Worthington seemed like a stable, reliable uncle or father figure for us youthful boomers who were transfixed by the Twins. The P.A. announcer trumpeted "Alan Worthington" when the money reliever strode out to the mound.
There was another reliever with those Twins who was mighty reliable as well. How can you forget a name like "John Klippstein?" Klippstein was arguably just as effective as Worthington when at his best.
I was ten years old when the Twins won the pennant in 1965. "Transfixed" hardly says it all. I'm sure all Twins fans my age remember the name Klippstein. He was already an old-timer by the time the pennant campaign unfolded. His first big league training camp was way back in 1950. He went through a typically complicated baseball journey with its ups and downs, until destiny assigned him to our history-making, pennant-winning Minnesota Twins.
We almost had to pinch ourselves to see if we were dreaming. Not only were we on top of the American League, we had displaced the fabled New York Yankees. There was an air of defensiveness to it - remember? - as if we were concerned the broad public and East coast-centered media wouldn't really accept us. A residue of that was even apparent in the 1987 and 1991 championship campaigns. We resented that announcer who kept referring to our stadium as the "homer dome," a designation that seemed to cheapen our home runs. As if East coast ballparks like Fenway couldn't be criticized on aesthetic or quality grounds. We were on the Midwest prairie.
Today I think the old biases are really, truly gone. Hallelujah.
In Philly before Minny
Klippstein joined his sixth team in six years when the Phillies purchased his contract from the Reds during spring training in 1963. Now a relief specialist, Klippstein was 35 years old. Used exclusively as a reliever, Klippstein blossomed with his best season. He appeared in 49 games with the Phillies, tossing 112 innings and polishing a superb 1.93 ERA. He had the stamina of a long reliever as on five occasions, he pitched at least six innings. He regretted not having been made into a relief specialist earlier.
I seem to recall that in the early '60s, relievers did not have particularly high status. Pitchers of marginal ability seemed to be assigned "the bullpen." It was an age when "complete games" were sought by starting pitchers as a badge of quality. Had the term "pitch count" even been coined yet? Managers seemed downright ignorant of how extended pitching stints could damage a pitching arm. It's 180 degrees the opposite of today, where a pitcher can be removed from a game based on "pitch count" even if he has a no-hitter going.
Klippstein was in fact famous for having been removed from a game once when he had given up no hits. He was with Cincinnati in 1956. He had this no-hitter going against Milwaukee. He left the game for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. His replacements continued the no-hitter into the tenth inning!
An asterisk should be attached to Klippstein's performance that day. Yes he allowed no hits but he walked eight. Throughout his career, Klippstein had to battle control issues. The Reds lost the game 2-1. Frank Torre, brother of Joe, hit a two-run single for the Braves.
Putting on the Twins cap
In 1965 with our storied Minnesota Twins of that season, Klippstein threw eight and two-thirds innings of hitless relief over a span of three appearances. Klippstein joined our Minnesota crew in 1964. It was a strange season because on paper, we seemed quite impressive with the power merchants of that era doing their thing. Our pitching even seemed decent but we finished in a tie for sixth.
Manager Sam Mele went to work trying to incorporate more speed and opportunism for the Twins of '65. Pitching coach Johnny Sain taught "spin ballistics" to his pitchers.
Klippstein had a reputation of not needing much warm-up time. He established a pattern when he was at his best of appearing three times a week for just a few innings. He was one of the few Twins with prior World Series experience. He pitched two scoreless innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1959 Series. He along with fellow Twins Jim Grant and Jim Perry had all been members of the 1960 Cleveland Indians.
Klippstein came to the Twins partly because of the friendship between our owner Calvin Griffith and Philadelphia general manager John Quinn. Griffith felt rather starved for quality relief pitching at the time. Worthington was a rock but we needed more. Klippstein had a fluid pitching delivery.
Game 7 of the '65 World Series broke our hearts because Sandy Koufax was out on the mound for L.A., appearing indomitable. Klippstein pitched one and two-thirds innings for us in that game. He struck out two batters, walked one and gave up two hits and no runs.
One might suggest he was fortunate being at the pinnacle of the World Series. The down notes in his career, coupled with his control issues, could have removed him from the bigs permanently, one might suggest. He was claimed by the new Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft, after Griffith announced the move of the old Senators to Minnesota. The new Senators were convinced that Klippstein would be part of a premier relief staff. Alas, the Senators got mired in losing and finished 61-100. Klippsetin struggled with control and had a horrible ERA of 6.78. He led the league with ten wild pitches.
At season's end he got traded back to Cincinnati. Cincinnati put him to work as a starter seven times.
Here's a gem of a memory: Klippstein comes in from the bullpen to take over for Bob Purkey in the eleventh inning. There was a 0-0 stalemate vs. the new Houston Colt .45s at Colt Stadium. The Colts would become the Astros. Jim Bouton recalled of the original Colt .45s ballpark: "Look out for snakes." Bouton wrote the seminal "Ball Four." Bring on the top of the 13th inning. Here Klippstein brings his bat to the plate. Hey, he hits his fifth career home run! It was a solo job and then he went back to the mound to hurl his third consecutive scoreless inning. The Reds won 1-0. He looked to Houston third baseman Bob Aspromonte as he circled the bases on the home run, and said to him: "If you think you're surprised, imagine how I feel."
So, Klippstein came on board with the Phillies in the spring of '63. He established himself as one of those wise graybeard relief pitchers. He showed the kind of moxie that would be evident with our 1965 pennant-winner in Minnesota.
In between we had the 1964 season, quite notable for the Phillies as they experienced the worst collapse in baseball history - perhaps all of pro sports history - under manager Gene Mauch. Klippstein might have saved the Phillies. But his standing didn't seem good with manager Mauch, a manager I never really liked. He platooned too much.
Philadelphia acquired reliever Ed Roebuck who got more favored, it seemed. Klippstein was used little over the first 61 games. Cal McLish returned from injury in June. McLish and Mauch were tight. Klippstein got waived. Philadelphia was in first place with a 38-23 record at the time. How their fortunes would change.
Microscopic ERA with the Twins
Klippstein was relieved from being part of the absolutely epic collapse. Instead he began developing his Twins resume. He impressed our skipper Sam Mele by posting a 1.97 ERA over 33 appearances in three months.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Roebuck and closer Jack Baldschun did not pitch as well. Mauch had a snakebit fate that would follow him. Supporters would argue that he could make marginal talent competitive. I don't know. I remember when our Lyman Bostock, a spectacular young hitter, was sat down one day for platoon reasons - a lefty was pitching - and he publicly complained. Would Kirby Puckett have been platooned by Mauch after his first 0-for-4 day against a righthanded pitcher? Maybe Mauch was actually overrated.
Phillies fans might wonder what Klippstein's presence might have meant for them in '64, when it seemed they all but had the pennant wrapped up. They fizzled while St. Louis and Lou Brock climbed to the top. St. Louis beat the Yankees in the Series.
Pitching coach Sain taught Klippsetin a "quick-pitch curve" with the Twins. It's a slider that drops. Klippstein formed a tandem with that "father figure" Worthington to excel with a surging Minnesota team.
(Note: Players who seemed old in my youth still seem old in my mind today, now when I'm 62!)
Klippstein fashioned a 2.24 ERA in 56 appearances with the 1965 Twins. In the World Series he pitched a scoreless inning in Game 3, then came on for Game 7 again, but unfortunately we didn't have the run-scoring to win. Koufax pitched a three-hitter in Game 7. Klippstein capped off a stretch of 23 consecutive appearances dating from August 1 in which he did not give up a single run. Klippstein was at his professional peak. Henceforth he showed those inevitable signs of decline. He felt he wasn't used enough with the 1966 Twins. He got a contract with Detroit in 1967 but got released in May.
The Klipper's career spanned 18 years in which he wore the uniforms of eight major league teams. His career ERA was 4.24. Looking back, he said he experimented too much with offbeat pitches (e.g. the "knuckle scrooge"). It might have been better to just stick with the fastball, he felt. Today he might seem perfectly suited for a role as closer. His ability to warm up quickly was a real plus. He golfed and enjoyed reading mysteries.
Klippstein left us for that bullpen in the sky in 2003 at age 76. He was a much-liked ballplayer on a personal level. We are thankful he devoted some of his best efforts as a Minnesota Twin. Let's raise a toast in memory of John Klippstein.