History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Cesar Tovar, "Pepito," dashed several pitchers' dreams

The first thing I remember about Cesar Tovar is how our fans booed him when he had the kind of dropoff in productivity that inevitably comes with all players. That dropoff was in 1972. He was hindered by a shoulder problem due to hit-by-pitch. Fans demand productivity.
In November of that year, "Pepito" was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Twins chapter of his career had been tremendous. The boos were never called for. Players know full well the highs and lows they can experience.
Baseball players can make their own mark in distinctive and exotic ways. Minnesota Twin Rich Reese did this by hitting pinch-hit grand slams. Tovar had a couple distinct ways of asserting himself. One was his availability to play virtually any position on the diamond. Simply knowing that would have been enough. But the Twins presented a stunt where Pepito would play all nine positions in a game. He was small in stature but very tough-bodied.
It was September 22 of 1968 - the Twins had faded to where they trailed Detroit by 26 games - when Tovar got his assignment to play all over the diamond. Calvin Griffith put forward the idea, and from the standpoint of marketing it didn't work. Only 11,340 fans turned out at our Metropolitan Stadium. Fans seemed to have lost some of the emotional attachment they once felt with the Twins. Tovar was the starting pitcher. He hurled a scoreless inning vs. the A's and even struck out Reggie Jackson! He then put on the catcher's mask.
I have read skepticism of this kind of stunt, based on how a player could be injury-prone playing a position that isn't common for him. The most risky spot would be catcher. Didn't Bert Campaneris get injured doing this kind of stunt?
Tovar got through his catching stint, then he moved counter-clockwise around the infield. He then breezed through his outfield duties (left to right, for the record).
Not fazed by top pitchers
In addition to Tovar's versatility, there was his special talent of finding ways of getting to pitchers who were trying to fashion no-hitters. I remember watching NBC's Today Show on the morning after Tovar had spoiled a potential no-hitter. I seem to recall the pitcher was Dave McNally of Baltimore. Tovar arrived at first and then flashed a toothy smile. This hit came in the ninth inning of a game played on May 15, 1969. Minnesota and Baltimore would win their respective divisions that season, in the first year of the divisional format.
Tovar also spoiled the potential no-hitter that was being spun by McNally's teammate Mike Cuellar. Remember him? Tovar got to "Crazy Horse" Cuellar for a hit in the ninth inning on August 10, 1969. All that was quite exciting, but we would have gladly conceded those no-hitters if the Twins could have just won the pennant. Billy Martin managed the Twins. He failed to guide our team past the nemesis Orioles in the 1969 playoffs. It was heartbreaking for us Twins fans.
Tovar holds a record along with Eddie Milner: they each had the only hit in five one-hitters! The first time Pepito did this was against Barry Moore on April 30, 1967. The Twins almost won the pennant in '67. We were edged out at the very end by Boston in the most devastating episode that Twins fans my age can remember.
Tovar broke up the no-hit bid of Dick Bosman on August 13 of 1970. We won the division that year like in '69, this time under Bill Rigney, but again we lost to McNally, Cuellar and the Orioles in the playoffs. Misery.
In 1975 Tovar came through with a hit when Catfish Hunter was striving to complete a no-hitter. The date was May 31.
Tovar might have accomplished his feat a sixth time, but he made the last out in Vida Blue's no-hitter on September 21, 1970. I remember seeing Blue at the Met in his prime. Those were turbulent days when players had come to realize they weren't being rewarded enough for their talents. It was sad to see anything stand in the way of players simply going out and doing their best, "playing ball." The Curt Flood legal case was the turning point. In the meantime there was lots of grousing, sullen dispositions and holdouts. At issue, primarily, was the "reserve clause." Bowie Kuhn played Darth Vader (in the popular, shallow conception of things). Having read Bowie's biography, I'm inclined toward revisionist thinking about him, as he seemed a nice man who loved baseball. He was a lawyer who was obligated to the owners.
A rich Minnesota Twins era
Tovar and Rod Carew stole home in the same inning against Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan of the Detroit Tigers on May 18, 1969. On August 23 at the Met, Tovar stole home on the front end of a triple steal!
Fans my age remember well the top of the Twins batting order for an extended time: Tovar, Carew, Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew. I recall Killebrew sometimes shifted to third against lefthanded pitchers and Oliva moved to clean-up. I didn't really understand that ploy unless it was to help Harmon see some better pitches.
Proficient as he was at all positions, Tovar found his home mainly in the outfield. He was a favorite of Billy Martin, who like Tovar was a small-of-stature guy who overcame that possible weakness with an all-out approach to the game.
"Pepito" is derived from "pepae burra" which, for the record, has a raunchy definition: the genitals of a she-donkey.
Cesar was a native of Caracas, Venezuela. The accurate pronunciation of his last name would have the accent on the second syllable. I remember when broadcaster Curt Gowdy spoiled our fun by deciding that the pronunciation of Tony Perez (third baseman of the Reds) should be changed. I didn't see the need to bother with this. We had grown accustomed to "per-EZ." It sounded cool. Gowdy learned that technically it should be PER-ez and he went with that, not that it ever caught on.
From the Reds system to the Twins
Tovar developed his skills in the bushes, like with the Missoula (MT) Timberjacks of the Pioneer League. He played with the Seattle Rainiers and Rocky Mount Leafs. He was in the Cincinnati Reds system where there was another budding player possibly standing in his way: Pete Rose. Boxed out by Rose along with Bobby Klaus and Gus Gil, Tovar was sent "on loan" to play for our Twins, for our affiliate Dallas-Forth Worth Rangers.
Tovar bounced back to the Reds for a time, then he was re-acquired by our Minny crew in a trade that had Gerry Arrigo on the other end. Tovar met and became friends with Billy Martin in 1963. Martin was a minor league instructor in spring training with the Twins. Martin made a special project of the versatile and enthusiastic Tovar.
Also in '63, Tovar formed a bond with Tony Oliva who was a year away from making his big splash as a rookie. I'm puzzled why Oliva never mastered English better.
Tovar debuted as a big leaguer on April 12, 1965, in the season that saw us win the pennant. He got sent to the Denver Bears for more polishing. He came back to the bigs in September and played 18 games, but he didn't make our post-season roster. We lost the World Series to the Dodgers in seven games.
In '66 Tovar came on strong with his "utility" asset for our Twins. In '67 he was a multi-position wizard, playing third base (70 games), center field (64 games), second base (36), left field (10), shortstop (9) and right field (5). Wow! He led the league in plate appearances with 726. He had statistical impact in many other categories. The Twins were in first place with two games left in '67. I don't want to share the rest of the story.
It occurs to me that a team that needs a utility player as much as the '67 Twins did, might have weaknesses. I love to ponder an "alternate history" where the Twins win the '67 pennant, and this time win the World Series!
A bat with .300 pop
Tovar was a .300 hitter in 1970. At this stage he had settled into the center field position. In '71 he shifted to left and in '72 to right. In '71 he was spectacular with a .311 average and league-leading 204 hits. On September 19, 1972, Tovar belted a walk-off home run to hit for the cycle.
Tovar tapered off in 1972 when I heard those cringeworthy boos. He joined the Philadelphia Phillies for the '73 summer (my first summer after high school). Still big league caliber, Tovar's next stop would be the Texas Rangers where he would bat leadoff for his old mentor, Billy Martin. Tovar responded with a terrific .292 average.
In August of '75, Tovar had the good fortune to join the division-winning Oakland A's. Tovar appeared in two games of the 1975 American League championship series, getting one hit in two at-bats and scoring two runs! I'm very happy to be reminded of this. He saw limited action for the A's in 1976. He broke his wrist making a diving catch on May 31.
Tovar wound down his career with the most storied franchise in baseball: the New York Yankees. He played his last big league game with them on September 29, 1976, when he was 35 years old. He retired with a .278 career average and 226 stolen bases.
But wait! Tovar wasn't completely done as a player. He played in the Mexican League in the late 1970s. In '79 he played for the Caracas Metropolitanos and hit .285 for manager Jim Busby.
Tovar left us for that big baseball diamond in the sky, on July 14, 1994. He died of pancreatic cancer in his native Caracas. He was just 54 years old.
Cesar Tovar had so many assets that made him fun to watch. Isn't there a Bible verse that reads "forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do." I would cite that in connection with those booing fans at the Met in 1972.
Cesar Tovar, RIP.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Shortstop Leo Cardenas: underrated former MN Twin

Us Twins fans need to go out of our way to remember Leo Cardenas properly. Our team was very fortunate to obtain the shortstop when he was in his prime. He became a Twin via a trade in November of 1968. He might seem overshadowed in our memories because of Zoilo Versalles.
Versalles' name is forever ingrained on our minds, such was his importance during the Twins' earliest years. Most importantly, Zoilo was the shortstop for our pennant-winning team in 1965. My, Zoilo was named American League MVP in 1965, so no wonder he's enshrined in our thoughts.
Versalles went into a sad decline. Did he have problems with self-discipline or basic mental stability? I recall reading that he abused "greenies," those pills I learned about when reading Jim Bouton's "Ball Four." I read a book that quoted Vic Power saying Versalles was "crazy."
Whatever difficulties Zoilo had, they were unfortunate. So in 1968, the Twins tried patching things up without Versalles. At shortstop we tried Jackie Hernandez, Rick Renick, Ron Clark and Cesar Tovar. I recall Hernandez as a hopelessly anemic batter, and Renick as one of those guys who'd go back and forth between AAA and the majors. (Andy Kosko was another.)
I remember what Ron Clark looked like, but little more about him. As for Cesar Tovar, he would become the quintessential big league utility player, but he apparently wasn't up for day-to-day shortstop duties. The shortstop position is hugely important. That's why our trade for Leo Cardenas was so significant and helpful.
Had the Twins been able to win the pennant in '69 or '70, Leo would be remembered far better today. We were stopped in the playoffs by Baltimore both years. Not only that, Twins fans were in an overall glum frame of mind, for reasons that weren't especially clear to me. The atmosphere was nothing like what it was in '65. Nevertheless the Twins won the West Division in the first two years of the divisional format.
Cardenas was an essential contributor. He was nicknamed "Mr. Automatic." He was already well established when he came here. His tenure with the Cincinnati Reds was so substantial, he's probably best remembered as a Red. That could have been remedied by a Twins pennant in '69 or '70. The baseball gods wouldn't allow that.
We wouldn't know anything of him, if he hadn't made it out of Cuba before Castro closed his vise. Cardenas was one of the last players to make it out. "Chico" Cardenas was a native of Matanzas, Cuba. My, he grew up in a family of 15 children! He claimed to be 17 years old when coming to the U.S. in 1956. He was actually 16. Age 17 was the minimum required to be signed by a major league team. He played for the Tucson Cowboys in 1956. He signed with the Cincinnati organization the next season. He played for the Havana Sugar Kings (International League) in 1959, a stint that had him get inadvertently shot by raucous Castro supporters who were firing off rifles in the grandstand in celebration of the 26th of July Movement. The Havana team was moved to Jersey City the following July.
Cardenas came on board with the big league Reds in 1960. July 25 saw him appear in a big league batter's box for the first time. He drove in a run with a single in the seventh inning, in a 6-5 Reds victory. Manager Fred Hutchinson was going to platoon Cardenas with Eddie Kasko in 1961. Cardenas hit better than expected. Therefore he became full-time shortstop in 1962. He batted .294 with ten home runs and 60 RBIs. His glove was his main attribute. He was the Reds' starting shortstop for seven seasons and was an All-Star in four of those. He was elected to start in the '66 All-Star showcase. In a doubleheader against the Cubs on June 5, he hit four home runs and drove in eight runs. He set a club record for home runs by a shortstop in that season, with 20.
Cardenas didn't get along well with Cincinnati manager Dave Bristol in 1968. I can't imagine a manager having a problem with "Mr. Automatic." Such discord does emerge at the highest level in athletics, so the Reds accepted a trade opportunity with our Twins, with pitcher Jim Merritt offered from our end.
At his best here in Minnesota
Cardenas would bat sixth in the order for our '69 division-winning team that had Billy Martin as manager. The numbers show '69 to be Leo's finest season of his career. We were blessed. He complemented Rod Carew at second and helped Carew ascend to his first truly stellar season.
I have suggested in this post that Leo offered greater mental stability than Zoilo Versalles. In most respects that was true. To the extent Leo had an eccentricity - he did - it didn't seem to impact his play. His eccentricity was superstition. Early in his career, he showered in his uniform to ward off evil spirits. Opposing players knew he had great fear of the letter 'X', so they'd scratch it in the dirt near him whenever possible.
His teammates couldn't resist having a little fun with him, based on his tic of superstition. They knew he had a thing about chicken feathers. So, sometimes they'd place one near his infield spot in the spirit of "prank." Once when he was trying to fight his way out of a slump, he locked his bats in the trunk of his car. He vowed not to let them out until they "got better." (There have been times when I should have handled my typewriters like that!)
The end comes for even the finest big league stars. For Leo the signs of decline emerged in1972. He was able to hang around with some other big league teams. The end came with the Texas Rangers when "Chico" was 36 years old. Age 36 was considered quite advanced in those days. Leo had had a very full career. In my opinion, he looked best in a Twins uniform. I seem to recall Halsey Hall sometimes referring to him as "Little Leo." Leo was somewhat diminutive but his bat could pack a wallop, whether it had been in a trunk or not.
A quick review of Leo's Minnesota years:
1969: a .280 batting average, ten home runs, 70 RBIs.
1970: a .247 batting average, eleven homers, 65 RBIs.
1971: a .264 batting average, 18 home runs, 75 RBIs.
Leo was an ironman at his demanding position of SS. He played 160 games in both 1960 and 1970, and 153 in '71. The sheer stability he brought at SS gave us a sigh of relief. Here's a salute to "Little Leo."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ted Williams gushed over Camilo Pascual's curveball

I had this Camilo Pascual card off the back of a cereal box!
Reflecting on Camilo Pascual, I'm reminded of the movie "Weekend In Havana" starring Alice Faye. Faye was a starlet then. She would have no problem years later playing the mother character in "State Fair." That was the version with Bobby Darin. "Weekend In Havana" showed us the pre-Castro days. Baseball was a vibrant sport in the island nation. One of the last players to get out before the border closing was Leo Cardenas, who would go on to play shortstop for our Twins.
All Twins fans got familiar with the name Camilo Pascual in 1961, our first season. He's portrayed in Billy Crystal's movie "61*" as the Twins starting pitcher for the 1961 opener at Yankee Stadium. A black-skinned man played Camilo. Camilo really wasn't black-skinned, not that it matters of course. I offer this as trivia. While we're on cosmetics, let's talk about the "ruffian" look that Mr. Pascual had, although it was all a matter of cosmetics or appearance. Yes, he did carry himself in a scowling sort of way on the pitching mound. But that just reflected intense competitiveness.
I once had a paperback book that included an early baseball card image of Pascual with this caption: "Hey Mac, wanna buy a hot Buick?" Poor Camilo did have the look of a small-time crook, but let's emphasize that in real life this Cuba native was quite the classy individual. We were proud to have him on our roster for the inaugural Twins season. He was famous for the rainbow curveball he threw. Had he been able to win a game in the 1965 World Series, he'd be on an even higher pedestal in our memories.
The '65 summer was like nirvana for us Twins fans. Pascual unfortunately lost vs. the Dodgers' Claude Osteen in Game 3 of the '65 Series. The Twins whiffed in their Series games played in Los Angeles. We finally lost in Game 7 to Sandy Koufax.
Upbringing in Cuba, pre-Castro
Camilo Pascual was born in 1934 in Havana, Cuba. He went by the nicknames "Camile" and "Little Potato." Ted Williams said of Pascual that he had "the most feared curveball in the American League for 18 years." Pascual struck out 2,167 batters in his career. He won 174 games and fashioned a 3.63 ERA. He was chosen for the American League All-Star team seven times. The '61 All-Star game saw him throw three hitless innings and strike out four. We would have preferred such mastery in the World Series, alas.
Pascual was well-established in his sport when the Twins came here. Our beloved ballclub had been the Washington Senators, Calvin Griffith's team. Pascual was in his big league prime from 1959 to 1964. He was a Senator through the first two years of that stretch. The Twins beat the Yankees 6-0 in that 1961 season opener at the House that Ruth Built. But '61 would be a time of marking time for our Twins, who retained some of the rust from their struggling Senators years. Grittith had more resources to work with here. Met Stadium was a plum for the organization at least for a while.
At his peak as a Minnesota Twin
In 1962 the Twins with Pascual in a prominent role made a genuine pennant run. Alas, there were no divisions in baseball, just the two leagues, so you had to win the pennant to make the World Series. We finished second behind the still-dynastic Yankees, only five games back. Pascual had a 20-11 record in that significant summer for us. He led the A.L. in complete games and strikeouts.
The Twins won 91 games in '63 as they had in '62, but the Yankees soared higher in '63. We wouldn't mount the same kind of challenge. Still the Twins could thrill, and in this campaign Pascual won 21 games. From 1959 to 1964, Pascual had an ERA no higher than 3.46. It was a sterling 2.64 in 1964. He led the league in complete games, shutouts and strikeouts three times each.
The Twins/Washington franchise hadn't been to a World Series since 1933 (when they lost to the New York Giants). If Calvin Griffith thought his thrills were high in '65, my, he should have spent some time as an adolescent boy. Roger Angell would describe the World Series games played at Metropolitan Stadium as "like a big family wedding." I think he was alluding to our Midwestern charm or "Minnesota nice." Angell wrote for The New Yorker so I'm sure he had a quite fixed East Coast frame of reference. He wrote a chapter about the '65 Series called "West of the Bronx." We can forgive him. He described our Met Stadium as an "airy cyclotron." Well, he's Roger Angell.
A Hall of Famer if he'd spared his arm?
Arm problems were surfacing for Pascual in 1965 and '66. We can perhaps blame Pascual's tendency to play baseball in winter, in warm climes of course, including Cuba when that was an option. In Cuba he pitched with Cienfuegos. Griffith was concerned about Pascual's year-round play. In '57, he became firm wanting Camilo to just skip it. Pascual pitched some anyway. When the time came to sign his 1958 contract, Griffith had words prohibiting that winter play, and there was a $2000 bonus to agree to this.
We can only wonder if Pascual might have over-taxed his arm at one time. Some Twins historians think he definitely did. Even in '62 and '63, his peak, he missed potential starts due to arm issues. Despite those layoffs, spanning his last season in Washington and his first four in Minnesota, he twirled an 85-44 record.
In 1966 the Twins didn't generate the kind of magic as in '65. Indeed, in America we have this curious ethos wherein finishing first is worth so much more than second. For the record, we were second in the A.L. in 1966, behind only Baltimore who acquired Frank Robinson who would win the triple crown. We were nine games behind the Orioles who would be a nemesis for us over the rest of the decade. Brooks Robinson had that flashy glove at third.
Pascual's arm troubles limited him in 1966. He threw only 103 innings in 21 games. Pascual was on the trading block. He and second baseman Bernie Allen went to the "new" Washington Senators. The December of 1966 trade had relief pitcher Ron Kline on the other end. Kline was a 35-year-old relief pitcher who could have been a hero in Minnesota. He ended up a goat as he failed to produce in that season-ending series against the Boston Red Sox, a series that is remembered with an air of infamy here. It broke my heart. Of course, Kline was a human being just doing his best.
Pascual gets rejuvinated
I can happily report that our beloved Camilo Pascual was not in fact washed up. I'm happy to be reminded that Pascual did just fine for the Senators in 1967 and '68. He won a total of 25 games and was back to his strikeout habit.
He couldn't continue the magic into 1969. The end always comes. We can't predict it but it definitely comes. He got hammered early in '69. He bounced from one team to another for a time, before retiring at the end of the '71 season.
How did he get the nickname "Little Potato?" It's important to know this of course. OK, Camilo is the younger brother of former major league pitcher Carlos Pascual whose nickname was "Potato." Oh, to be a little brother. . . I remember seeing Carlos' picture in Twins yearbooks, so I assume he was a scout for Calvin.
Camilo once roomed with catcher Hal Naragon. From this background comes an amusing story. Pascual had picked up English-speaking OK (which was more than you could say for Tony Oliva) but he was uncomfortable in phone conversations. So Naragon answered the phone in their room. A day arrived when it wasn't real convenient for Naragon to pick up. "Camilo, you speak English well enough," Naragon said. Pascual picked up the phone and answered in Spanish. Naragon knew the person on the other end would say "Do you speak English?" After a pause, Naragon heard Pascual say "Not at 8 in the morning I don't."
Pascual threw a hopping type of fastball. He was known for a change-up too. Quite the arsenal. Us boys were thrilled finding a Camilo Pascual card in a pack of trading cards.
Talent over money? Calvin loved the game
Griffith was once offered a huge sum of money (by the standards of that time), not for his franchise but for two players: Pascual and Harmon Killebrew. The offer was from Cincinnati - a million bucks. Imagine Killebrew in one of those sleeveless Reds uniforms of that time, with that solid red long-sleeve 'T' underneath. No, I can't. It occurs to me that Ted Kluszewski posed for photos without that 'T' underneath, making him look like a professional wrestler.
Griffith turned down that offer which was made in December of 1959. It was at this time that Pascual was overworking his arm, pitching in winter, but his body was resilient. I would suggest that pitchers can be in denial about such things. It's an exhibit of the (fallacy of) invulnerability of youth. When you're pitching well, why not do it a lot? You discover the perils the hard way.
The final opening day for Griffith's Senators
Pascual was the opening day pitcher for Washington on April 18, 1960, and he produced a three-hitter and fanned 15 batters. Washington batters crunched four home runs and Washington won 10-1. It was the last opening day of Griffith's Senators in Washington - quite the memorable one.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was present to throw out the opening pitch. Pascual said after the game he would have liked to meet "Ike" but he shied away because of his uncertain grasp of English. Don Mincher made his major league debut that day. Ted Williams was still in action. Williams humbled Pascual by smashing a 3-2 pitch over the 31-foot high center field wall between the 408 and 418-foot markers. The home run was Williams' 493rd lifetime, tying him with Lou Gehrig. Gary Geiger followed the home run with a windblown double, then Pascual bore down to strike out the next two batters.
Pascual would own the day. He would go on to be a truly iconic Minnesota Twin. We're thankful that baseball was so popular in Cuba. It's too bad those borders had to be closed.
Pascual was elected to the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame in 2012. He's a member of the Latino Hall of Fame also. Quite a life and career for "Little Potato."
I wrote a song that includes the line "Camilo's big curve." The song is "The Ballad of Harmon Killebrew." It's on YouTube, and I invite you to listen by clicking on the link below. Thanks for visiting my sites.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jim Perry, brother of Gaylord, was stalwart on the hill

The Minnesota Twins were on board for two of the most famous brother tandems in baseball history. Joe Niekro was part of the incredible 1987 adventure. Joe threw the knuckleball like his brother Phil. Joe was caught with that little emory board in the '87 World Series, remember? He discussed that on late-night TV, Leno or Letterman.
Well, the Twins were a part of the Perry brothers' story too. We're going back to the 1960s chapter of Twins history. It was the first decade for our franchise. Making the World Series in 1965 was a unique thrill. A few years earlier we were in the bushes with the Minneapolis Millers.
Jim Perry needed time to flower with his talents. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians in1956. His brother was Gaylord Perry, younger than Jim. Jim and Gaylord made a significant mark with their pitching talents. Gaylord had a way of getting attention while Jim was content being quite mild-mannered and low-profile.
Jim's career progressed haltingly. He did finish second in Rookie of the Year voting in1959. The top rookie was Bob Allison who of course became a key Twin. Perry appeared to blossom in1960 when he won 18 games. Pitching is a complicated science, though, and Jim hadn't put it all together yet. It's a delicate science - sometimes pitchers are inscrutable with their ups and downs. Pitching coach of note Johnny Sain helped Jim get to a higher level and stay there a while. Sain helped mold the 1965 Twins.
By the spring of '65, not much was expected of Mr. Jim Perry. He had pitched only 65 innings in 1964. He started one game in '64 and got shelled. The Twins weighed trading Perry in the spring of '65. Sain was totally against that. The venerated Sain, who would get considerable praise in Jim Bouton's book "Ball Four," thought Perry might become an asset.
The '65 season was when everything seemed to come together in the Sam Mele era of management. It really wasn't a cake walk, at least not all the way. The injury bug is always lurking. The Twins' starting pitching staff in fact had to deal with that. The staff was marked by an inability to achieve complete games. Complete games were a preferred goal in those times before we began speaking of "setup men." Yes, and pitching arms could be frail. As a kid I began noticing that many fine pitchers seemed cut down before their time, succumbing to physical maladies.
Diamond in the rough for '65 Twins
Anyway, the Twins pitching staff, despite the team's pattern of success, went through stress with its starters. And there was Perry, who in July had started but one game over a season and a half. He got the ball handed to him one day. He started game 2 of a July 5 doubleheader. He put a smile on Sain's face, not to mention Mele's (and Calvin Griffith's) as he pitched a seven-hit shutout. In his next start he allowed no earned runs in eight innings vs. the New York Yankees.
Perry got into the groove. He became a real piece in the puzzle in the Twins' pennant-winning season. He finished '65 with 12 wins and a 2.63 ERA. Sain worked with Perry's mechanics. Sain suggested that the pitcher kick his left knee up higher. This would get more of Jim's body involved with each pitch. Jim had complained of getting a sore hip. Sain, in dispensing his advice, said it was an example of how pure running and conditioning weren't any sort of cure-all. You had to deal with your mechanics. Sain thus got a reputation as a genius of sorts. Remember the phrase "Spahn and Sain and then pray for rain?"
Perry continued establishing himself in that magical midsummer of '65. After nearly 34 innings through four starts, Perry had allowed only four earned runs.
Gaining refinement with curve balls
Perry admitted that when he first reached the big leagues, he could really only throw hard. Lots of pitchers come up like that, like the Twins' Jim Ollom who never refined his abilities. Back in spring training of '65, Sain instructed Jim Perry on a new kind of curve ball. Perry took Sain's lessons to heart in the bullpen. Until that July 5 start, his stints weren't long enough to test his effectiveness with that curve. The curve had impact once he got starts.
Perry was exhibit 'A' for how pitchers need patience, resolve and the humility to learn to take baby steps if necessary. By the time Perry reached the apex of his career, in 1970, he had a repertoire of fastball, fast and slow curve balls and a changeup. He had no problem acquiring innings pitched beginning in 1969.
In 1969 we had the volatile and popular Billy Martin as our manager. He was our manager but one year, the first year of the divisional alignment in big league ball. The Twins won the West, nevertheless Martin got fired, a move angering most fans.
Bill Rigney managed the Twins in 1970. We won the West both years but lost to Baltimore in both. Bummer. Perry was a workhorse pitcher through that phase of Twins history. In fact he averaged more than 36 starts a season from 1969 to1974 without missing a turn! Over his 17-year career, he compiled 215 wins, 1,576 strikeouts and a 3.45 ERA.
He came from North Carolina like another noted Twin of the 1960s, Jimmie Hall.
The two brothers garner Cy Young
The Perry brothers trail only the Neikro brothers for career victories by brothers. Jim Perry was a three-time all-star. He won the Cy Young Award in1970 when his won-lost record was a sterling 24-12. Jim and Gaylord are the only brothers in major league history to win Cy Young Awards.
Jim was a 20-game winner in '69 for Billy Martin. He won at least 17 games five times. Oh, and I remember well his reputation as a good-hitting pitcher. That asset can come in handy. He was the opposite of poor Dean Chance in this regard. Not only did Jim hit decent, he did so as a switch-hitter!
Jim and Gaylord pitched against each other once, in July of '73, my first summer after high school. Jim was actually pitching for Detroit at that time, Gaylord for the Indians. Norm Cash hit two home runs as Detroit won 5-4, and neither Jim nor Gaylord was around at the end.
Jim wrapped up his career wearing the gaudy uniform of the Oakland A's.  I could never see him as anything other than a Twin. (And let's not even bring up Harmon Killebrew as a Kansas City Royal!)
A stadium named for him in NC
Following retirement, Perry did the admirable thing of "going home" to North Carolina. His son Chris became a pro golfer who won a tournament on the PGA Tour. Jim was inducted to the Twins Hall of Fame in 2011. An alum of Campbell University, Jim had the new baseball stadium there named after him in 2012. Jim went to school at that North Carolina institution from 1956-1959.
Jim was a hard-working successful pitcher over three decades. He made an impression for us boomer fans in Minnesota. I hope he enjoyed his time up north ("the great white north" as it were). He got the big break of being able to learn under Johnny Sain. How fortunate. We're thankful. You don't have to read "Ball Four" to appreciate Johnny Sain.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, June 8, 2015

Big Bob Allison could lift Don Drysdale off the ground

The Minnesota Twins uniforms were on display for the first time in spring training of 1961. Minnesota had made a huge step into the big league firmament. Lenny Green was up to bat in a spring training game. On the mound was Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Zoilo Versalles had just homered off Drysdale. Drysdale, taking umbrage at that, allegedly threw at Green - a fastball. Such things happen in big league baseball. It's a turn-off aspect of the game, in my view.
Anyway, the sense of conflict continued in this game, and Green later had the opportunity to retaliate as a baserunner. Drysdale had to cover home plate. Green came in like a locomotive toward home, undeterred. Green arrived with spikes high. Drysdale assumed an ominous and threatening stance.
Bob Allison was not going to stand for that. Allison was the on-deck batter. He was a formidable person with his physical proportions. Lest there be any doubt, he had played football at Kansas University. Allison protected his teammate Green, wrapping his arms around Drysdale "bear hug" style, and literally lifted Drysdale, a hefty fellow himself, off the ground.
Incident presaged future competition
Drysdale may have been a fiery competitor but in this moment, he became mollified. Destiny would have these fellows matched years later in the World Series. Our Twins with Allison took the American League crown in 1965. The Dodgers came out of the west to represent the National League.
The Twins and Dodgers represented the westward shift of major league baseball in the mid-20th Century. The Dodgers had been iconic in Brooklyn, of course, and pioneered with ushering players of color into the big time. I find it peculiar that New York City allowed the National League to completely exit. The Dodgers and Giants vaulted all the way out to California. "California Dreamin'," indeed.
The Washington Senators abandoned the nation's capital in a move that might also be seen as surprising. The East Coast hub of population and media couldn't sustain these big league teams, and for a while New York City had the Yankees alone. It was during that period that the "M & M Boys," Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, did their thing. Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961, a year before the Mets were created. I'm curious why the Mets had to be created as such a weak team. The economics of sports were completely different then with such a limited television universe.
Our Twins with Allison, Green and all those other fondly remembered early players did not have expansion status, fortunately. I'm not sure Minnesotans would have had the patience to support (i.e. tolerate) an expansion team of that era. Indeed we got the very well-established Senators from the nation's capital, a place that only supported big league ball haltingly, to the chagrin of many influential people there.
The Twins played their big league season opener against the Yankees in New York and won 6-0. That game was re-created in the Billy Crystal movie about the 1961 season: "61*". We see Camilo Pascual as a dark-skinned man even though in real life, he didn't look like a person of color.
The Dodgers may have broken down the racial barrier, but it's not as if all of big league ball became immediately enlightened. Naturally there was a slow evolution toward color-blindness. Today, ironically, big league ball would love to get African-Americans back into the sport. African-Americans have largely drifted away. These folk were among the biggest stars of the game when I was growing up - hitting and pitching - and racism was only something I read about and never felt.
Bob Allison was a totally Caucasian fellow with the look of an all-American boy, 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds. He was a fully established big leaguer when the Twins were born. He had been rookie of the year with the Senators in1959. At one time he courted thoughts of playing pro football. He filled out an inquiry form for the San Francisco 49ers. Bob's father thought the young man was more inclined toward baseball. The father had been a semi-pro catcher.
Bob had a brother two years younger, Jim, who was similarly athletically gifted. But Jim Allison shied away from the lure of the pros, largely because he saw how Bob struggled making a living as a minor leaguer. Bob paid his dues in the minors for four years. I'm sure that in those days, it was a hardscrabble living. Even being a non-star in the majors was no picnic financially.
Bob Allison stayed with the same major league franchise for his whole career: 1958 to 1970.
"He's a real pro"
One of the first things that struck me about Allison was that he had a textbook batting stance. My father noticed this too. When Bob came to bat on our TV screen, my dad would say "he's a real pro."
Batting stances can be misleading. Even players with unorthodox stances - I vividly remember Dick McAuliffe and Carl Yastrzemski - didn't really swing directly from that stance. As the pitch came in, they'd assume a standard batting position within a millisecond. You might say those stances were cosmetic or maybe reflected some strange kind of superstition. Big league players are notorious for being superstitious. Reggie Smith held his bat way up over his head. You could never take a normal swing that way. It was an illusion. Smith was a quite accomplished hitter for Boston (with Yastrzemski). Vic Power had a stance that suggested to the pitcher he wanted the ball down low. He of course didn't want it there at all. It was deception. Vic taught that to Tony Oliva.
Bob Allison was a power-oriented hitter. He could hit the ball a mile and yes, he could strike out more than his share of times. I remember him as being a streaky hitter, which could be frustrating. I sometimes thought he was overrated. Harmon Killebrew was the true slugger. Allison's homers were less frequent although they could be majestic.
On the plus side, Allison had a knack for drawing walks. His career .255 batting average shows why I sometimes got frustrated with him. However, the big man had a career on-base percentage of .358. Not particularly fleet of foot, he nevertheless had a talent for stretching his hits into doubles and triples. Chalk it up to sheer will or determination, but Allison led the A.L. in triples in 1959 (with nine), plus he was in the top ten twice in doubles (1960 and '64) and four times in triples (1959, 1962, 1967 and 1968).
Just one more triple in '67 might have given us the pennant. It was the most heartbreaking season in Twins history as we came up a hair's breadth short of the pennant (to Boston and Yastrzemski). I was crushed by that '67 outcome. It may have instilled a sense of futility in my young and impressionable mind. I was in junior high. It was bad enough that the Viet Nam War was giving us so much heartbreak.
The Twins were a source of escapism that actually helped us young boys get by.
Defensive attributes
As an outfielder, Allison covered lots of ground. He made a memorable catch in the '65 World Series. We could have used one more triple off his bat in that Series too. We lost in seven games to the Dodgers. Allison was the last batter in that Series, going down on strikes vs. Sandy Koufax. I remember Allison flailing his bat in the dirt after that third strike.
He was known for having a strong arm as an outfielder. Later in his career he put on the first baseman's glove. He was no Vic Power but he did fine. I have always wished the Twins had kept Vic Power through the 1965 season.
Because he was known for his outfield range, Allison unfortunately committed a fair number of errors.
Allison left Kansas University at age 20. He got inked by Calvin Griffith's Senators and headed to those obscure "bushes," first with the Hagerstown "Packets." That town name rings familiar to me because I collected baseball cards. We saw names of those minor league cities (like Winston-Salem) on the backs of those cards. We tossed the chewing gum. Was Winston-Salem the "Filters?" LOL.
Allison moved on to play with the Charlotte Hornets. Charlotte called its expansion NBA basketball team the "Hornets" too. A broadcaster once slipped and called them the "Charlotte Harlots."
Allison continued his climb with Chattanooga, the "Lookouts" (named for that big mountain there, significant in the Civil War). Allison batted .307 at Chattanooga, so he had found his ticket to the big leagues. He hit a single while batting leadoff in his first big league game. In '59 he got fully established in the bigs and was an all-star, hitting 30 home runs. He dropped off a little in 1960, but then he came on strong for us Minnesota fans in our inaugural year having a big league team, in 1961.
Allison and Harmon Killebrew became heroes in short order here. Allison actually had a lackluster 1965 when we won the pennant. He batted a mere .233. He did hit a bases-loaded double against Koufax in the Series. Allison's struggles continued in 1966 but he wasn't done, as in '67 he did quite fine with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs. Allison was in the top ten in the league in home runs eight times.
The long ball helped define early Twins
The Twins were a huge part of the growing-up years for Minnesota's boomer population (baby boom). A huge thrill came when Allison and Killebrew hit grand slams in the same inning in 1962. Allison hit homers in three straight at-bats in 1963. He was part of a skein of Twins hitting home runs on May 2 of 1964: he and Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Jimmie Hall hit four straight home runs. "Roy Hobbs" couldn't thrill any better. If only that kind of joy had typified the 1960s instead of the tragedy felt with the Viet Nam war. We did the best we could.
Allison eventually showed signs of a brain disorder that led to his death. Given all the headlines about head injuries in sports today, we have to ask the obvious question: had Allison injured himself, perhaps playing fullback in college football, or later in baseball? Lou Gehrig played college football before his big league career.
Allison experienced a kind of cerebellar atrophy. He battled the condition for eight years, passing away in April of 1995 at the age of 60 at his Arizona home.
He could really smack the ball
The Raytown MO native may have been a notch below Hall of Fame ability, but at his best he really wowed us. The ball could seemingly soar into the stratosphere. Writer Roger Angell of The New Yorker described White Sox outfielders in 1967 watching an Allison home run "like amateur astronomers."
We're grateful for all those memories. We can overlook the fight in which he and Dave Boswell traded punches, western saloon style. Oh, Billy Martin got into it too. Those were the days before "conflict resolution" techniques. Barroom brawls could seem like an expression of manhood. And, who was the "world's greatest athlete" one year? It was Bruce Jenner.
RIP Bob Allison, "a real pro."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, June 5, 2015

Earl Battey: model citizen and iconic MN Twins player

Professional sports stars have lives that are often like epic poems, in one moment heroic and triumphant, in another moment dragged down by a variety of impediments, including age. These lives can exude considerable drama. Personal shortcomings often come out. The problems are inevitable because these are, after all, human beings. They actually do not live on Mount Olympus.
A cynic is probably right in saying we only care about these people when they produce for us: hit home runs etc. I'm not quite that cynical.
It has been my pleasure to write posts about several of the early Minnesota Twins ballplayers. I hope these posts get noticed by kindred souls, around age 60 like me, for whom the memories are priceless. The Minnesota Twins came into being to accommodate the "baby boom." That's me. We came to take the team for granted, unfortunately. From 1961 through 1967, I can safely say we fully appreciated this asset.
Life on an even keel
Earl Battey was a pillar of those heady early days. In contrast to the athletes who have those drastic ups and downs, or who have to overcome personal shortcomings, Mr. Battey was a model citizen. We might consider his life boring, and that's a compliment from yours truly. Eventually the years of playing catcher took a toll on his body - quite unavoidable. But he really was a durable man. He was also held back at the end by a thyroid condition. He put on weight because of that health issue. It wasn't because of a lapse in self-discipline.
So he exited from the game, leaving behind a tapestry of memories for us boomers. He was a rock behind the plate. He was a fully established major leaguer when the Twins came to Minnesota. While youngsters developed around him, he was the hardened, proven, guaranteed-not-to-tarnish backstop, feared by opposing baserunners and capable of wielding a potent bat. He caught those curve balls thrown by Camilo Pascual. In the batting order he complemented the likes of Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva.
Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington was the showcase. I still remember the Frosty Malts there. I remember the look on Battey's face when he came right toward me once, trying to catch a foul pop behind home plate. He was a big part of our pennant-winning team in 1965.
It has been written that Battey "took it personally" when runners took long leads. His arm was like a gun when he picked off 13 runners from first and third bases in 1963. Our nation was still in "Camelot" for the summer of '63. JFK was still president, destined to meet his tragic fate in November of that year.
A famous photo of Battey has him shaking hands with JFK before the start of an all-star game. It's symbolic in a way, this photo showing this very obvious African-American being honored with a handshake from the nation's most powerful man, a man sort of like a Greek god, actually. The '60s were a time of steady civil rights strides - let's not pretend it happened suddenly. A sense of racial separation still pervaded around many parts of the U.S. in 1963.
Earl Battey grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles CA. Remember the Watts riots?
I feel a bond with the iconic Twins catcher as I realize he considered a career in journalism as a teen. He learned to speak Spanish. The Senators-turned-Twins had several Latin pitchers, so the Spanish fluency was quite helpful. His mother was an accomplished fastpitch softball player.
Adjusting to the climate: no problem
Battey became starting catcher for the Senators who were destined to come to the cold reaches of Minnesota. The Los Angeles native had no problem becoming a year-round resident of the Twin Cities. The Senators were transformed into the Twins in 1961, the year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs.
Battey worked in public relations for General Mills in the off-season. He experienced two broken cheekbones due to getting hit by pitch. In Jimmie Hall's case, this type of injury led to speculation that he went into decline, but it's purely speculation. The lefthanded-batting Jimmie never did hit lefthanders well. No speculation of this type is heard about the resilient Battey, who wore a special batting helmet starting in 1962. Such helmets are common today.
Battey also suffered from mangled fingers which can be attributed to the physical punishment of playing catcher. Considering this adversity, Battey hit remarkably well, especially in 1963. He batted .285, hit 26 home runs and drove in 84 runs in '63, when "Camelot" still enveloped us. The mid-1960s would bring the tragedy of the Viet Nam War to the forefront. Still we "escaped" to enjoying baseball, and Battey continued as a high-profile part of it.
Kids my age didn't have power to get the U.S. out of Viet Nam, even though we spoke loudly about it, and we came to be known as rabble-rousing ingrates. "America, love it or leave it." Balderdash. Turns out we were right!
The Twins excelled but we couldn't catch up to the dynastic New York Yankees. Those were the days of no divisional playoffs. You either won the pennant or you went home. We won 91 games in '63 but we were 15 1/2 games behind Mickey Mantle's Yankees. Sigh. The '64 season was a mystery because many of the iconic Twins turned in fine numbers, but we finished in a lowly tie for sixth place. Battey hit .272 in '64 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs in 131 games.
Remember his backup in those days? There's a trivia challenge, but I'm sure many of you do remember: It was the famously weak-hitting Jerry Zimmerman, a likable guy who handled the glove just fine but had trouble hitting his weight. Kids like me were rather uncharitable in describing these backup players, calling them "scrubs" etc. We realize now all those players were superb athletes.
Battey catches for pennant-winner
Bring on 1965! Battey received the most all-star votes by an American League player for the 1965 All-Star Game. That '65 showcase was played here at "the Met." He was one of six Twins to appear in the All-Star Game. The others: Zoilo Versalles, Harmon Killebrew, Jimmie Hall, "Mudcat" Grant and Tony Oliva.
We won the pennant in that fabled summer. Pinocchio was a real boy! Battey struggled some in the '65 World Series but he was up against the likes of Sandy Koufax and Claude Osteen. He batted .120 in that Series which we lost in seven games. That Game 7 loss still haunts me. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Walt Alston had to adjust his pitching rotation so Koufax could observe a Jewish holiday!
Time marches on. The 1966 season was bittersweet for the Twins. We arguably did fine, finishing second in the ten-team league. Still, we weren't in a confetti-throwing mood. Many Twins had dropoffs in their stats. Battey's average was a most mortal .255. He played in just 115 games. Still he was voted to the all-star team - a testament to his well-earned reputation. We finished nine games behind the Baltimore Orioles who had acquired Frank Robinson. Robinson won the triple crown.
The 1967 season was Battey's last, as he was beginning to deal with that unfortunate thyroid condition. I remember watching the venerable catcher step up to bat looking quite burly. I wasn't aware of the health issue. The 1967 season was the absolute definition of heartbreak for us Twins fans. We were edged out for the pennant by Boston at the very end. Perhaps I developed an attitude of defeatism, due to both this and the Game 7 loss in 1965. "What's the use?"
Truth be told, many fans my age had an unhealthy emotional attachment to our favorite big league team. For me, this malady reached an end with the '94 big league season and the players' strike. I have never viewed baseball the same since. Lest there be any doubt, the PED scandals have pretty well wiped out my residual baseball interest.
The seasons just come and go now. No longer do I embrace Twins players in anything like the amazement I felt as an adolescent fan.
I still cherish those memories. It's true that players weren't treated as well or paid as well as they should have been, in those old days. Still, they seem mostly to have "landed on their feet" in their post-playing days.
More than a baseball player
Battey spent 12 years working in New York City as a recreation specialist with young disturbed boys. He took classes at Bethune-Cookman University and got his undergraduate degree in education. This fulfilled a promise he had made to his mother. He even coached the men's basketball team at the school! What a committed life. Compare all this to the course that Mickey Mantle's life took.
Battey became a high school teacher and baseball coach in Ocala FL. He became part of a charity program sponsored by Consolidated Edison whereby children were given free bleacher tickets to New York Yankees games.
Battey put on that headgear in that big baseball diamond in the sky in 2003. He died of cancer at age 68. What a career and what a life for this lad from the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles! He played in 1,141 games in his 13-year career, playing the most physically punishing position. He had 969 hits, 104 home runs and 449 RBIs. He led the American League four times in assists and putouts, three times in baserunners caught stealing, and twice in caught-stealing percentage. His career fielding percentage was .990.
He was a four-time All-Star. He won three Gold Gloves. He threw out 43.44 percent of the baserunners who tried to steal a base on him - 15th on the all-time list. In 1961, the famed and fleet Luis Aparicio said Battey was the toughest catcher on which to try to steal a base. That really says it all.
Battey was named to the Twins' 40th Anniversary Team in 2000. In 2010 he was voted one of the 50 greatest Twins players.
But I remember him in that obscure moment when he had ripped off his mask and was going after that foul pop behind home plate. His face showed the kind of resolve and professionalism that marked his whole career. Frosty Malts are woven in with those memories.
Earl Battey, RIP.
A song I wrote about Tony Oliva has Earl Battey's name in the lyrics. Here's that line: "They called us baby boomers and we crowded through the gate, cheering Earl Battey crouched behind the plate." I invite you to listen to this song, from YouTube, by clicking on the link below. And, thanks so much for visiting my sites. - B.W.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com