|I had this Camilo Pascual card off the back of a cereal box!|
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.
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.
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.
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.