They finally arebeginning to believe in the Minnesota Twins in the Metropolises of the upperMidwest. Small boys in Minnehaha and Bigfork wear sailor caps with "WinTwins" on the brims, and just about the only sound heard in the cool ofevening in Fergus Falls, Bena, Wadena and Elbow Lake comes from thousands ofradios tuned in to hear whether Minnesota can win another impossible game. OnInterstate 494 in Bloomington, Webster's Restaurant is still a building, butWebster has posted a firm promise in the front window: "Will be open forWorld Series." Duff's bar in midtown Minneapolis is selling mock campaignbuttons in red, white and blue that say "Sam Mele for President" and"Harmon Killebrew for Governor." You can walk into Duff's right now andsign up for a bus ticket that will take you to Metropolitan Stadium, the homeof the Twins, for the opening game of the World Series October 6.
So maybe it isonly August. So maybe there are still six weeks before the American Leagueseason ends. So maybe the Twins still must go through the toughest part oftheir schedule, beginning this week. "So what?" they ask in Minnesota."This team does the impossible all the time. Why, this year they didn'teven Die in July, and the Twins always Die in July." More than 200 requestsa day are being mailed to Metropolitan Stadium begging for tickets to a WorldSeries that is still theoretical (or don't you remember the Phillies?) andstill a quarter of a season away.
This has been awild year in Minnesota. First came the dry cold and deep snows of winter, thenthe floods of spring, then the tremendous tornadoes of May and June that caused$131 million in property damage. Then came the great time squabble that hadMinneapolis on standard time and its twin city, St. Paul, on daylight savingtime. For most of the year a Minnesotan seemed to be a person with six feet ofsnow in his driveway, three inches of water in his cellar, the roof blown offhis house and unable to find out what the hell time it was. But the Twins havebrought a certain wacky order to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. They played the bestbaseball in the major leagues (22-9) in July and had more implausible escapesfrom impending disaster than Adam Clayton Powell, more feats of derring-do thanmost teams generate in half a dozen seasons. By the middle of August, despitethe worst sick-call list in the major leagues, the Twins had won 75 games—24 ofthem on their last time at bat.
The late BobMurphy of the Minneapolis Star once wrote of Twin fans, "Have you evernoticed how they refer to the Twins as 'we' when they win and 'they' when theylose?" This is a real "we" year in Minnesota. Usually the magicnumber, that delightful piece of mathematical gobbledygook that indicateshow-many games a team must win or its opponents must lose before thechampionship can be clinched, begins appearing in pennant-bound cities alongabout the middle of September, when the number is, say, 15. Newspapers in theTwin Cities brought it out on August 5, when the number was 52. At Duff's largesigns display it, and whenever the number is reduced applause fills theroom.
The madness seemsto have affected just about everyone in Minnesota, North and South Dakota,western Wisconsin and northern Iowa. Recently Dr. Owen Wangensteen, awell-known cancer surgeon from Minneapolis, went to the wedding of hisbrother-in-law's son at the White Bear Yacht Club. He paid his respects in thereception line and then raced to his car in the parking lot to listen to theTwins on the radio. "It's the same wherever we go," sighed his wife."He has to know what the Twins are doing." Mrs. Wangensteen was askedif her husband enjoyed the games at Metropolitan Stadium. "Oh, he's neverbeen," she replied. "But he never misses a game on the radio." PatMeehan, a grocery clerk in St. Paul, says, "Before the people order theytalk about the Twins. I've never seen or heard anything like itbefore."
The Twins havewon many dramatic games this year with their new running attack—a style moreidentified with the National League than the American. But the image of theTwins generally remains that of a ball club with tremendous power and littleelse. Even though Twin fans are delighted by the running game, appreciate itand enjoy what it can do to harass the enemy, one game won on a home run standsout as the greatest single victory of the season and possibly in the history ofthe Twins. It came on Sunday, July 11 in Metropolitan Stadium, the last gamebefore the three-day All-Star break and the last game of a four-game serieswith the hated Yankees. The four games drew 138,000 people, and the area was atfever pitch over baseball, partly because Minnesota was about to be host to itsfirst All-Star game and partly because the Twins were leading the league byfour and a half games. Three seasons back, when the second-place Twins lost thepennant to New York by five games, there had been a July series with theYankees in Minnesota. New York had swept it, and Minnesota had never reallyrecovered. This year the Twins won two of the first three games, but whenHarmon Killebrew came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning of the last gamewith two outs and a runner on first base Minnesota was losing 5-4.
Harmon Killebrewhas hit tons of homers for the Twins. Some have been measured at more than 500feet in Washington and Boston, and some could be measured at $14 on a cab meterin Chicago. This day in July the count went to three balls and two strikes onHarmon, and then he fouled off two pitches. The next pitch he hit on a line 360feet into the left-field bleachers to win the game. For an instant a strangesilence fell on the ball park, and then the crowd exploded. It was the mostdramatic home run ever hit by a Twin, and it made all Minnesota believe thatthis was the year.
Everyone has atheory about how and why Minnesota suddenly developed into a winner afterfinishing in sixth place, 20 games behind, last season. Maybe the change beganduring the winter, when Manager Sam Mele sat and thought about making the Twinsuse a running game instead of waiting for home runs (SI, May 17). Perhaps itcame when Owner Calvin Griffith hired Johnny Sain as his pitching coach to tryto transform a pitching staff with good quality but little consistency into astaff strong enough to stand the pressures of tight games. Maybe it had moresubtle origins; perhaps it began on a 40° night last April in Detroit whenSecond-string Catcher Jerry Zimmerman came to bat with the winning run on baseafter Minnesota had overcome a five-run deficit. In five seasons and 447 timesat bat in the major leagues Zimmerman had never driven in a game-winning run.This time he did. Maybe it was the break the Twins got in the middle of May,when they put Pitcher Jim Perry on the waiver list and no one claimed him. Hepitched only three and one-third innings during the first six weeks of theseason. Then late in May he won a game in Boston. He won again and then again.He won seven straight games in all, at the very time when the Twin pitchingstaff, beset by doubleheaders, seemed weakest. The luck has held. Joe Nossek,primarily used for defense, won two games in three days for the Twins in Junewith clutch hits, and Don Mincher, the part-time first baseman, has hit fivehome runs that won games in the last or next-to-last inning. But no break thatMinnesota has received all year was as big as the one General Manager GeorgeWeiss of the New York Mets inadvertently gave them at baseball's wintermeetings last December. Owner Griffith went to the meetings convinced that hehad to make a trade. "We played bad ball last year," Griffith saidthen, "and our fans are screaming for a trade. I've got to try and give oneto them. A big one, if I can."
The Twins and theMets talked for two days and worked out the details of a spectacular trade.Minnesota would give the Mets Center Fielder Jimmie Hall, Catcher Earl Battey,Jim Perry and either Second Baseman Bernie Allen or Third Baseman Rich Rollins.In return, the Twins would get the Mets' All-Star second baseman, Ron Hunt,Catcher Chris Cannizzaro and Pitcher Alvin Jackson. The trade looked perfectfor both sides, because the Twins would get a solid starting pitcher and anoutstanding second baseman as well as a good defensive catcher who had hit .311the year before. The Mets would receive a hard-hitting center fielder and afine all-round catcher as well as an infielder and a pitcher. At the lastminute Weiss called the whole thing off. Griffith did make a trade to show hisfans he was trying, but it was inconsequential: he acquired Second BasemanCesar Tovar from the Cincinnati Reds for Pitcher Gerry Arrigo.
The records thatthe players involved in that aborted trade are setting this season are apluperfect demonstration of how beautifully things are going for Minnesota thisyear. Jimmie Hall has been among the American League leaders in batting andRBIs all year; Battey (.309) is one of the key men in the Twins' hit-and-runattack; Perry's record is 8-3, and his earned run average is 2.40, ninth bestin the league. On the other hand, Hunt broke his shoulder in May, Cannizzarohas knocked in five runs all season and Jackson has a record of 6-16.
It has alwaysbeen assumed that if Minnesota were to win a pennant certain basic things wouldhave to occur. Camilo Pascual, the Twins' most consistent pitcher over the lastseveral seasons, would have to win at least 20 games. Harmon Killebrew wouldhave to hit a lot of home runs, particularly in August, when he always hits alot of home runs. Either or both of the Twins' young pitchers of outstandingpromise—Jim Roland and Dave Boswell—would have to come through in fairlyspectacular fashion. Earl Battey would have to avoid injury, and Bob Allisonwould have to stay strong, day in and day out. Finally, Rich Rollins would haveto hit the way he did in 1962, when he drove in 96 runs.
All theseprerequisites of Minnesota victory have gone up in a roll of adhesive tape.Pascual tore a muscle in his pitching arm in July, is on the disabled list andis probably out for the season. Killebrew, of all people, was knocked around ina collision at first base three weeks ago and dislocated his elbow, just whenhe was playing the best ball of his life. Roland's arm became sore early inMay, and he was shipped back to the minors. Boswell pitched very well for partof the season but in midsummer developed mononucleosis and had to be put on thedisabled list for 30 days. Battey has stayed in the lineup but he has had 10different injuries to his hands and knees. Allison broke his wrist. AndRollins, through August 15, was hitting .255. Add to all this the fact thatStarting Pitchers Jim Kaat and Jim Grant have been fighting tendonitis and itappears that Minnesota should be running away with nothing but higher insurancepremiums. But each time an injury shook up the state of Minnesota and hadeveryone wondering if this would be the one to stop the Twins' charge towardthe pennant, someone else in the lineup picked up a shiny new bugle, someoneelse began banging a different drum.
The ration ofinjuries seems to have increased over the last few weeks, but the bugles anddrums have sounded louder. Second Baseman Jerry Kindall came to bat in the lastof the ninth with the bases empty and the Twins losing 3-2. Kindall had notbatted in a run in seven weeks, but he hit the first pitch for a game-tyinghome run. Earlier that same evening Manager Mele had told Jimmie Hall to stayout of the lineup because his knees had been bothering him. Instead, Halltalked Mele into letting him play, and his single won the game.
"We were indesperate shape the day Killebrew was hurt," says Jim Grant. "He wasreaching for a ball thrown up the first base line, and Russ Snyder of theOrioles ran into him. You could hear everyone's heart go bump, bump, bump! onthe bench. It was a big, big game for us emotionally and psychologically,particularly with the Orioles in second place right behind us. We had a leadearly but they scored three runs in the top of the ninth to tie us. Then JimmieHall went up to pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth and won it with ahomer."
The day afterKillebrew's injury Mele told his players that they had played great ball undertremendous hardships but that now they had to play even harder. With Killebrewout of the lineup, the other teams would throw an endless line of left-handedpitchers at the Twins. The first left-hander they met after Killebrew's injurydid beat them, but then the bugles and the drums began again.
Left-hander PeteRichert of the Washington Senators went against the Twins and, all in oneinning, Minnesota got a wild pitch, a passed ball, a fallen-down first baseman,an infield hit, a single and a double and some sound base running to beatRichert. The next team they played, the Boston Red Sox, came into Minnesotawithout a starting left-hander, and the Twins won three straight at the verytime when Baltimore was losing three out of four to last-place Kansas City. Thelead had increased, and the breaks were going Minnesota's way again. In NewYork last week the Yankees pitched left-handers against the Twins twice, andMinnesota won both games.
"The feelingof being in first place," says Jimmie Hall, "is something I've neverexperienced before and, to tell you the truth, my wife is probably more excitedabout it than I am. I mean, she's real excited. She gets up in the morning andsays, 'Baltimore lost and we got another game.' We're getting a lot of breaks.And look at Tony Oliva," Hall said, pointing to the 24-year-old Cubanoutfielder who led the league in hitting last season in his rookie year."He's fantastic. Let them get two quick strikes on him and he just keepsbattling away. They talk about hitters who hit the ball to all fields. Olivadoes it better than anyone." Hall smiled. "He was hitting against theYankees this year, and they pitched him inside and tight. He whipped the bataround and drove the ball into the left-field seats, and Elston Howard stood atthe plate and said, 'There is no way. There is no way!' "
Tony Oliva (seecover), with his pixie smile and his quick bat, his sound baseball instinct andhis superb eyes, does remarkable things. He has gotten five hits in a gametwice this year. The first time four of the hits were infield rollers that hebeat out. The next time they were all line drives that whistled to every partof the field. He has bunted for singles and hit tape-measure home runs. Fourtimes this year he has scored from second base on an infield out (two weeks agohe beat Baltimore by scoring from second in the 11th on an infield grounder).Jim Lemon, the Twins' batting coach, says, "You don't have to do much workwith him. Everything is so natural. He's hitting this year with a bone chip ina knuckle of his right hand and he has trouble holding the bat, but he stillhits. They used to say that he couldn't field. Well, he worked in springtraining like few men have ever worked. He would take 500 balls a day in theoutfield, just sharpening himself, and now he can do anything." Of theTwins, Oliva says, "We win because we were not that bad last year. Too manythe mistakes last year." He was asked if he thought he could repeat as theleague's leading hitter, and his eyes drifted to the batting cage, whereBoston's Carl Yastrzemski, currently leading the league, was taking battingpractice. "Win pennant first. Then we see if Tony can beat ABCXYZ."
Third Base CoachBilly Martin, who has helped to fashion the new running game for the Twins,stood near a plaque in Metropolitan Stadium recently reading the names ofplayers who had been named "the most valuable" Twin in the past fiveyears. "Who would you name this year?" Billy was asked."Nobody!" Billy answered, meaning "Everybody!" The New YorkYankees would be inclined to disagree with their old teammate and pickShortstop Zoilo Versalles, who has played spectacular ball against them in thefield, at bat and especially on the base paths. "Zee" is hitting under.250 for the season and is the Twins' leadoff man, but he has batted in onlyone run less than the top man on the Yankees and his base running has stunnedthem. He has stretched Texas-league singles into doubles and scored from firston one-base hits. Versalles is the prime reason why the Twins lead the Yankeesin season's play 10 games to 4. The last time any team owned by the Griffithfamily beat the Yankees over a full season of head-to-head play was in 1933,when the Washington Senators won the pennant.
Hanging from theceiling of the slanted runway that leads from the Twins' clubhouse to theirdugout in Metropolitan Stadium are three signs. The first says THINK, thesecond HUSTLE, the third WIN. There is a hole in HUSTLE—put there by a batswung in frustration last year—but no sign has been hit in 1965. The signs arehaving the best year of their lives.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
TWINS' BATTING WITH RUNNERS ON SECOND AND/OR THIRDBASE