Last year the third-place Twins led the American League in home runs, home attendance, hitting and hope for the future. Delaying that future have been weaknesses in defense.
Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison and Jimmie Hall were all in the top six in slugging percentage, and among them they hit 113 home runs and drove in 267. Vic Power has excellent bat control and gives the Twins a solid .280 hitter. Rich Rollins hit .307, with 61 RBIs last season, 96 two years ago. Probably the most underrated hitter on the team is Catcher Earl Battey, who has not been below .280 in his last three seasons and who reached a career high of 26 homers and 84 RBIs last year. Bernie Allen (.240) may have trouble keeping his second-base position away from John Goryl, who batted .284 last year, .346 against New York. Lenny Green (.239) has excellent speed, as does Zoilo Versalles, who batted .261 and led the league in triples (13). Reserve Don Mincher hit 17 home runs and knocked in 42 runs in just 225 at bats. Rookie Tony Oliva hit every place he played, including Minnesota (.438), where he spent two brief periods.
Minnesota had the third-best staff in the league last year despite the loss of Camilo Pascual (21-9) for eight turns because of an arm injury. Lee Stange, another right-hander, was 12-5 and had an ERA of 2.62 after joining the team on June 15. A third righty, Jim Perry (9-9), lost four of his games when the Twins got him a total of four runs. The lefties, particularly Dick Stigman (15-15) and Jim Kaat (10-10 after an 18-14 record in 1962), are going to be helped by the raising of the Metropolitan Stadium fences from 8 feet to 12 feet in right and left fields. Between them Stigman and Kaat gave up 40 home runs at the Met, only 16 on the road. Jim Roland, another lefty, injured his arm last year on June 5 when he was one of the best young pitchers in the league; his final record was 4-1, his ERA 2.57. The bullpen should be first-rate, with "Won't You Come In" Bill Dailey the best (66 games, 13 saves, 6-3 record and 1.98 ERA). Minnesota picked up two sleepers for relief work: Bill Fischer from Kansas City, where he was 9-6, and Dwight Siebler from the Phillies late last season. Strapped to the roster because of the first-year rule, Garry Roggenburk also developed into a good relief man (2.16 ERA). He will miss most of the season, however, because of an operation on his pitching elbow for the removal of a bone chip.
Minnesota lost more one-run games (26) in 1963 than Manager Sam Mele cares to think about. Seven of 11 losses to the Yankees were by that margin; 11 of their first 20 defeats were by a single run, and the Twins were in 10th place early in the season. The record also shows that nine one-run defeats came as a result of errors on the left side of the infield, and Third Baseman Rollins takes his share of the blame. "Let's face it," he says, "I was just lousy at times." In Rollins' defense are the facts that he was not in shape at the start of last season. He suffered a broken jaw on April 7 and later had calcium deposits on his hip. The Mayo Clinic has taken care of the calcium; Rollins has put himself in shape and is working on crossing his right leg over his left for balls hit into the hole. Bernie Allen is improving his range after a dismal season at second. Shortstop Zoilo (Zorro) Versalles is the man who can lift the Twins, however, and how Zorro feels no one often knows. Versalles is a marvel at times on defense—good enough to be picked for the All-Star team over Luis Aparicio and good enough, too, to be named the outstanding shortstop in the league by the players at the end of the season. But Zorro is moody and when he has had a bad day he will sit in the dressing room with a towel over his shoulders and bury his head in his hands. Zorro at times begs the day off and claims injuries that medical science is unable to detect. What he needs, often, is to be challenged. If he can regain the momentum he once had, he can be one of the superstars of baseball. "When I am a boy in Cuba," he says, "I get my first uniform at 11, and I run home and jump in bed to sleep with it on." At the end of the 1959 season Versalles was brought up to the then Washington Senators from Fox Cities of the old Three I League. "I travel all night on the bus," he says, "and when I get to Washington I go and sit on a bench in the park across from Griffith Stadium and sit for five hours to wait for it to open. All the money in the world is mine when that stadium opens because I am in the big leagues. No more cooking beans and rice, no more begging lunch money from Pedro Ramos when he plays in Havana in the winter. I dream I come to stay, to be big star." One who believes in Versalles is First Baseman Vic Power. "Theez time around," says Power, "Zorro is ready to be mature. He is the big man, he can make us really great. I am hoping." Power himself is easily the most stable fielder on the Twins, flashy but good flashy, the best defensive first baseman in the league. However, if Owner Calvin Griffith has his way, Power won't play much. Griffith would like to see Bob Allison shifted from right field to first base, so that rookie Oliva can play right. This might add a few more home runs to the lineup, but the defense would groan. Oliva is not as good an outfielder as Allison, and Allison playing first base doesn't deserve being mentioned in the same sentence with Power. The same is true of Don Mincher, the substitute first baseman. Assuming Allison stays in right, the outfield is adequate. Hall holds his own in center. Killebrew holds very little in left, but Green is around to fill in for him in the late innings to protect a lead. Battey is the best catcher in the league at handling pitchers and only Elston Howard of the Yanks is close to him overall. The Twins were eighth in fielding last season but they were second in 1962—a more representative year, Minnesota hopes.
April 13, 1964
Granted improved fielding, the Twins have the pitching and hitting to fight for the runner-up spot.