#201 Orioles Rookie Stars (Sam Bowens/Wally Bunker)
Both guys on this card had outstanding rookie seasons in 1964, then somewhat fell off the map in subsequent years.
The descent was worse for Bowens, who was the starting right fielder for an O’s team that won 97 games in ’64. He finished third on the team (behind Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson) with 22 home runs and 71 RBI, and posted a decent .263/.323/.453 line in 553 plate appearances.
That was basically it for Bowens, who basically became unable to hit over the last five seasons of his career. As a part-time player from 1965-69, he batted an awful .188 over 814 plate appearances, with only 22 homers and 20 doubles over that span. He was noted for his defense, and he earned a World Series ring for Baltimore in 1966 despite not playing in the Series.
The Orioles finally had enough after the 1967 season and sold him to the Washington Senators, for whom he toiled in misery for two more seasons. He played in minor league ball in the Braves and Pirates’ systems in 1970, but called it quits when he never got called back up the big leagues.
Bowens died at age 65 in 2003.
Wally Bunker had a much better career than Bowens, but his standout season also came in 1964. As a 19-year-old, Bunker went 19-5 with a 2.69 ERA (a 134 ERA+). He threw two one-hitters before the All-Star break and became an instant sensation in Baltimore, where the mound became known as “Bunker Hill” when he started.
Bunker eventually would finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Tony Oliva, and he also finished 12th in the AL MVP race.
This, of course, was well before there were Strasburg-like constraints placed on young pitchers, and it appears as if the 214 innings Bunker threw as a teenager came back to bite him.
Bunker was still decent in 1965, throwing 189 innings and posting a 3.38 ERA. But arm soreness started to take its toll, and his ERA ballooned to 4.29 (that wasn’t good in that era) in 1966 as a part-time starter. He did manage to put together a gem in his only postseason start, throwing a complete-game shutout in Game 3 of the World Series — a 1-0 Orioles win over the Dodgers. Baltimore went on to sweep the series.
He was used mostly out of the bullpen over the next two seasons, as his arm couldn’t handle the stress of being a starter. His Orioles career was over at the age of 23.
The Kansas City Royals took Bunker with the 25th pick in the expansion draft, and he put together a great bounce-back season in 1969. He threw the first pitch in Royals history, and ended up tossing a career-best 222 1/3 innings and posting a solid 3.23 ERA and a career-high 130 strikeouts.
Unfortunately, that season basically took everything out of him. He was unable to start regularly in 1970, and in May 1971 he was demoted to AAA Omaha, where he would quietly fade away after a brief stint in 1972. Bunker was done with baseball at age 27.
Bunke is currently 68 years old, and is an artist in Florida. He co-wrote a children’s book about baseball with his wife, which came out in 2012.