For some reason, the nice people at Fancred have asked me to join their constellation of members. Among other things I like about them is that their site isn't overrun with hipsters and sarcastic twits. Encouraging you to check it out!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

My Dinner With Johan: Visiting Spring Training At Fort Meyers In 2000

It was the Spring of 2000 when I first saw
Johan Santana, that kid with the wide back
and big legs.  It wasn't even 3 months after
the Y2K scare, and 8 months before the
contentious Bush-Gore Presidential election.
 OK.  There was no dinner.  Or a cup of coffee. Or even much eye contact.  That would have seemed a bit weird, for him and me. But I did score 21-year old Johan Santana's autograph ten years ago, (thanks to Mark, my brother-in-law doing the hard work with the program below) in what was the lefty's first spring training with the Twins. He had been a rule 5 pickup by the Astros from Florida before being traded for Jared Camp the previous December.

Yes. He has a lovely Palmer script. Large portion at end of post.
I was content just scouting the "new guy" from a set of bleachers with a bag of peanuts while young Santana traveled with the other new recruits on the 2000 Twins roster from one workout field to another at the Hammond Stadium field. His first big league manager, Tom Kelly, kept his charges pretty busy, with various drills, batting, and fielding practices going on simultaneously at several fields in that morning's workout.

Memory serving me correctly, I saw Johan and
some other rookies enter the field near Section 115
(past third base)at Hammond Stadium on that March day in 2000.
Click on image for larger view.

What, exactly, is a rule 5 draftee? For a summary of it's whys and whereofs, I'll let this excerpt (from Fanhouse site, Dec. 8, 2010) link tell the story, if you're so inclined.

On a lark, we (Mark, my sister-in-law Nancy and I) had taken a 4-day jaunt down to Fort Meyers for a few days of warmth and baseball in March, 2000.  That's a golden memory of details worth repeating for print another time...

In any event, it's fun to think I was a witness to the beginning of the career of one of the greatest Twins pitchers to date. Johan went on to have three years of up-and-down  success (with an11-9 won-loss record) before becoming a sensation as a starter in mid-2003.  Credit pitching coach Bobby Cuellar for some minor league refining on that cool, circle change in 2002 at Edmonton AAA before sending Santana back as a polished lefty! 

The skinny on the "new kid."
I attended his first major league game on April 3rd, of 2000, in which Brad Radke gave up a homerun on the first pitch of the game and of the season to Gerald Williams of Tampa; yet, I don't remember seeing him pitch that day.
No, this Johan didn't invent a printing press.  But he could pretty
much print his own money after signing a 6-year contract in Feb., 2008
with those city slickers from the Big Apple. [sigh].
#36 Butch Huskey (right half) was the "big" off-season signing for the Twins.  Ay caramba!
May Your Taters Fly Far!

Twins Fest:Meeting author Bob Showers: "The Twins At The Met"

Bob gracefully turned his attention away from the nearby
Drew Butera Kid's Q & A session  to chat with crazed 
Twins fans. 

The major highlight of my Twins Fest 2011 visit was this opportunity to chat with author Bob Showers.  Bob has published, in my opinion, the definitive book on early Twins history, "The Twins At The Met," (see link) which hit the stores in Sept., 2009. 

You should note his North Stars and Lou Nanne book referenced in the accompanying author bio; these efforts alone should put him on the short list of top Minnesota sports history authors (along with Sid and Patrick Reusse). 

Bob was fantastic in sharing his interview process, which was essentially using photographs to spur his interview subjects (i.e, Tom Kelly, Rod Carew, Tom Mee, Hrbek, Harmon, Tony Oliva, Clark Griffith, etc.) for their personal reminiscences. Incredibly in-depth stories, funny and insightful stuff! 

I hope to add a bit more detail regarding our conversation later. I plan to review the book on Amazon (an interesting review link of the book is here).

Check out the Amazon links!  This Twins book is one lush, "can't-put-down" history lesson on the Twins!  Classic!

May Your Taters Fly Far!
Some photo favorites from Bob's book...

Tom "The Blade" Hall, photo included in
 1970 Minnesota Twins Yearbook

Cookie Lavagetto (1st Twins Mgr., with
Sid Hartmann and Halsey Hall
Photos from book courtesy of Minnesota Twins

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Remembering: Bob Allison, 1961-1970


Among the original Washington Senators players to become part of the new Minnesota Twins of Minneapolis/St. Paul, big Bob Allison from Raytown, Kansas, was the stellar outfielder-first baseman of the franchise from 1958 through 1970. After starring in football and baseball at the University of Kansas, he signed with the Senators organization in 1955, and spent parts of four seasons in the minors. He was the American League Rookie of The Year Award in 1959, in addition to winning the Sporting News Rookie of The Year . 1959 was also the same year his friend and teammate Harmon Killebrew won his first league home run championship. It too,was, incidentally, the year Alaska and Hawaii were awarded statehood, The Big Bopper, Richie Valens and Buddy Holly died tragically in a plane crash in an Iowa cornfield, and the year that scandal rocked the famous game show "Twenty-One."

An all-American, much-admired guy by his teammates, he played with a tight end's mentality. Between him and Frank Robinson, he spooked the Father, Son and Holy Ghost out of many an infielder in the '60's with his habit of barreling hard into second in the attempt to break up the double play. That all-out, rough and tumble style of play would eventually wear him down in his mid to late twenties, making him more succeptible to injuries - as would be the case with Gary Gaetti in a later Twins era.

Not to digress...

He appeared in an episode of The Gillette Homerun Derby with Henry Aaron in 1960.

 And in another one against Willie Mays that same season!

 As a young player (24), he compared favorably with Frank Thomas and Jose Cruz at a similar stages of their careers. His breakout season of '59 saw him produce 30 HR, 18 2B, 9 3B, 85 RBI, 83 runs, and 13 SB while batting .261. Over his career his offensive line puts him in a category including the likes of Roger Maris, Danny Tartabull, J.D. Drew, Jesse BarfieldJeff Burroughs and Jay Buhner.

Bob was a super guy, willing to do his part for charities.

 He had a powerful, deadly throwing arm, racking up double figure totals in outfield assists four times during his career. He had excellent range. His best, overall season was 1963, when he came in 15th in the AL MVP voting on the strength of his 35 HR, 91 RBI, 99 runs, and 90 BB. His signature moment in the public eye was this catch on a sinking liner off the bat of Jim LeFebvre in the 5th inning of Game 2 of the 1965 World Series:
"The Catch" - Game 2 -1965 World Series

It typified his intense, team-leading style of play...
Down and dirty Bob

1962 Post Cereal Card
Bob participated in the 1959 (OF)*, 1963 (OF) &1964 (first base) All-Star Games as per the votes of his playing peers. Not playing in the '59 game, he otherwise went hitless in 5 plate appearances in the '63 & '64 games, with one walk.

 *two games at that time

Here's a video of Bob and the rest of the Silver Anniversary All-Time Twins team from the summer of 1986. I find it poignant, as it really shows a man healthy and vibrant before the onset of Ataxia, which is referenced via pop up boxes during the video scenes of Bob (starting at the 5:57 mark). Bob eventually succumbed to the disease in April, 1995. A link to the U of M Ataxia profile of him can be found here.

Here's a vintage TV commercial from the early 1960's with Bob: see if you can pick out rookie Rich Rollins, trailing Bob like a'll also see the first homerun ever hit by a Twin in this clip:

A footnote event to Bob's post-playing career was his appearance honoring long-time teammate Harmon Killebrew on The David Letterman Show on Feb. 11, 1986 (recapped at TV.Com.). Check out the odd guest list, in addition to him and The Killer! After retiring, Allison had become general manager of Coca Cola's Twin Cities Marketing Division. Even in retirement, he retained that aura of respect and decency.

Following his death the Minnesota Twins created the Bob Allison Award for the Twins player who exemplifies determination, hustle, tenacity, competitive spirit and leadership both on and off the field. Among its winners was Michael Cuddyer in 2009. He was elected by fan vote into the Minnesota Twins Hall Of Fame in 2003.
Bob's last card-the 1970 Topps issue

Welcoming home Tony Oliva after a homer at The Met, 1969

This photo (right) has some nice, historical appeal! It's from Opening Day (on April 18, 1960) at Griffith Stadium, Washington D.C. In it, you see (L-R) then-VP Richard "You Won't Have Tricky Dick To Kick Around" Nixon (over The Great Seal of the U.S.), Senators/Twins Pres. Calvin Griffith (white overcoat, no hat), President Eisenhauer (back to camera), Bob Allison, and Senators Manager Cookie Lavagetto.

Hope you enjoyed this retrospective on this great, classic Minnesota Twin!
May Your Taters Fly Far!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Editor Malfunction! Lost entire Bob Allison post, working to restore...

While adding detail to the latest opus, accidentally omitted pics, vids, commentary on good ol' Bob.

Hope to have him restored to health first half of this week!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Twins Gleefully Welcome Back Jim Thome-Signs With Twins For 2011

You would have sworn Norman Rockwell was perched in the left field bleachers at Target Field with his easel, beret, paint palette and brushes,  etching Big Jim's posterior for posterity. Thome arrives at home plate on the night of August 17, 2010, after his walk off walk off two-run homer (box at Baseball Ref.)  beat the Chicago White Sox.  I say that painting of the Thanksgiving family doesn't look half as joyous as this (photo by Bruce Kluckhorn/Getty Images, from Sept. 27, 2010 Issue of SI (newstand edition)). Greatest picture of 2010 Twins season! QUESTION: was entire roster over-medicated on Ritalin at the time of photo shoot?

It bears repeating. In 2010, Thome:

 * Led the Twins in homers, with 25 in 276 at-bats
* Had a .412 on-base percentage, and a .627 slugging percentage (combined 1.039 OPS)
* Walked 60 times, batted .283, and scored 48 runs in only 108 games (statistics from Baseball Reference)
* proudly wore the retro Twins uni with as much throwback grace as anyone

It was one of the most noteworthy offensive displays by an individual batter in the first decade of this century, especially when you extrapolate his numbers over 500 at-bats and factor in that said player was 39 years old at season's end.

The opinion has been expressed that Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire under-utilized Thome before the  concussion injury of Justin Morneau sidelined the superb first baseman and cleanup hitter after July 7.  Thome mashes righthanders far better than rightfielder Michael Cuddyer (.261/.319/.423,  over last three seasonswhich should appeal to the field general's grasp of Aristotelian logic. In the perfect world, that is... 


To clarify: anytime a righthander is facing the Twins (roughly 100 games out of 162) it would seem to dictate that Mike Man should be warming the bench, deferring to Big Jim. Would Gardy sit Cuddy after taking in these stats? Fat chance, owing to his tendecy to stroke veteran players' egos, not wanting to offend their poor, fragile sensibilities. Seems dumb, easy choice to you and me-"hmm, Hall-of-Fame caliber player instead of long-time regular??"- but that's politics (logic courtesy of Aaron Gleeman site article).

The full panorama of the above photo, including fat guy (Matt Capps),
 at left. Didn't fit into original SI article, for obvious reasons.
Photo version from Gleeman site. Full text of SI story is here.
 May Your Taters Fly Far!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Minnesota Twins Stadium Literature, Past & Present

The Twins rolled out this promotional guide in the winter of 2009-10, aimed at creating buzz among corporate and civic groups to purchase tickets.  A Slick, idyllic production....

  As opposed to St. Louis' Busch Stadium (where a walk through the concourse gives little hint of the great Cardinal heritage), the Twins invoked their greats of the past to accompany and enrich the new aesthetic of Target Field.

Pictured is the canopy over the right field foul territory and
the Metropolitan Club, from the vantage point of North 7th Street.

Now, check out this informational booklet distributed in 1956, with the opening of Metropolitan Stadium.  A super publication it is, laying out construction phases in photos, paying homage to bondholders who helped bankroll the project.

Screaming "vintage," this lush cover is conterpointed by the inside's basic text, some black and white photos of the Met's construction phases, and sudden swooshes of red type. See a favorite below:

For whatever reason, this page gives me a kind of "Back To The Future" vibe, flashing back to 1955.  You could forgive the natives of Bloomington, Minnesota and the entire Metro area for going overboard giddy at the prospect of big time baseball coming, first in the form of the minor league Minneapolis Millers in 1956.

Contrast the above layouts with the back cover of this 1982 booklet published by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, to commemorate the history of the Met, and the Metrodome's inaugural year:

Tree-lined boulevards around Kirby Pucket Place, neat, clean adjacent commercial real estate - it was supposed to embody a kind of utopian paradise. Did Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady design this blueprint? The reality was quite different, (of course) with little development around the Dome, greenery, or inviting vistas in general.

I may decide to add further photos from any one or all of these booklets in series.  I like the art that goes into these projects, and how it lends a view to the mindset of the developers of these different time periods of Twins history.

May Your Taters Fly Far!
Yeah, I've got a Killebrew '55 rookie card. What's it to ya?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Jim Perry, Minnesota Twins Yearbook-1971

This page is a rework of the original post, and will be redone to honor 1970 AL Cy Young Award Winner Jim Perry. He was one of the nicest men ever to pitch and play for the Twins!

May Your Taters Fly Far!

1969 Minnesota Twins Yearbook -Rich Reese, "Twins Twinkler"

Further proof that the Met Stadium area dining experience was at once rural / bourgeois & cosmopolitan.

For you out-of-towner, city slickers this VERY regional set of ads adorning and augmenting Rich Reese must strike you as disconcerting, if not charming or quaint. And no, I do not recall seeing bovine herds strolling through the old Met during our sojourns there in the 1960's and '70s.

To Quote Hall Of Fame broadcaster Herb Carneal : "So long, everybody!" - TT

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Classic Twins Game of the Week: Bert Blyleven Beats Champion A's On Opening Night, April 6,1973

Last edited, April 7, 2013

The year: 1973. 40 years ago!

In Minnesota, Jim Kaat's tenure ended as one of the original Twins players to migrate from Washington in 1961, as he was placed on waivers and claimed on August 15th by the rival Chicago White Sox. Tony Oliva was coming back from knee surgery that all but wiped out his 1972 season. Harmon Killebrew was going into steep decline as a hitter, the warning signs more evident as the season progressed. And Bert Blyleven made the All-Star team, solidifying his stature as one of the best pitchers in the American League...

The newspaper clippings to follow are from the Minneapolis Star (4/7/73), recapping the Opening Night of that 1973 season.

I love the memory of laying awake on that Friday night, listening to the voice of Herb Carneal call that game all the way from Oakland, California into my bedroom.

It was an excellent, memorable game at that. Besides Blyleven's hurling, Larry Hisle turned in a 4 for 5 performance in his first game in the American League, after beginning his career in the National League with the Phillies.

He basically took long time super-sub Cesar Tovar's outfield spot. Little "Pepi" had been traded by the Twins to Philadephia the previous November for Joe Lis (oooh-start printing those World Series tickets!), Ken Sanders and Ken Reynolds (Ken's applenty). Beyond that, Tony's homerun as the first hit by a DH is a nice piece of history. It was nice, too, for the fact that it was in his very first at bat as a designated hitter!*  Oliva would turn in a fine, comback season after a long absence from the field - his misfortune to have had to undergo the old, invasive surgery, and not the arthroscopic procedure now common in lengthening athletic careers.  *Very cool audio link with DH's Orlando Cepeda, Ron Blomberg

Also interesting to share is this writeup by Twins beat writer Stoneking in The Minneapolis Star. Hope you enjoy and find some noteworthy stylistic differences in this 40-year old example of sports journalism!

There was no way of knowing then as a fan that Harmon's knee would remain an omnipresent problem for the rest of the year. That situation, plus the "Killer's" declining reflexes, would stand in contrast with Bert Blyleven's rising status as the best righthanded pitcher (along with Nolan Ryan) in the American League. Nice analogy, btw, comparing his clutch pitching to a "California freeway driver."

After each of Bert's strikeouts in critical situations, it was fun to hear the excitement in Herb Carneal's voice. Odd to think, he was only in his 12th year as "The Voice of the Twins." Also unthinkable was the fact that he'd have to wait another 14 seasons before calling games for another championship Twins team. But that was another baseball lifetime away! 

The Twins really had no answer to the A's and Royals in the 1970's, with the possible exception of 1977, when they were in first place as late as August 16th. They still finished in 4th place, it was, 1973 was to be Bert's finest year, a year which could have become a Cy Young Award-winning season (see post), with some assistance from the voters.

Speaking about that curveball: after that game, Boston's legendary slugger, Orlando Cepeda (known to his friends as "Cha-Cha"), rated Blyleven's curve the best he'd ever seen. And that was after batting for years as a National Leaguer against Sandy Koufax (known to opposing batters as "The Left Arm of God") - the best combo fastball/curveballer of the 1960's. Two Hall of Fame players in that last sentence, mind you.

Wonderful stuff! Check back for more vintage stories, pictures and off-the-wall Twins history!

May Your Taters Fly Far!


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven in "The Sporting News" - Aug. 4, 1973

Now let's roll back in time to this story, published near the beginning of his a time line of Bert's career, this period would be tucked between his debut game strikeout of big Frank Howard on June 5, 1970 and before the double bird gesture he made toward Twin's owner Calvin Griffith's box in the final game of his first stint with the Twins on May 31, 1976 (a story for another time!).

As it turns out, this was the only season that Bert tallied 20-wins. The following story clip gives some sense of his value as the head of the pitching rotation for the Twins.  See also the comments from a noted, rival batter:

Hall-of-famer Cepeda's comment is illuminating.  As he batted against the curve of the vaunted Sandy Koufax as a National Leaguer in the '60's, his remark should be taken as lofty praise. It evidences a highly respected place he held in the minds of American league hitters already in the early 1970's! 
"He is the greatest curve-ball pitcher I've ever seen." - Orlando Cepeda
*"the prank of secretly inserting a match between the sole and upper of a victim's shoe and then lighting it"

Box score referenced in above passage: see expanded for July 15th game at Baseball Reference.

Congratulations to Bert Blyleven on his entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame! There's your snapshot of early Bert.  I'll be prepping another feature, detailing his first start on Opening Night of that Season, 1973.
May Your Taters Fly Far!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

1986 Silver Anniversary Team

Now that we've celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Twins in Minnesota, I thought it would be nice to look back at the 25th Anniversary celebrations.

Minnesotans, Minneapolitans, and...hell, I bet even some Neopolitans will find some nostalgic treaures and personalities they'd forgotten in these two clips.

Especially touching are the Bob Allison highlights, in addition to John Castino's comments.

Part 2:

Hope you enjoyed seeing the famous Twins!  I'll keep adding popups - at least as long as my eyes don't pop out of my head.  Some nice history here.

May your taters fly far!