include Wilma, to whom he was married for 53 years; three daughters; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

At the request of the family, there will be no services.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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