Early next Wednesday afternoon, when Americans by the millions go through that annual October rite of tuning in their television sets for the opening game of the World Series, something is going to seem a little strange This year, for only the second time in the last 20 years, a Series is going to begin in an American League stadium that was not built by Babe Ruth. Instead of the Borough of The Bronx, N Y. this 62nd Series opens in Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., equidistant from the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and it is here that the Minnesota Twins are going to try to put a stop to the National League dominance of baseball.
This is a big Series for the American League, one it can ill afford to lose. Although any baseball man worth his weight in clichés will tell you that "superiority of leagues tends to run in cycles," the American League's cycle has been out to lunch far too long. The National League has won seven of the last 11 World Series, seven of the last eight All-Star games and almost two-thirds of the 308 interleague exhibition games played over the last two years. In addition, it is the National League, not the American, that always seems to produce those last-gasp pennant scrambles that bring added prestige and interest, not to mention money.
Ten seasons ago American League attendance was nearly 1.3 million more than the National. This season the National League is going to outdraw the American by nearly 4.5 million and the reasons are obvious. The American League is going to have only three players batting over .300 in 1965 while the National League will have 10. The American League will probably have only two hitters with more than 30 homers while the National already has ten. The American League will be lucky to have two 20-game winners; the National is already assured of six and could have as many as nine. In the two cities where there is a genuine competitive battle for customers between the two leagues, Los Angeles and New York, the Dodgers have run the Angels right out of town and down the Freeway to Anaheim by outdrawing them 4 to 1 this season, and the once-proud Yankees are going to finish nearly 600,000 paid customers behind the 10th place Mets. Only in Chicago, where the Cubs refuse to play night ball, does the American League outdraw the National.
The Minnesota Twins, however, might be just the type of team to end this out-of-phase cycle and restore some of the American League's lost prestige. The Twins have exciting young stars like Shortstop Zoilo Versalles (see cover), Tony Oliva, the best young hitter in baseball, and Jimmie Hall, the strong, swift center fielder who has both 20 homers and 20 infield hits this season. They have such impressive veterans as Harmon Killebrew, with his ability to hit tremendous home runs, Bob Allison, one of the better all-round players in the game, and Earl Battey. The bench is dependable and versatile, and their pitching staff includes Camilo Pascual, Jim (Mudcat) Grant and Jim Kaat. In short, what the Twins have is a rare blend of power, speed and pitching that is almost un-American; they are a National League-type ball club with a quality of daring that just might blow the 1965 World Series apart.
National League scouts who have been tracking the Twins have been impressed by this quality to such an extent that they admit, in some amazement, "They look an awful lot like a National League team." Almost all of them have been surprised by the vitality of Minnesota's attack. Because the Twins have been traditionally a power-hitting ball club, the scouts at first assumed that Minnesota still relied on sheer muscle to generate runs, but American League opponents could have told them a much different story. The reason why the pennant now flies over Metropolitan Stadium is because the Twins have successfully undergone one of the most severe transformations in playing style of any team in modern times.
The Twins of 1964 were first in the majors in home runs with 221, yet finished tied for sixth place; the Twins of 1965 are eighth in the majors in home runs with 143—and are finishing first. They are first because they played assertive, daring baseball day after day, series after series, all season long. They began in the spring by knocking off the top contenders with the use of speed on the bases. "What they did," according to Birdie Tebbetts of the Cleveland Indians, "was to take a run at everybody and just beat 'em back." What they did, too, was take a commanding lead in July and knock the fire out of the five-team American League pennant race that had developed among themselves, the Indians, the Chicago White Sox, the Baltimore Orioles and the Detroit Tigers. In this end-of-the-Yankee-era season, Minnesota did what most American League teams of the past did only in dreams—they beat the Yankees 13 out of 18. They also beat their most persistent challengers, the White Sox, 11 out of 18, and they crushed the Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox 32 of 36.
As the Twins gathered momentum, they established a style: a flair for the daring. They used the quick strike rather than deep-think or overkill. Instead of going into bewildering technical explanations when asked the reason for their success, they gave simple answers—even though their success was not accomplished that simply.
Jim Grant, who had been taught an added pitch by new pitching Coach Johnny Sain and went on to become the league's biggest winner, explained one evening why he worked so fast. "With the kind of stuff I've got," he said, "it isn't worth thinking about what you're doing. Just grab the ball and let it go." Jimmie Hall explained a dramatic homer against the White Sox with, "I don't truly know what kind of pitch the man threw me. I just swing the bat and hope for the best." And Versalles, who may be his league's most valuable player despite a .271 batting average, described how he was able to stretch singles to doubles and doubles to triples and even to score from first base on singles. "If you get to one base and you can see the ball on the ground in the outfield," he said, "run like hell to the next base."
But though the Twins could reduce their formula for success to simple descriptions, it was actually the result of careful thought and a lot of hard work. Manager Sam Mele took the Twins into spring training camp at Orlando, Fla. last February with essentially the same personnel that had hit all those homers and gone nowhere in two previous seasons. During the winter he had sat at home in Quincy, Mass. and thought about what he could do to change 25 tortoises into 25 hares. Fresh in his mind was the World Series of 1964 in which the Yankees were beaten because the St. Louis Cardinals had run them into numerous mental and defensive blunders. There were no stirring speeches in the clubhouse at Orlando, but when the club went out to take its first batting practice the old order had changed.
On his last swing in the batting cage the hitter was instructed to run to first base as quickly as he could and stay there. When the next batter hit the ball the runner would take off for third as fast as he could go—regardless of where the ball was hit. During exhibition games the Twins used the hit-and-run again and again; although many of them were leery of the tactic at first, fearful that they might be criticized for being thrown out, Mele told his players that if anyone asked them what had gone wrong they should simply say that "Mele called the play." Minnesota began to steal and stretch base hits, and when the season opened they jumped into a strong position in the pennant race because they caught many teams unaware. "They hit and run," says Outfielder Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox. "They stole bases. They took the extra base. After a while you found them forcing you into fielding mistakes because you were rushing."
Despite the new emphasis on speed Minnesota's offense was not like that of the Chicago White Sox of 1959, when the light-hitting "Go-Go Sox" babied a one-run lead the way a hockey team sits on a one-goal advantage in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Twins kept driving for more runs. They used the hit-and-run with their sluggers and pitchers, too, and were amazed and delighted at what the combination of new attack and old power could produce. Just when the other team began to worry too much about the steal, the squeeze, the sacrifice and the drag bunt, the Twins would unload that old knockout punch—the home run.
Four weeks ago Minnesota gave a demonstration of how this attack could demolish an opponent. The White Sox had somehow scratched their way to within five games of the lead. In the first of a two-game series in Chicago the White Sox led a tense affair 2-1 into the seventh inning. Then, with a runner on base, Jimmie Hall hit a homer and the Twins won 3-2. The next day they ran all over Chicago with the hit-and-run and the steal and the daring try for the extra base, and they won again, 10-4. The Twins left Chicago and went to Boston where, in a three-game series in Fenway Park, a stadium built for the home run, they hit no home runs but took 12 extra bases in 13 attempts to stretch base hits, won three straight and virtually ended the season for their pursuers.
The key figure in the Twins' new style of play is Versalles and, if the American League is going to regain some of that lost prestige, Zoilo is the man who will have to trigger Minnesota's attack on whichever team represents the National League in the Series. Although he is only 5 feet 10 inches tall and 155 pounds, he packs remarkable power and actually leads the Twins in total bases. Not since Casey Stengel used Hank Bauer as the first man in his Yankee batting order has the American League had a leadoff hitter capable of producing as many homers as Versalles has (18), and Versalles is much faster than Bauer ever was. Zoilo leads the league in runs scored, is second in hits, first in doubles, second in triples, third in stolen bases and far ahead of the pack in brooding. He is a sensitive young man who loves to sit by his hi-fi and sing operatic arias. When he first came to the major leagues from Fox Cities in 1959 at the age of 18, many thought he was too sure of himself and incapable of taking instruction. Ellis Clary, a coach for the then Washington Senators, said, "I worked like a dog with the boy to teach him to play. He had all the tools but so many bad habits that it was like trying to get an alligator to play the piano." Today Versalles says that he was misunderstood. He says he was so unsure of himself that he made cocky statements to cover up his fear of being a failure. "I got to the ball park at 6 a.m.," he says now. "I looked at the Stadium and then went five miles away and sat in a park and listened to the birds wake up. Inside me I knew I was not going to make it."
At Charleston the next season Zoilo had tremendous difficulties with the English language. "One night there is a ball hit to me," he says, "and everybody yell 'throw him out,' meaning I should throw the ball home. I didn't know what was meant so I hold onto the ball. The word 'home' I only know then, not this 'throw him out.' " Cookie Lavagetto, who was managing the Senators when Versalles came back to the majors in 1960, maintains: "He was just a baby who had everything but maturity. When he would make an error he would want to run into the clubhouse and hide."
This spring Versalles had a run-in with Mele and was fined $300. Billy Martin, the former Yankee second baseman, now a Minnesota coach, took Versalles in hand and began to teach him the little things that were to change him from a player with promise to a player fulfilling his promise. Mele convinced Versalles that he could lead Minnesota to a pennant and make $8,000 extra for himself in Series money. Versalles listened.
"In other years," Zoilo said recently in the Twins clubhouse, "I like to play hard but it is not fun. This time it is fun because we all feel good and do good. Billy Martin helps to make me the complete ballplayer. I have lost a lot of weight this year, but I am happy even though tired. This thrill of playing in the World Series is so deep inside me that only I know what it is. How much pressure will be on me in the Series? The pressure will be on them."
HOW THE TWINS SHOULD DO WITH THE NATIONAL LEAGUE
The Giants have Willie Mays, and Willie Mays has done everything in baseball except have a Willie Mays-type World Series. In his three previous appearances (1951, 1954, 1962) he hit only .182, .286 and .250, and if you know Mays you must figure that he is due for a good one. The Giants are the team that Manager Sam Mele would most like to play, because the Twins and Giants are constructed along almost the same lines—except for the vital ingredient of speed. Like Minnesota, the Giants have power, a patchwork but surprisingly effective pitching staff and, with the obvious exception of Mays, unspectacular fielding. Mays, Willie McCovey and Jim Ray Hart are the big hitters, and they will be doubly dangerous in Metropolitan Stadium. Juan Marichal is the big Giant pitcher and will start three times if the Series goes to seven games. Still, Marichal was erratic in the closing weeks of the season. The second starter, Bob Shaw, has become a five-inning pitcher, and so has Warren Spahn, who nonetheless can do brilliant work until he tires and who could prove upsetting to Minnesota's left-handed power hitters, particularly Hall and Mincher. The key to San Francisco's September rush was the bullpen, notably Frank Linzy and left-hander Masanori Murakami, who would be the first Japanese ever to appear in a World Series. Eleven Giants have had previous World Series experience, whereas no Twin has ever been to bat in one—but this advantage might be more apparent than real. It is power that the Giants must rely on, plus the curiously comforting confines of Candlestick Park: the Giants have played better baseball at home this season (47-27 through September 26) than any other team in the majors. Minnesota's outfielders, especially Tony Oliva in right, may have trouble with the tricky winds at Candlestick but, on the other hand, the Twins' hitters should enjoy the friendly fences there as much as the Giants' hitters will savor the ones in Minnesota. As for fielding, Mays is the only Giant who by virtue of both talent and experience is not likely to be disturbed by the Twins' go-go running game. Mele is counting on that all-out attack to keep the Giants off balance, and he feels that his pitching staff is just a little more dependable than the one Herman Franks has.
DEFINITE EDGE TO MINNESOTA
The Dodgers' pitchers, given each day their daily run, win and win again in their vast Los Angeles ball park, because balls can be hit far there without doing much damage. Minnesota has certainly found that out. The Twins have scored only 20 runs in nine games played there this year against Angel pitching, and Angel pitching, while good, is not as good as Dodger pitching. The Dodgers will use their thin brickhard infield for bunts, particularly against First Baseman Don Mincher and Third Baseman Harmon Killebrew, neither of whom is an adept fielder. Maury Wills is the key to this style of attack, but in Metropolitan Stadium the Dodgers should be able to generate long-ball power when Jim Lefebvre, Ron Fairly, Wes Parker and John Roseboro are batting left-handed. All four of them hit well to right center field, and that power alley at "the Met" is built for them just as much as it is for the Twins' Jimmie Hall, Tony Oliva and Don Mincher. The Dodgers' Lou Johnson, a right-handed hitter who likes to pull the ball, will enjoy the left power alley. Los Angeles is deep in left-handed pitching, and Minnesota's record against lefties is only 23-17 (though many of those lefties began to win after Killebrew was injured on Aug. 2). Sandy Koufax is the best pitcher in the world, and Minnesota never was able to beat Claude Osteen when Osteen was with Washington (record vs. Twins, 5-0). And, remember, Don Drysdale, whose record this season is 22-12, pitched the best game of the glittering four that the Dodgers threw against the Yankees in their Series sweep in 1963. The Twins will have to stack their lineup with right-handers against Koufax and Osteen. Minnesota's pitching, on paper, does not appear to be as strong as Dodger pitching, but a long, tough pennant fight might find the Dodger staff tired by Series time. Grant, Kaat and Pascual are a tough threesome, and all hit and field their positions very well. Pascual, recovered from an arm operation, could give the Twins a big lift if he pitches back to his old effectiveness. The Twins have a strong bullpen, but so do the Dodgers. Ron Perranoski, who was ineffective during the early season, is back in form. Minnesota's bench is stronger than the Dodgers'. The Twins' hope is that the Dodger pitchers are indeed tired after the pennant race.
SLIGHT EDGE TO MINNESOTA
The Reds are a bewildering club to analyze. Of the three National League contenders they seem to have the best 25 men, yet they had the most trouble reaching for the pennant. The defense is excellent, they have fine speed, they are by far the best-hitting team in the major leagues, they have two 20-game winners in Jim Maloney (20-8) and Sammy Ellis (21-9), and who could ask for anything more? Yet it seems almost a characteristic of the Reds that every time they get close to greatness they back off. Still, if Cincinnati makes the Series, Vada Pinson (.304), Frank Robinson (.294), Pete Rose (.312), Deron Johnson (.288), Leo Cardenas (.286), Gordie Coleman (.303), John Edwards (.271), Tommy Harper (.263) and Tony Perez (.256)—who have averaged 18 homers and 75 runs batted in apiece this season—should be able to generate any type of attack, be it hit and run or slug for the fences. Beyond their inability to cope with their manifest destiny the thing that has hurt Cincinnati, despite Maloney and Ellis, is sour pitching. Only the Mets had a worse team earned run average in the National League. A dismal performance by Jim O'Toole (6.16 ERA) and not much better work by Joe Jay and John Tsitouris meant that old Joe Nuxhall (11-3) was the only effective starter beyond Maloney and Ellis that the Reds had—though complete games came few and far between for Joe, who was bothered by elbow trouble late in the season. Two superior starters are a great plus in World Series play, but when the managers turn to the bullpen Sam Mele has it all over Dick Sisler. Al Worthington, Johnny Klippstein, Jim Merritt and Dave Boswell have proved far more dependable than Cincinnati's crowd, though the Reds' youthful left-handers Billy McCool and Teddy Davidson may surprise. Young McCool, if he goes back to pitching the way he did a season ago, could turn out to be the hero. Still, when free-swinging teams like the Twins and Reds meet, especially in hitters' parks like Crosley Field and Metropolitan Stadium, pitching sometimes goes out the window. One observer said of a Twins-Reds series, "It will take them 11 games to finish it." In such a Series it could come down to this: in the clutch good pitching tended to stop Cincinnati; in the clutch it did not stop Minnesota.
SLIGHT EDGE TO MINNESOTA