Nobody wants to be in my pants right now” - Twins reliever Juan Rincon, after giving up four runs in a third of an inning in Minnesota's 6--5 loss to the Yankees in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Division Series:

Monday, May 31, 2010

On Heroes and Growing Up In A Little Minnesota Town



Dad: fishing on vacation, 1954.
Click on image to increase size.

When I was growing up in the late 1960s and '70s, my heroes were my Dad, Gene Busch, and Harmon Killebrew. I'd like to think that had he been a major league baseball player, my old man would have been..."The Killer."

They were neck and neck for me, on the character, integrity and grass roots scale. Harmon, the team player and face of the Twins. Dad, along with Mom, the heart and soul of my family.   He may have felt he didn't get far in life, but I'll always feel proud he was my father.
I guess you could say Dad helped make me the Twins fan I became.
And as we layed him to rest 7 years ago on Memorial Day weekend, this time is the one I reserve to honor his memory.

***
From 1960's Twins scoring program.
At Metropolitan Stadium, 1962: Manager Sam Mele, Harmon, 
and owner Calvin Griffith
There seemed to be a Twins game on all the time in our home, either on radio with Herb Carneal, and Halsey Hall, or the rare telecast on WTCN (ABC, Channel 11 - Minneapolis). Harmon served for 12 years as the host of the pregame show, a congenial link of the media to the players, managers and the Twins front office. It was cheap entertainment, perfect, as we didn't have a lot of money to spend in our home. The Twins came from Washington in 1961, and the balance of the decade of the 60's was a period of economic stagnancy and inflation. Things weren't great for workingmen and their families.  Those radio games were great soundtracks to our life at home, bringing home part of the essence of summer.  They were also very instrumental in giving me "baseball fever," forever branding me as THE Twins and baseball geek of the family. The crosses we bear...

***
New Prague’s Centennial Celebration in 1956 featured a beard-growing contest, and employees of the International Multifoods plant in New Prague added to the festive mood by taking part as a group. Pictured are (front row, left to right) Bill Kubik, Jim Pasek, Joe Smisek, Louie Bisek, Stanley Javourek, Lloyd Segna, Ed Kohout; (middle) Myles Rybak, George Kohout, Joe Peroutka, Albert Meyer, Henry Tikalsky, Joe Mikalashek, Fritz Novak; (back) Gene Busch, Isadore Dols, Russ Sindelar, Myles Kadrlik, Julius Bisek, Ed Hanek, Leon Snyder, Dick Schlauderaff and Cy Bruzek.
Twins games and music - LP phonograph records, AM radio...both played liberally throughout our home. This while Mom would be ironing clothes, Dad wrenching in the garage or reading the paper.  On local radio, before rampant programming took hold, you had "classic country," when it still had that drunk-morning-in-America sound aka: Johnny Cash mixed in with The Animals or old Beatles; then it would jump over to something vaguely like glam rock, i.e. Badfinger, then double back to the country of Glen Campbell or Lynn Anderson.  What a hoot - perfect for developing kids with an ecclectic variety of
tastes in music. Dad and Mom provided us the avenue and license to develop these tastes.  They didn't alway like what we played, but their tolerance made us give more leeway for their styles.  I can listen to polkas and waltzes, Lawrence Welk,  with a warm feeling, rather than revulsion.

As it turned out, all my brothers and sisters have involved themselves in music to some degree, playing in high school bands, choirs, productions and later personal musical instruction post high school.  This was part and parcel of the legacy of music inherited from people like my Grandfather Meinrad (Dad's father), and the tradition in the St. Benedict / New Prague area.  My Grandfather played church organ; he
taught school in St. Benedict (located a short distance from New Prague and Jordan).  He died very young, while Dad was in his teens. I know that was a blow to him, which he didn't talk about much.
Dad would pull out his harmonica every so often, and play a jaunty "Ol' Susannah." THAT was a treat, to watch him go. My folks may not have had the same opportunities to branch out in the arts, but they were enlightened, and intuitively knew that it would benefit us!
***
Vacation: 1959, with Susie, Mom, baby Kevin, 
Jim and Nancy
Quitting school after the 8th grade, Gene worked on my Grandfather's farm until he met and married Lucy Maxa, my Mom in 1944.  Other than farming, there weren't many industrial jobs to be had. Dad and Mom then had extra reasons to provide with a toddler in the house, my oldest sister Nancy.  He joined International Multifoods (Robin Hood flour processing) in 1946, and stayed there through 1981, finishing as a machine tender.The mill didn't pay much, but it was steady work and Dad felt compelled to take the position.  It was hard for him there at times.  Three shifts, away from us a lot.  There were some upright people there that he admired and enjoyed.  There were also some low grade characters in the mix, who stirred things up against Dad for his industrious, hard-working nature.  Sometimes those gentle, quiet guys become targets.  But he stuck it out. For us.

We fished and camped a lot in summer. Had lots of family barbecues and swimming outings at local lakes (i.e., "Camp Pa-Hu-Ca," on Fish Lake, near Lydia, Minn.) My brother's and I played tons of whiffle ball in the backyard. Vicious, vicious battles.  We played Little League baseball. Collected scores of Topps baseball cards. Then, there were the Vikings in the fall, and ice fishing in the winter. And waited for baseball and the Twins to start back up...winter was an eternity for me as a kid.  Long now too!

Dad and beloved family pet, Shana, on
the frozen extremes of  Spring Lake.
The little icefishing house Dad built in the 60's is a warm family memory for each of us who shared it with him and Mom.  Many hours were spent together in that little 10' by 7' shack on the waters of Spring, Fish or Cedar Lakes.  The images of the beer ad that Dad hung on one wall are about all that exist from those times...
The Twins Twinkler and famous beer sign, in partial. Picture
of fisherman rounds out rest of scene!



.

International Multifoods Corporation & surrounding New Prague 
area, circa 1971.
***

It was all a golden time to become infatuated with Harmon and the Minnesota Twins, really.

To wit:


*The Twins had dazzled fans in the upper Midwest by winning the American League pennant in 1965, and taking the LA Dodgers to the 7th game, losing 1-0 to Sandy Koufax

* Jimmy Kaat won 25 the next year, most in the American League

* Harmon drove a mammoth shot to the Met Stadium upper deck (500+ feet) around the time I was just starting to swing those big, red, "Bammer" Flintstones plastic bats, in early June, 1967

*Hall-Of-Famer Rod Carew arrived to play second base that year

*Cesar Tovar played all nine positions in a game against the Athletics, in September '68

*And in 1969, the Twins fielded what may have been their best, most complete team - managed by the mercurial Billy Martin!
It was all compelling stuff to us kids, and we had our own favorites, like Rich Reese, Leo Cardenas, and Cesar Tovar

**

Dad did extra things to make some money for us. He upholstered furniture, and made excellent lawn swings. He had a really nice eye for detail. I remember him really stressing when some aspect of his work was subpar, or there weren't enough materials to finish a job. But he got a lot of good word of mouth for what he was doing, and people kept coming back for his craftsmanship.  

I remember vividly helping him transport and set up what turned out to be the last swing he ever developed.  It was for an African American lady in St. Paul.  When she came to the door to answer our bell ring, Dad gave me this look [WOOF!], a little smile forming, in what I can only refer to as an "Archie Bunker" moment, if you catch my drift. He had a habit of undercharging people for his work, to a fault. He always seemed to keep that "workingman's mentality" in mind, knowing how difficult it was for people to afford things.

Scene from opening of "All In
The Family."
Archie Bunker made him gutlaugh with his malaprops.  It made me feel great when he could do that, because he didn't often let himself go, to be extemporaneous, and enjoy himself and life.  He had a private battle going on inside of himself much of the time, I felt. Now that I'm a Dad, I think I can identify with some of the pressures he went through - hoping you're doing well by your family, keeping the marriage alive, giving the kids what they need to thrive.

It was one of the pleasures of my life to go out in the woods with him later in my adolescence and early adulthood to split wood for his fireplace; a chance to be alone with him, and hear him talk about himself, life, and how difficult it was growing up in a big farm family. He didn't neccessarily get much personal attention from his parents. No touchy, feely stuff.  That's the way things were back then, coming of age in the Depression with parents who made do with the time, resources and parenting skills they had.

***
Mom, me sans teeth, Dad, brother Marty at Easter, 1970

About that firewood gathering thing: I remember cutting up wood with him with a wood splitter, a playoff game playing on the truck radio (i.e., George Brett 3-HR playoff game) and telling him about some girl troubles I was having. He pondered what I'd said and [me leaning in for sage advice from my old man] responded..."Make sure you get yourself a good looking woman."

Could always count on him to throw you a curve.

To backtrack: he was rejected by the army after his service exam.  His hearing was poor, and had been deteriorating since he was a young man in his teens.  He'd had a childhood ear infection.  It really made things tough for him, to seek out and secure friendships, especially being laid back and gentle in his nature.  But he soldiered on, and we always knew he cared about us and Mom.  Great parents!

Dad liked baseball, liked playing it when he was young, but he had to grow up early and give up playing it in any organized league.  He took us to at least one game a year at the Met, and there is one double header against the then-World Champion Tigers that I'll post later on this summer - a great memory being at it with Mom and Dad. I remember it vividly!  2 wins in one day!

Dad was kind. He was sensitive.  He could be impatient. He had a wry, sometimes crazy sense of humor. AND he was quiet. In fact, he didn't communicate much of what was on his mind, and that made him hard for people to read, and that included us, his children. Much of that stemmed from his hearing, . So he didn't get a lot of what people were saying to him. Essentially, he communicated an ethic of work and good living through his actions, instead of words.

I believe his reluctance to speak much contributed much to people thinking he was aloof. But when people took the time to get to know him, they loved him.  A huge heart indeed.  What a guy...I was proud about him  and the kind of man he was.
***
Dad with Great-Granddaughter, Alexis, 2003
He became the elder statesman, sitting in the same church pew with Mom every Sunday. And like Harmon, he acquired a certain dignity AND warmth as he grew older, especially after surviving cancer, which forced his retirement. He liked Kirby Puckett.  To me, he was great. I miss him to this day.

Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew, & Rod Carew present
Joe Mauer with his 2009 MVP Award, April, 2010
I'm glad to say we still have Harmon Killebrew with us - still very much alive and representing the Twins at various functions...which is a treasure I'd dare say that's taken for granted. I know that I'd give a kidney just for another chance to hear Dad speak, or watch another game with him!

May your taters fly far!
Twinkler Out!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Our Friday Visit To Ye Olde Ballyard - Twins 2, Rangers 1

video
NOTE: videos starting with a loud CRACK when clicking play, as if a ball is meeting bat! You may want to keep volume low at first!
Above video: "Walks Will Haunt" - favorite cheesy graphic from Metrodome Days!

Secret surveillance photo of daughter...

A wonderful night seeing our Twins with my wonderful girl! Brother Jimmy got us tickets in the upper right field corner. And as the cliche goes, there are no bad seats at Target Field [exception: when you have to take a dump]. Our view was facing the pitcher's mound / second base area, marking it as a huge upgrade over the Dome.
On a night almost totally devoid of offensive firepower, there were still memorable events to stash away in memory. With Emma's birthday coming up, this was one nice way to celebrate. Plus, the beautiful night, the sellout crowd, funny situations caught on video.
Below video: Ian Kinsler's apparent homerun off Kevin Slowey gets overturned by umpires! Hah!
videoClick on hardhat guy photo - fish is a riot!
Then, I took panoramic shots, pictures like the '61 Hotdog vendor, one of Emma, the fish on a hardhat guy. Not great quality, but I like them. BTY: Mauer threw out the Rangers' top base stealer, Elvis Andrus with perfect peg; this prompted the videoboard staff to put up the MLB Playstation clip of the rueful man intoning "WELL PLAYED, MAUER," - causing us to turn to one another and gutlaugh!
Blissful stuff for memory, made all the better for The Twins Twinkler what with his girl enjoying it with him. I told her to focus on a player, or else you miss whole game gawking at sights!
Next two videos: first, view from right field plaza / second: postgame light display in outfield
video video

Check the video taken from the right field plaza area while on restroom break. This goofy guy jumps in front of my scenery, amusing gesturing follows! Drunk horses rump!

I may decide to post more videos later!


Have a great Memorial Day Weekend - May Your Taters Fly Far...
Twinkler Out!




Sunday, May 23, 2010

Phenom Pitcher Stephen Strasburg DazzlesTwins Minor Leaguers - See How Jacque Jones & Jose Morales Fared!


On Thursday night, the Twins' AAA affiliate minor league Rochester Red Wings were defeated by the Syracuse Chiefs (Washington Nationals AAA team) and the sensational 2009 number one draft pick Stephen Strasburg.  Interesting writeup in the StarTribune by Michael Rand, with impressions of the new star by some of the Red Wings players and coaches.  Here's another take by Joe Posnanski for SI.com, one of my faves.


I have extra interest in Strasburg's career, as I made him a sleeper pick in my fantasy baseball league [CUE IMAGES OF GEEKY NERDS DRAFTING PLAYERS IN MOTHER'S BASEMENT], having stashed him in my reserves category for the entire season.   His performance on Thursday (see box) against the Red Wings did nothing to dispell the hysteria about him, as reported by Danny Knobler at CBS Sports ...and now, there is some possibilty that the kid will make his major league debut against the Pirates on Friday night this week because of injuries in the Washington Nationals' pitching rotation!  Ooooooh! 
Check out the You Tube video of Strasburg I've posted before this one!

Twinkler Out!





[above photo] No, I don't seriously believe the Twins called up Trevor Plouffe for Friday night's game merely because he got an infield hit off Strasburg the night before, right? Right??


ESPN Feature on Stephen Strasburg - 03/26/09


Excellent feature on super fantastical phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg, by ESPN (Tim Kurkjian reporting). Hype? I dunno! From the tone of the piece, he's Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson, Bert Blyleven and Steve Carlton all rolled into one!

Time will tell.

? ?What is up with those tights they're wearing??

Twinkler Out!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Twins, Plouffe Bash Brew Crew 15-3, Feel Better, Thank You, After Tough Roadtrip!

Standing out in the Twins' offensive bodyslamming of Milwaukee on Friday night at Target Field was the performance of newly arrived rookie Trevor Plouffe (rhymes with "Roof").  The former first round draft pick from California acquitted himself well, going 2 for 5, with his first hit (single), first double and 2 RBI's in his first major league game. He also handled the first two chances of the game, recording assists both times.  
Bravo and good show, young man!  Feel free to call up Grandma Plouffe with all the great stuff!

No less than four Twins had three hit nights (see box summary), including Denard Span, Orlando Hudson, Justin Morneau and Delmon Young.  Jason Kubel "quietly" drove in 4 runs, no doubt embarassed about the lousy performance he's given me this season on my fantasy baseball team, the Tony-O Tanglers (good start towards atonement!).  With his grandslam earlier this week against the Yankees [BOO!] and Mariano Rivera, at least I know he cares!

Nicolai Blackburn pitched excellently, showing the stuff that made Milwaukee hate. Joe Mauer showed his professionalism and quality of sympathy by grounding into two double plays, letting the Brewers off the hook.

Plouffe has been more noteworthy for striking out and making errors during his journey through the minor leagues, but has improved markedly in both departments the last two years at the AAA level.  He was placed at shortstop to replace Alexi Casilla (gosh dang it!), who has experienced elbow soreness of late.
Milwaukee's only runs scored on a three - run stink bomb off the bat of former Twins speed merchant, Carlos Gomez.  The Milwaukee centerfielder then proceeded to use the ocassion to showboat, flipping his bat as if he had just won the game with his one brazen hack.  This, after the Twins did their usual professional best of not piling on or strutting, even after battering Brewers starter Dave Bush to a bloody pulp (he didn't get out of the first inning).

[UPDATE: SATURDAY, 5-22-10]: I didn't see it last night during the game broadcast, but Gomez apparently cold-cocked catcher Joe Mauer on the follow through and release of his homerun swing.  He, of course, was oblivious to the fact, giving Mauer the finger wag "shhhh" when the All-Star catcher kindly told him to mind his p's and q's.  He did show contriteness when informed of what happened upon his return to the visitors dugout, promising to apologize for his lunkheaded actions.


This behavior comes as naturally to this otherwise likeable young fellow as does breathing, or thinking he's seen ghosts, as he did visiting a Milwaukee hotel while with the Twins last year.  Seems his Ipod mysteriously turned on by itself, sending him scurrying for the safety of coach Jerry White's bunk.  The little girly man.  Incidentally, his career stats compare closely (to age 23) with the immortal Pepe Mangual.  Exactly!

It may be interesting to see if the Twins will retaliate for his fine piece of professionalism later in the three game series, perhaps helping to plant his backside on the ground with an "errant" pitch.  The Twins will probably let him get by, however, with a stern shaving cream pie delivered free of charge to the side of his head - traditional baseball hijinx given hotdogs!

Twinkler Out!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Met Stadium Twins-O-Gram Scoreboard!

[Post last updated: March 31, 2013]
The Twins-O-Gram was the old-fashioned message board that was part of the old Metropolitan Stadium scoreboard, in glamorous Bloomington, Minn.  Basically, it was not much more advanced in technology than my Dad's Christmas tree and house light display.

No, it didn't have exploding fireworks (like Chicago's Commisky Park scoreboard), or obnoxious cartoon cowboys rushing across on horseback after a hometeam wallop (the Houston Astrodome board).  But it was quaint and delightfully square, giving fans a rush to see their names and cities up in lights at the ballpark located in a former cornfield in Bloomington.*
*ballpark equidistant from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul

From the first Twins game at the Met, April 21, 1961



It greeted visitors from near and far, from Caracas, Venezuela, to Cambridge, Minnesota.  Civic groups from Rochester, Minn., might be given a shout out, or "Best Birthday wishes to Mrs.  Irma Smedly of St. Paul - age 84 years young tomorrow" were staples you'd expect on a visit to the park.  In fact, you kind of looked forward to these messages, which added to the ambience of an outdoor ballgame back in those days.  I say this as I sit here spinning yarns on the porch for the young 'uns...

Sometimes, it was a nice way to tweek coaches and players - like Vern Morgan

Oct. 6, 1965: Game One view, 1965 World Series
Here's a nice film, priceless really, taken in about 1971. It gives a great panoramic of the various sights (like the one from Cedar Avenue, the major artery that you took to the ballpark) - including the magnificent scoreboard view at the 2:00 mark. At the 5:00 mark, you see the Coon Rapids players sharing the same dugout with future Hall of Famer Rod Carew, and another budding one  in Jim Kaat!What a  beautiful, old 8 mm video.  I swear, I can see Danny Monzon peeking out of a hole in the scoreboard! Heartwarming is the segment where Phil Roof gives copious amounts of his time to speak with a young fan - no dialogue is needed there...


Another Twins-O-Gram view from that first game in 1961. Click image for largeness.

                                                Jim Kaat goes deep, ca. 1969 Minn. Star-Trib Photo

SUNDOWN ON THE OLD MET


As our old, Hall Of Fame broadcasting friend Herb Carneal said: "So long everybody!" - TT

Monday, May 10, 2010

Joe Mauer: Tender With The Urchins!

     Great, Joe is fine with self torture, as long as he can spread his sunshine on the whippersnappers. Go ahead Joe, be my guest and let 'em siphon off your greatness...the focus here are sideburns and follicle stylins'...are they "whack" or are they "crackerjack?"  You decide, and then be sure to scroll down to the "'do" post of earlier times.
Twinkler Out!

Mauer Doesn't Measure Up On All-Time Twins 'Do List! [May 10, 2010]

It's well known that baseball is the sport most associated with statistical data.  Information is compiled on everything. As in EVERYTHING.  The most sunflower seeds consumed in a day/night doubleheader in Milwaukee....most times batter nervously scratched privates during basesloaded at-bat with a 3-2 count.  And so on, and so forth. 


SO, while he is doing quite well with the stick and ball matters, Joe Mauer still has a long way to go if he expects to move up in the sideburns and 'stash neighborhood. Dig the splendiferous '70s mane sported by Johnny Briggs, captured for the ages in this 1976 Topps card.  Was he gettin' down under the mirror ball right after the photo spread?   DYNO-MITE!


If you think I'm using an unfair comparison, check out 1969 20-game winner Boswell's sidies. Apples to apples, right? I believe even the most freaked out Mauer minions will agree: Joe comes up short in comparison to "Pistol Packin" Dave too!

But, credit is due Joe's valient attempt at scruffiness this past spring training.  Look at how he showed up at camp ( say...are those full moonbeams I spy? HOWWWWLLLLL!!!).
 


Then again, some things are better left back at the shack.     Disco Dan, where are you now?   
Twinkler Out!                            

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Top 10 Surprises of the Minnesota Twins 2010 Season!

[Updated - Sunday, May 9 - 10:15 A.M.]
#10: Excellent play by newcomers Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy:  that they're good is not the surprise...it's that they're THIS good.  Second baseman Hudson, seen here giving his Clevon Little impression, has given the Twins the sparkplug the team has lacked since the departure of Torii Hunter two seasons ago.  Hardy has been an asset at shortstop, and showing glimpses of his former batting power with the Brewers.

#9: Jason Kubel's lousy hitting:  not too worried about our guy J-Kubes turning things around (seen here following through on the first regular season HR at Target Field). But, I am concerned that our furry faced masher will get the Philadelphia Freedom Taser Treatment from one of our angry pitchers if he doesn't get his little batting shoes laced up tight shortly.

#8: Twins hitters are showing great plate discipline:  used to be, this club was known for swinging their bats wildly from the moment they left the dugout, going back to Kirby Puckett.  Now, with Big Jim Thome, Morneau and Mauer leading the way, they're wearing out the opposing pitcher by the 5th, 6th inning.  Even Delmon Young is taking bad pitches for balls, of all people on the planet.  That said, we follow up with...

#7: Lousy situational hitting: what's going on with these guys?  Our Minnesota Lumber Company turns into The Trembling Chihuahuas  once they get the bases loaded.  Buck up you guys!  Add 2-3 more wins to their current record had they just got a little dinking grounder or sac fly over and through the infield! Update- as of Saturday night (5-8-10), the Twins are now 8-for-50 (.160) this season with the bases loaded!!! OY!
"Don't gimme that look!  It's double secret probation for you, Kubel!"
#6:Fielding expertise: the Twins are THE best fielding club in the majors.  It's estimated that the infield play of Hardy and Hudson alone will amount to enough saved runs to equal 4 wins, minimum.  WEB GEM!


#5: How inane and ridiculous the "put a roof on it" crowd are:  Friday, May 7th, marked the first rainout at Target Field. This was inevitable. Yet, it prompted one "d123b123" to comment for the StarTrib:"OUTDOOR BASEBALL IN MN=DUMBEST IDEA EVER...Good luck next week as the forecast isn't much better... In between spluttering expletives degrading the man/womanhood of that poster, I will repeat: 3-4 rainouts, total average, for 21 years outdoor at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.  Listen to me, junior: cold weather will rear its head early and late in the season, but do you sacrifice the cool skyline and perfect summer days with a $150M partial roof for 3-4 days???    GO HOME OUTDOOR HATERS!

#4: Stellar Closer Relief pitching by Jon Rauch:
It looks as if I was wrong about Rauch being an ineffective closer in replacing the injured Joe Nathan.  I thought by now that fine minor leaguer Anthony Slama would at least be in the discussion, having saved in excess of 50 games the last two years at AA / AAA ball.  It would appear at this point that someone in the Twins offices doesn't feel as if Slama will ever be ready for prime time, not having an explosive fastball. That issue will remain moot if Rauch keeps staring down the barrell and walking away from it!

 #3: What a rather LARGE baby pitcher Kevin Slowey can be!
OK, Kevin, you have a big vocabulary and you think you're the second coming of Greg Maddux.  I get that.  I only wish I could talk good too.  But quit shaking off Mauer when he gives you a sign.  The last guy who got too smart for his britches (see "Glen Perkins") is now laundering jocks and socks at AAA Rochester.  I'm just sayin' it!

 #2 What a great era in Twins baseball this is! From the lakeshores of Duluth, to the bluffs of Red Wing, Twins fans should be shouting "halleluiahs," or some other embarrassing public display in praise of the talented team we've got now.  And then there's the loving care The Baseball Gods  have showered on them from on high with Target Field (with its historical touches saluting past players, murals of Kirby and Rod), to the talent of newcomers like Wilson Ramos, Aaron Hicks, Kyle "Hoot" Gibson and "Midnight Ride" Ben Revere percolating down in the minors, soon to arrive in Twins Territory! 

#1:The reemergence of starting pitcher, Francisco Liriano: all signs point to Liriano regaining his former classic, number one-type flamethrowing pitches of four seasons ago.  If that's the case, boys and girls, that's  BIG...it's like "GONE WITH THE WIND," Part Duex. Or, THE GRAPES OF WRATH / THE WRATH OF KHAN / ATTACK OF THE NINJAS...or...uh...you know what I mean! I admit, I had him on the scrap heap like dozens of other people; "he'll never make it back, forget it!" was the sentiment.  Couldn't be more happy to think I was wrong!
Twinkler Out!

Remembering Leo Cardenas, The Superstitious One

[Revised version, Sat., 5-8-10 @ 9:05 PM]
A SAVIOR ARRIVES FROM CINCY
Leo "Chico" Cardenas, AKA "Mr. Automatic" was the excellent, veteran shortstop the Twins received in trade from the Cincinnatti Reds in November, 1968.  He was among the last of the fine Cuban players to make it out of Castro's island paradise before the borders were sealed. And despite being the most superstitious player in Twins history, he really wasn't the most colorful character on a squad loaded with goofballs (i.e., Dave Boswell and his firearms) and volatile crazies (Manager Billy Martin and his fists of fury).


Cardenas had feuded during the '68 season with then-Reds Manager Dave Bristol, and figured he would be left In unprotected in the draft for selection by the new San Diego Padres (National League), or Kansas City Royals (American League).  Both were to begin play in '69.  It was his hope that Padres Manager Preston Gomez (who managed him in 1959 while in Cuba) would tab him as the first shortstop in San Diego.  Instead, the Reds went and traded him to Minnesota for Jim Merritt.  It was a tough call for Twins owner Cal Griffith to part with the talented Merritt; but the shortstop position was his weak link, and he bit.  As it happened, it was a good fit for Cardenas since the Twins had a strong track record in nurturing players from Latin America;  Jim Kaat, when asked what the "TC" stood for on the Twins hats, would joke "Twenty Cubans."

Cardenas would cement the Twins' lineup, playing excellent shortstop and batting 6th in the order for the 1969 Division Champions.  After the rapid demise of former '65 all-star Zoilo Versalles, the quartet of  Jackie Hernandez, Rick Renick, Ron Clark and Cesar Tovar all mangled the position in 1968 most horrendously ( the apparent wisdom: four lousy candidates were better than just one). Statistically, 1969 was Leo's best overall season.  He was a fine catalyst in helping his second base partner, Rod Carew, achieve his first great season. Indeed, he was a major contributor to the first Twins team for which I fell into irreversable and pathetic infatuation.


NOT  EXACTLY "PEDRO SERRANO" OF MAJOR LEAGUE -  BUT CLOSE!
Evil personified
 Leo was definitely "out there" on the voodoo wacko scale.  Earlier in his career, he was known to shower in his uniform to ward off evil spirits.  Opposing players knew he feared the letter "x," and took the opportunity to scratch it in the dirt near his position to scare him.  Thought: would he have consented to playing alongside Nellie FoX or Jimmie FoXX?? For some good, perverse fun, teammates would drop a chicken feather near second base, knowing he ascribed fearsome, supernatural powers to them. Really scared the pinetar out of him!  While in one prolonged batting slump, he locked his bats in the trunk of the car, vowing not to let them out until they "got better." All of which reminds me of the Pedro Serrano character in the movie, Major League.

ADVENTURES IN CARDBOARD: THE TOPPS 1968 "MANAGER'S DREAM," #480
This card favorite gives me a laugh: it's as if Leo's pinching himself, as if to ask "Uh, how'd I get in a picture with these studs?" With this 1968 Topps baseball card, we see Leo with two great Latin outfielders, the great Twin Tony Oliva,  and Pirate immortal Roberto Clemente. It's probably from the '66 All Star Game in St. Louis, at Busch Stadium. The weird anglicizing of Clemente's name, along with Oliva's use of his brother's passport to gain entry into the U.S. (real name, Pedro) in the early '60's meant that none of these guys had their given name used on the card.  What is up with that, Jack (or, rather, "Joaquin")?  And didn't Leo get fed up with that Chico stuff?

AND IN THE END...
Ultimately, Leo's quick legs turned to plaster around 1971, his skills definitely trending downward, like those jagged Wall Street line graphs.  He moved on to the California Angels in 1972, the Indians in '73, and finally ended his odyssey with the Texas Rangers in 1975, at age 36.  Along the way, he accumulated debts, and a well deserved reputation for a quick temper which led to fisticuffs one day in the late 1990's.  He also never got around to filing for U.S. citizenship, which got him a knock at the door from the feds...ooops!   It was as if he'd taken on some of the same brawling tendencies of his old manager and friend, Billy Martin.  Strange and sad...so much at odds with his normal sweet disposition and smiling persona.  When last heard from, Leo was getting his life back together.  Very nice to hear!

Twinkler Out!