Monday, May 11, 2015
We're glad Bernie Allen chose baseball over football
Allen was the first Twins second basemen who fans really remember. That's a little ironic considering he replaced Billy Martin. Martin became a household name but it was as a manager. He was the very popular manager of our Twins in 1969. Then, because of circumstances somewhat murky, Martin was dismissed. Eventually he gave us the term "Billy ball." We can forget he was a Twins ballplayer in the franchise's very early (and heady) days.
On came Bernie Allen. He was a favorite Minnesota Twin of Del Sarlette of Sarlettes Music in Morris. He was a superbly gifted athlete, having excelled in football for Purdue of the Big Ten.
In April of 1962, the Twins' second season, Allen got installed at second base. He hit a triple on Opening Day. He got notice as a rookie, getting named to the Topps All-Star Rookie Roster. He was third in Rookie of the Year voting.
Allen gave us five seasons of his baseball career. Eventually he took the route common to many big league players, getting moved from team to team. He got traded to the "new" Washington Senators, our Twins having been the previous incarnation there. Camilo Pascual joined Allen in that trade. A shame: two very competent players who had built a following in Minnesota, just moving on. Smart-aleck fans joked about Pascual that he looked like the kind of guy who might steal your hubcaps. In fact he was a classy person, known for his curve ball. Pascual is depicted in the Billy Crystal movie "61*, about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle and the 1961 baseball season.
The Twins were brand shiny new in 1961. We couldn't shake off the mediocrity of the Senators years, not quite yet. We took the step up in 1962 when we gave the dynastic Yankees a run for their money. Allen had that neat rookie season in our team's breakout year. That was also Vic Power's finest year in a Twins uniform. Rich Rollins and Zoilo Versalles plied their skills in the infield. We associate those four just-cited names with the original Twins, even though technically they weren't all on board at the start.
It was 1965 when everything came together and we won the pennant. We took the Dodgers to seven games in the World Series. Making the World Series was nirvana for Minnesotans - we might forget.
Allen and Pascual were traded to the Senators for relief pitcher Ron Kline. As I remember, Kline was a major goat in the team's unraveling at the end of the '67 season, when we got edged out by Boston. I remember Kline and his burly physique. It was a rough occupation those guys were in, in the days before the Curt Flood case. They toiled in a fishbowl, they could absolutely incur fans' wrath when throwing a "gopher ball," and they weren't rewarded materially very well. I imagine many of them stuck with it because they experienced adulation as boys with their talent, and baseball became the only life they knew.
The Curt Flood case drew everyone into reality, forcing us to see these ballplayers as fragile professionals who were entitled to greater rights and rewards.
Allen went on to play five seasons in Washington D.C. Then it was on to the pinstripes of the fabled New York Yankees. He backed up at second and third for the Yankees in 1972 (the summer before my senior year in high school). He stayed with New York for a short time in '73, then it was off to Montreal for a stint before getting his release.
I think most Twins fans like Sarlette and yours truly consider Allen a guy who didn't quite make it, after a promising start. Our standards are too exacting. An objective measure would suggest Allen had a quite satisfying career.
In '65 we had Jerry Kindall as our second baseman. Kindall was a quite unspectacular Twin who was installed at second for his superior glove. He may have saved enough runs with his glove to make up for an anemic batting average. Us young fans didn't give enough consideration to fielding - we looked at batting average first. Bill James would eventually scold all of us for that.
As we progressed into the late '60s, the spectacular Rod Carew came along and got parked at second. It was risky having such a good hitter playing second, given the physical risks of that position: resisting efforts to break up the double play etc. By the same token, I question having had Joe Mauer play catcher. He was too good a hitter for that. Playing catcher ages you and wears down your body. The best catchers are guys built like tanks who bat about .240 and hit 15 home runs. Remember Glenn Borgmann?
Allen: superb all-around athlete
Let's acknowledge Bernie Allen's football career. He was quarterback for the Purdue Boilermakers and won team MVP in 1960. He led the Boilermakers to a 4-4-1 record with wins over #12 Notre Dame, #1 Minnesota - yes, we were in our heyday then - and Ohio State. Our Gophers were the AP and UPI national champion.
Allen led Purdue to victory over Minnesota and Notre Dame on the road! Beating Ohio State got Allen named Offensive Player of the Week by Sports Illustrated. Purdue spent five weeks in the Top 15. Allen was chosen for the Blue-Gray college all-star football game. Yes, and the future Twin threw three touchdowns, leading Blue to a 35-7 win over Gray. Who was the Gray quarterback? My, it was Francis Tarkenton himself.
Meanwhile on the baseball diamond, Allen was chosen All-American shortstop in 1961. He signed with the Twins and played 80 games for Class A Charlotte before getting the nod for the bigs. In '99 he was chosen for the Purdue Athletic Hall of Fame.
An almost-encounter with Woody Hayes
A very memorable moment in Allen's football history came in 1960, when Purdue played Ohio State. Purdue was the 24-21 winner over the third-ranked Buckeyes who were coached by the iconic (if somewhat unstable) Woody Hayes. Allen kicked the game-winning field goal! He then tried seeking out Hayes for a post-game conversation. You see, Hayes had once said of Allen that he was too small to play Big 10 football. Allen wanted to remind the gruff Hayes of that.
"He took off and ran away from me," Allen recalled. Allen added that had the two encountered each other that day, who knows? Remember, Hayes eventually got ushered out of football for slugging an opposing player. "I might have been the first person he hit," Allen said in a vein of levity.
I remember watching the live broadcast when Hayes delivered that punch along the sidelines. You had to watch carefully to see it, as there was a scrum of people. The broadcasters at first did not acknowledge it, perhaps not seeing it clearly, or being afraid to describe something so touchy. After all, this was Woody Hayes, regarded like a military general. We all know what side of the generation gap he was on.
Of course, it was sad at the end when Woody had to go. I guess age was catching up to him. We all have family members like that. It can make us cry.
Passing up "bonus baby" $
Let's share another footnote about Bernie Allen: He could have been the New York Mets' first "bonus baby." Instead Allen took a drop in bonus money to sign with our Twins. The Mets offered $100,000. In 1960 I'm sure that was an astronomical figure (to use the adjective associated with the late Willie Martin of Morris).
Allen knew the Mets weren't going to be competitive in their early expansion years. He was most right regarding that. Why did Bernie choose baseball over football? "It was just something I loved: baseball," Bernie said.
Allen was managed by Ted Williams for a short time.
We all loved those early Minnesota Twins, with Allen being a most high-ranking member in that circle. Us kids watched wide-eyed. It was an emotional bond. We would have to wait until 1987 for a world championship. The ghosts of those original Twins were watching, no doubt. Hats off to Bernard Keith Allen, spectacular multi-sport athlete. (Those of us who collected baseball cards never forget the middle names of those guys. They register with us even after several decades!)
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org