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.
In 1975 Tovar came through with a hit when Catfish Hunter was striving to complete a no-hitter. The date was May 31.
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.