Jim had come on strong as a Cleveland rookie in 1959. "He was always so serious," recalls Milwaukee General Manager Frank Lane, who was the Indians' general manager at the time. "We brought him to Tucson that spring just to pitch batting practice. I saw him in the hotel lobby writing in a little black book. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was figuring out how to pitch to Bob Cerv in the first game of the season in Kansas City.
"He wasn't even on the roster. I asked Joe Gordon, 'Is he going to pitch your first game?' Gordon said, 'No—what do you mean?' I said, 'He's pitching the first game right now over there.' I never saw a more serious-minded kid. He pitched his way right onto the ball club that year."
Jim was a cocky rookie, saying things like, "Don't matter how small the ball park is if you've got it," and he won 12 games and lost 10. "Gaylord got the money," he would say, "and I got the arm." The next year, 1960, he was 18-10. But in 1961 he was 10-17, and from that point until well into the 1969 season he was a marginal pitcher.
Jim's cockiness, which had reminded many writers of Dizzy Dean, gave way to a mournful look, which to some extent he still has. Jim's critics said he had lost his deceptiveness when he developed polish and his herky-jerky motion smoothed out. One pitching coach said, "He wasn't using his body enough. His motion was sort of like a tree being carefully cut down. His body fell forward slowly."
After Jim was traded to the Twins in 1963 he was assigned to Manager Sam Mele's permanent doghouse because of a home run he gave up to Ron Hansen one ninth inning. Jim "was available," as Lane puts it, "for a cheese sandwich," but no team rose to the bait.
Then, in 1965, when Camilo Pascual was injured, Jim got a chance to start regularly. He went 7-7 after July 5 as the Twins won a pennant. In '66, '67, '68 he was back in the spot-start and long-relief category. "It doesn't seem to matter what I do," he told a reporter.
In late April of 1969 more injuries gave him another regular chance, and he was ready for it. No longer making cocky remarks (setting a certain standard for blandness, in fact, which he has maintained into his present stardom) but pitching with craftsmanlike authority, he won 20 and lost six. Last year, with Dave Boswell cutting up his hand in a bizarre locker-room accident and some other Twin pitchers suffering picturesque lapses, Jim kept plugging and finally became recognized as the team's best pitcher. From that eminence he looks back on his career and expresses satisfaction.
"I take care of myself," he says, "because the better you can do things the more things you get to do. And I enjoy what I'm doing—baseball—otherwise I'd do something else.
"I think my friends thought I should have said something when I didn't get to start. I did ask a couple of people in the organization why, and their answers weren't too good, but I know that the main thing in baseball is to be ready to do a good job when the time comes. As long as you stick in there," Jim concludes, "things will come around."
And so it is that Jim has settled into Edina, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis, and into promotions and public relations (for shopping center openings and a home-delivery orange juice concern), connections with a boat company and a snowmobile company, part ownership of a mobile home concern in Cincinnati and the directorship of a bank in St. Paul. Lately it seems he's always on a plane heading somewhere, to meet some people on business or to make an appearance. "I say the only time I get to relax is in the dentist's chair," says Jim, "and that's about the truth. I've got a poor dog I haven't even taken out duck hunting. But I like to stay busy, I like to meet people, and these are things you have to do."