SI Vault
William Leggett
August 23, 1965
Sixth last year, the Minnesota Twins have become the first-place darlings of the upper Midwest, arousing cheerful hopes and sudden fear as both good breaks and bad come their way by the hatful
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 23, 1965

Everybody Pick Up A Drum

Sixth last year, the Minnesota Twins have become the first-place darlings of the upper Midwest, arousing cheerful hopes and sudden fear as both good breaks and bad come their way by the hatful

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue




























They finally are beginning to believe in the Minnesota Twins in the Metropolises of the upper Midwest. Small boys in Minnehaha and Bigfork wear sailor caps with "Win Twins" on the brims, and just about the only sound heard in the cool of evening in Fergus Falls, Bena, Wadena and Elbow Lake comes from thousands of radios tuned in to hear whether Minnesota can win another impossible game. On Interstate 494 in Bloomington, Webster's Restaurant is still a building, but Webster has posted a firm promise in the front window: "Will be open for World Series." Duff's bar in midtown Minneapolis is selling mock campaign buttons in red, white and blue that say " Sam Mele for President" and " Harmon Killebrew for Governor." You can walk into Duff's right now and sign up for a bus ticket that will take you to Metropolitan Stadium, the home of the Twins, for the opening game of the World Series October 6.

So maybe it is only August. So maybe there are still six weeks before the American League season ends. So maybe the Twins still must go through the toughest part of their schedule, beginning this week. "So what?" they ask in Minnesota. "This team does the impossible all the time. Why, this year they didn't even Die in July, and the Twins always Die in July." More than 200 requests a day are being mailed to Metropolitan Stadium begging for tickets to a World Series that is still theoretical (or don't you remember the Phillies?) and still a quarter of a season away.

This has been a wild year in Minnesota. First came the dry cold and deep snows of winter, then the 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 had Minneapolis on standard time and its twin city, St. Paul, on daylight saving time. For most of the year a Minnesotan seemed to be a person with six feet of snow in his driveway, three inches of water in his cellar, the roof blown off his house and unable to find out what the hell time it was. But the Twins have brought a certain wacky order to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. They played the best baseball in the major leagues (22-9) in July and had more implausible escapes from impending disaster than Adam Clayton Powell, more feats of derring-do than most teams generate in half a dozen seasons. By the middle of August, despite the worst sick-call list in the major leagues, the Twins had won 75 games—24 of them on their last time at bat.

The late Bob Murphy of the Minneapolis Star once wrote of Twin fans, "Have you ever noticed how they refer to the Twins as 'we' when they win and 'they' when they lose?" This is a real "we" year in Minnesota. Usually the magic number, that delightful piece of mathematical gobbledygook that indicates how-many games a team must win or its opponents must lose before the championship can be clinched, begins appearing in pennant-bound cities along about the middle of September, when the number is, say, 15. Newspapers in the Twin Cities brought it out on August 5, when the number was 52. At Duff's large signs display it, and whenever the number is reduced applause fills the room.

The madness seems to have affected just about everyone in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, western Wisconsin and northern Iowa. Recently Dr. Owen Wangensteen, a well-known cancer surgeon from Minneapolis, went to the wedding of his brother-in-law's son at the White Bear Yacht Club. He paid his respects in the reception line and then raced to his car in the parking lot to listen to the Twins 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 asked if her husband enjoyed the games at Metropolitan Stadium. "Oh, he's never been," she replied. "But he never misses a game on the radio." Pat Meehan, a grocery clerk in St. Paul, says, "Before the people order they talk about the Twins. I've never seen or heard anything like it before."

The Twins have won many dramatic games this year with their new running attack—a style more identified with the National League than the American. But the image of the Twins generally remains that of a ball club with tremendous power and little else. Even though Twin fans are delighted by the running game, appreciate it and enjoy what it can do to harass the enemy, one game won on a home run stands out as the greatest single victory of the season and possibly in the history of the Twins. It came on Sunday, July 11 in Metropolitan Stadium, the last game before the three-day All-Star break and the last game of a four-game series with the hated Yankees. The four games drew 138,000 people, and the area was at fever pitch over baseball, partly because Minnesota was about to be host to its first All-Star game and partly because the Twins were leading the league by four and a half games. Three seasons back, when the second-place Twins lost the pennant to New York by five games, there had been a July series with the Yankees in Minnesota. New York had swept it, and Minnesota had never really recovered. This year the Twins won two of the first three games, but when Harmon Killebrew came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning of the last game with two outs and a runner on first base Minnesota was losing 5-4.

Harmon Killebrew has hit tons of homers for the Twins. Some have been measured at more than 500 feet in Washington and Boston, and some could be measured at $14 on a cab meter in Chicago. This day in July the count went to three balls and two strikes on Harmon, and then he fouled off two pitches. The next pitch he hit on a line 360 feet into the left-field bleachers to win the game. For an instant a strange silence fell on the ball park, and then the crowd exploded. It was the most dramatic home run ever hit by a Twin, and it made all Minnesota believe that this was the year.

Everyone has a theory about how and why Minnesota suddenly developed into a winner after finishing in sixth place, 20 games behind, last season. Maybe the change began during the winter, when Manager Sam Mele sat and thought about making the Twins use a running game instead of waiting for home runs (SI, May 17). Perhaps it came when Owner Calvin Griffith hired Johnny Sain as his pitching coach to try to transform a pitching staff with good quality but little consistency into a staff strong enough to stand the pressures of tight games. Maybe it had more subtle origins; perhaps it began on a 40� night last April in Detroit when Second-string Catcher Jerry Zimmerman came to bat with the winning run on base after Minnesota had overcome a five-run deficit. In five seasons and 447 times at 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. He pitched only three and one-third innings during the first six weeks of the season. 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 pitching staff, 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 June with clutch hits, and Don Mincher, the part-time first baseman, has hit five home runs that won games in the last or next-to-last inning. But no break that Minnesota has received all year was as big as the one General Manager George Weiss of the New York Mets inadvertently gave them at baseball's winter meetings last December. Owner Griffith went to the meetings convinced that he had to make a trade. "We played bad ball last year," Griffith said then, "and our fans are screaming for a trade. I've got to try and give one to them. A big one, if I can."

The Twins and the Mets 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 perfect for both sides, because the Twins would get a solid starting pitcher and an outstanding second baseman as well as a good defensive catcher who had hit .311 the year before. The Mets would receive a hard-hitting center fielder and a fine all-round catcher as well as an infielder and a pitcher. At the last minute Weiss called the whole thing off. Griffith did make a trade to show his fans he was trying, but it was inconsequential: he acquired Second Baseman Cesar Tovar from the Cincinnati Reds for Pitcher Gerry Arrigo.

The records that the players involved in that aborted trade are setting this season are a pluperfect demonstration of how beautifully things are going for Minnesota this year. Jimmie Hall has been among the American League leaders in batting and RBIs all year; Battey (.309) is one of the key men in the Twins' hit-and-run attack; Perry's record is 8-3, and his earned run average is 2.40, ninth best in the league. On the other hand, Hunt broke his shoulder in May, Cannizzaro has knocked in five runs all season and Jackson has a record of 6-16.

Continue Story
1 2 3