Monday, March 1, 2010

All The Young Dudes - The 1968 St. Petersburg (Instructional League) Twins

Material added Wed., Jan. 27, 2016

It may only be me (in fact, I'm sure it is), but old photographs intrigue me.  Historical (ie., Civil War), local (Depression era Minneapolis and St. Paul), ones of my family, etc., etc.  Take this little black and white from the fall of '68.  To all appearances, just a bunch of young jocks trying to make it to the major leagues - an assumption which would mostly be correct, actually!

But the rub is, there are a few human micro-dramas at play here!  I'll post later today on just that, to fill in the picture.  Until then, I hope you can read the roster well enough, if you go on to click on the photo! 

[UPDATE of the UPDATE; Tues., 3-2-10]       
1968. Turbulent times. There are 5 of us, my siblings plus me, blissfully unaware of the world outside our small town, mostly.  My second oldest brother, Dennis, is one year away from joining the army in Vietnam, adding tremendous anxiety to the lives of my Mom and Dad. Many a night, Ma would spend crying in a darkened living room, wondering if Denny would ever return.  Johnson has declined to run for a second term. 

One fine June morning, the news of Robert Kennedy's assassination comes over our black and white Sylvania console TV as I sit eating from my cereal bowl before heading off to my summer Kindergarten session.  I'm hoping my brothers and sisters will let me watch "The Monkees," the 30-minute televised showcase of what to me is the greatest rock band in the world.

 The Minnesota Twins are en route to a disappointing season, prepping their list of draftees from that month's amateur draft for their minor league team assignments and later, the fall instructional league, which had a 48 game schedule that year for the Twin. They would join other young players who may have already played A and rookie league ball.
Instructional league is usually about teams bringing in their younger, less experienced players for some intensive training, "bringing up to speed" and "getting to know you" work after the regular, major league season has completed in October.  Injured players come and rehab, players who need to make up for lost time.  There are teams stocked today in Florida and Arizona.

This photo represents the outstanding 1968 Florida Instructional League Twins team the Twins fielded that fall of '68.  It brought a few items to mind for me, to say the least!  Some represent things I haven't thought about for years.

One of the eerie coincidences in the photo is the pairing of shortstop Danny Thompson and outfielder Herman Hill, seen standing in the back row. Not only were they Twins teammates of high repute at the Major League level, but they both died young. Hill, an Alabaman was age 25 at his death, the youngest Twin ever to do so, drowning in Venezuela in Dec., 1970 (Hill card via  the fabulously entertaining "When Topps Had Balls" blog). 
I remember my brothers and I lamenting this when we found out about it.  We were shocked that someone so young could die.  Little did we know!

Baseball Reference has a concise bio on Hill, and there's an incredible account at the Cool of The Evening website of how Hill's Winter ball teammates Ray Fosse (yes, THAT Ray Fosse, the one who was rammed in the 1970 All-Star Game by Pete Rose!) and John Morris tried to save his life.  Oklahoma native Danny Thompson passed away after a courageous four year battle with leukemia in Dec., 1976.  He was 29 years old. 

Danny's good friend, Harmon Killebrew, inspired the formation of the Danny Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament, which has become an annual event to raise funds for studying medical treatment against this disease. See this 1970 Sporting News feature (PDF).

Another strange coincidence in the camera shot is that one of my all-time favorite Twins is standing right next to Thompson: utility man Jerry Terrell.  Terrell was born in Waseca, Minnesota and went to high school in Waterville, Minnesota - a short drive from my hometown of New Prague. He was signed to a Twins contract after doing well in a tryout camp in 1968 (below, 1974 Topps Rookie Jerry Terrell).

Not long after that, he worked one summer with my oldest brother, Jim, in Le Center, Minnesota at a company that manufactured pool tables.  I remember brother Jim telling me how he casually asked Terrell near the end of one shift what he was doing after work.  Terrell replied "I have a game tonight,"  prompting my brother to ask "Who for?"  "For a townball allstar game, the starting pitcher," said a sheepish Terrell.

Jim opined that Terrell had to be the nicest guy ever to play for the Twins.  Boston Globe and ESPN baseball reporter Peter Gammons was quoted in Stew Thornley's fine book "Minnesotans In Baseball," saying if there were a baseball hall of fame for good guys, Jerry Terrell would be a first ballot pick.

I remember a Baseball Digest note on Terrell in the "Fans Speak Out" section from January, '74 that kind of made me puff out my chest, what with a fellow Minnesotan being praised for his rookie credentials.  Years later, I had a brush with Terrell while visiting the Kansas City Royals ballpark in the late 1980's, when he was working as a scout for the Royals.  

At one point, a foul line drive nearly took out my front teeth.  My buddy Al, seated next to me, nearly cold-cocked me upside the head as he turned an tried to catch the ball speeding murderously by.  "You almost took a right cross on that one!," said a smiling Terrell.   

Of course, there are others in this photo that are notable.  Pitchers Charley Walters, Dave Goltz and Dick Woodson and Tom "The Blade" Hall all left their mark: the former as a sportswriter, the latter three on the mound. Rick Dempsey went on to play for several fine Orioles teams in the 70's, while Charley Manuel managed the 2008 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Eric Soderholm, Dave Goltz and Jose Stennett were each chosen by The Sporting News for its future stars-studded 1968 Minor League Players of the Year Team. Jim Holt would be an on again / off again regular and DH for the Twins. And Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn is pictured in the front row, a coach on this team, 

But these end up trivial details, with the heart of the matter elsewhere -  at least for me. 

And yes, my brother did come back from Vietnam to live a wonderful and productive life.  Probably holding one of his grandchildren at this very moment.

Twinkler Out! 
1968 Florida State League St. Petersburg Twins

Age B T Ht Wt DoB Birthplace
Robert Alexander 23 R R 6' 2.0" 183 Mar 5, 1945 San Diego, CA, US
Steve Brye 19 R R 6' 0.0" 190 Feb 4, 1949 Alameda, CA, US
Jerry Cram 20 R R 6' 0.0" 180 Dec 9, 1947 Los Angeles, CA, US
Rick Dempsey 18 R R 6' 0.0" 190 Sep 13, 1949 Fayetteville, TN, US
Dave Goltz 19 R R 6' 4.0" 200 Jun 23, 1949 Pelican Rapids, MN, US
Vernon Gove 20 L R 6' 2.0" 181 1948
Bill Hahn 21 L L 6' 3.0" 205 Nov 26, 1946
Tom Hall 20 L L 6' 0.0" 150 Nov 23, 1947 Thomasville, NC, US
Dennis Heger 21 S R 6' 3.0" 210 Sep 23, 1946
Herman Hill 22 L R 6' 2.0" 190 Oct 12, 1945 Tuskegee, AL, US
Mike Holbrook 20 R R 6' 1.0" 185 1948
Jim Holt 24 L R 6' 0.0" 180 May 27, 1944 Graham, NC, US
Charlie Manuel 24 L R 6' 4.0" 195 Jan 4, 1944 Northfork, WV, US
George Mitterwald 23 R R 6' 2.0" 195 Jun 7, 1945 Berkeley, CA, US
Ben Proulx 18 R R 6' 1.0" 190 Oct 22, 1949 Live Oak, FL, US
Gary Reierson 23 R R 6' 0.0" 195 1945
Rick Renick 24 R R 6' 0.0" 188 Mar 16, 1944 London, OH, US
Franklyn Sands 19 R R 5' 11.0" 165 Dec 2, 1948 Nassau, BS
Eric Soderholm 19 R R 5' 11.0" 187 Sep 24, 1948 Cortland, NY, US
Jose Stennett 22 L R 5' 11.0" 161 Oct 24, 1945
Buzz Stephen 23 R R 6' 4.0" 205 Jul 13, 1944 Porterville, CA, US
Jerry Terrell 21 R R 5' 11.0" 165 Jul 13, 1946 Waseca, MN, US
Danny Thompson 21 R R 6' 0.0" 183 Feb 1, 1947 Wichita, KS, US
Lanny Vessell 24 R R 5' 7.0" 150 1944
Charlie Walters 21 R R 6' 4.0" 190 Feb 21, 1947 Minneapolis, MN, US
Kenneth Wirell 25 R R 6' 5.0" 205 1943
Dick Woodson 23 R R 6' 5.0" 205 Mar 30, 1945 Oelwein, IA, US
Bill Zepp 21 R R 6' 2.0" 185 Jul 22, 1946 Detroit, MI, US
Generated 11/28/2013.



Jim Barleycorn - while trying to publish your comment, I think I instead managed to delete it. Feel free to resend!

Jim Barleycorn said...

The 1965 to 1969 Twins are definitely a bygone era. I don't remember the comment that you accidently deleted, but it probably had something to do with why Tony Rice is a much better guitarist than Clapton, Frampton, Page, Hendrix etal.