Monday, January 25, 2010
Remembering Curt MottonPosted by Bruce Markusen
Curt Motton was hardly a household name; if you’re a baseball fan under the age of 40, it’s probable you never heard of him. Yet, he was a good enough player to become an important backup on those great Baltimore Orioles teams of 1969-1971. Motton, who died last Thursday at 69 after a yearlong battle with stomach cancer, became one of Earl Weaver’s talented understudies. He batted .303 as a part-timer in 1969 and delivered several key postseason pinch-hits during the team’s long playoff and World Series run from ‘69 to 1974.
Unfortunately for Motton (pronounced MOAT-in), he arrived on the major league scene about ten years too early. If only he had come up in the mid-1970s, he might have been drafted by the expansion Seattle Mariners or Toronto Blue Jays. With his right-handed power and solid defensive skills in left field, Motton would have looked attractive to an expansion club. During his major league career, he hit a home run every 22 at-bats, making one wonder what might have been with more playing time.
As it was, Motton came up with the Orioles in the mid-1960s, at a time when the franchise was stacked with talent at both the minor and major league levels. Though he put up big offensive numbers in Baltimore’s system, Motton did not make his big league debut until 1967, when he was already 26 years old. He found his outfield path blocked immediately, from left to right, by Curt Blefary, Paul Blair, and Frank Robinson. Even after Blefary was traded, Don Buford and Merv Rettenmund provided Motton with even more outfield competition. There was simply no room for Motton to play as anything more than a pinch-hitter and spot starter. That’s why he never came to bat more than 217 times, and usually settled for fewer than 100 at-bats per season.
By all accounts, Motton was one of the game’s nicest men. Nicknamed “Cuz” because of his friendly manner, Motton became especially popular with teammates (and Weaver). Outgoing with a strong sense of humor, Motton was active in the team’s famed Kangaroo Kourt, headed up by “Judge” Frank Robinson, which lightheartedly fined players for acts of embarrassment and general stupidity. Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, upon learning of Motton’s death, praised his teammate for his engaging personality and ability to “light up a room.” Orioles fans, who came to know him through promotional appearances and life-after-baseball, universally regarded him as a caring and kind gentleman.
Quite clearly, there are lots of people in baseball who will miss the good guy named Cuz.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.