By Helen Ross
They called him Mr. Warmth. And no, we’re not talking about comedian Don Rickles.
During his years with the Milwaukee Brewers, Mike Caldwell actually owned that nickname. The pitcher wore a seemingly permanent scowl on the mound, masking his competitive fire, and at the same time, lending credence to what more than one sportswriter would describe as a grumpy demeanor.
One Madison, Wisconsin columnist, in fact, went so far as to reminisce in a 2007 article that Caldwell was “ornery, obnoxious, nasty and sometimes downright mean” before adding that those were “all attributes he carried to the mound to make him an effective pitcher.”
And make no mistake, the Tarboro native – who was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1998 – found considerable success with the Brewers from 1977-84 after two-year stints with the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, as well as 14 games with the Cincinnati Reds.
With baseball finally in full swing after the COVID-19 shutdown, Caldwell has been selected the NCSHOF Member of the Month for September.
In all, Caldwell spent seven seasons with Milwaukee and won 102 games, posting double digits in the win column for his first six years on the mound for the Brewers. Two of those wins came in the 1982 World Series, when he had a 2.04 ERA, but Milwaukee ended up losing to St. Louis in seven games.
The former N.C. State hurler’s finest individual season with the Brewers was 1978. He posted a 22-9 record and had a 2.36 ERA while leading the American League in complete games and finishing second to Ron Guidry for the Cy Young Award. He was named the AL Comeback Player of the Year, as well.
Caldwell finished his major league with a career record of 137-130 in 14 seasons, as well as 939 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.81. None of his success should surprise those who followed his career at N.C. State where he was the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year in 1971.
Caldwell finished his career for the Wolfpack with a 32-10 record and a 2.30 ERA, which ranks fourth all-time at N.C. State. He still ranks first in single season and career complete games, as well as second in career wins and innings pitched. He struck out 296 batters which ranks fourth in State history.
Not surprisingly, the pitcher, who was known for his sinker, was inducted into the N.C. State Sports Hall of Fame in 1998 and he made the ACC’s 50th anniversary baseball team in 2003. He also one of just two players selected for the inaugural class of the Wolfpack’s Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.
Caldwell already had a job lined up with Carolina Telephone after graduation, but his plans changed when San Diego picked him in the 12th round of the amateur draft in 1971. After he finished his major league career, Caldwell coached baseball at Campbell University from 1987-1991 and later in the minor leagues.