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

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