Friday, February 25, 2011

Met Stadium Memories

1967 game at Metropolitan Stadium

My friend Jim Knoll at Flashback Bloomington on Facebook had some marvelous photos on his site to share.  A late 1960s "Game of the Week" feature is to follow!  Great stuff!

As Herb would say:
"...and the count rides along...!'

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Billy Martin & His Fisticuff Fancies: The Rapsheet



At long last, I have settled on a name for my fantasy baseball team: "Billy's Brawlers," after Billy Martin, the fiesty, Tasmanian Devil who managed the team in the pennant winning year of 1969. The choice seemed only right, as my entry is in the 14 team Twins League. As it turns out, the name is more fitting than I knew.

 Before he was the man in charge, he had played a rangeless second base with the club in 1961, their inaugural year. His playing career was about over. Yet, most Twins fans may recall him for his pugilistic role in applying extra heavy shadow to pitcher (below) Dave Boswell's eye outside a Detroit nightclub that '69 season, his only one as the team's skipper.

What's weird about that one was the involvement of big Bob Allison, who got a shiner of his own as payback for trying to be the peacemaker between Billy and Boswell outside the famous Lindell A.C.

Makeup most decidedly not by Covergirl.

Of course, there's way, way more to the story for old Billy than just that episode.  According to the evidence at hand, you have to conclude that fightin' came as naturally to Martin as did using the family plumbing and tooth brushing for others. In this context, "Billy Ball" might be referring to our subject's clenched fists. Before he joined the Twins, this was fresh in the minds of baseball fans: the August, 1960 on-field fight between Martin and Jim Brewer, Cubs rookie.

Check the inset box of dates, and scan down to the 1960 period in Billy's punch-happy universe. The following set of pictures accompanying come from the "Sports Review" 1961 baseball preseason publication.  Far from trashing the future Twins fan favorite, the article seemed to convey a "That crazy Martin-what a hot-blooded prankster!" attitude. Not too many metrosexuals around back then...a man's world, bucko.
If you're catching on to a certain pattern with this blog
post, you're probably right!

Noted bad-arse Frank Thomas droppin' a vigorous
pat-down on Billy, closely inspecting the Wrigley Field turf.

There were other incidents (surprise!) captured for posterity by alert photgraphers during Martin's career:

Don't be shy now, Bill, join the tussle!

Now, we could get into all the other subsequent tiffs in his rapsheet, i.e., punching out the Minnesota marshmallow salesman in an elevator, confronting Reggie Jackson in the dugout in 1977, and so on, and so forth, but it all adds up to one thing: Billy liked to mix it up from time to time!

As our old friend Herb used to say...
Photos of Billy brawls came from this 1961 mag.
"...And the count rides along...." - TT

Harmon Killebrew On David Letterman!?

With the appearance of Joe Mauer last week on Jimmy Fallon, I was reminded of another episode of a famous Twin who appeared on late night TV. It was one of the most bizarre pairings in TV talk show history...

Harmon went on The David Letterman Show with Liberace and his old teammate Bob Allison, on Feb. 11, 1986. I distinctly remember watching that episode; what stood out was this long-winded anecdote from the Flamin' Maestro, followed by Letterman quipping "Alright, that's enough of that crap, let's move on!"  Also, the show's producer got Charley Pride to sing "Mountain of Love" for Harmon over the phone, Killer's favorite song at the time.

[UPDATE: here is that episode, with thanks to
readers who alerted me to its whereabouts!]

The slugger, now 74 and battling esophageal cancer, was interviewed last fall with David Brown at Big League Stew (Yahoo).

For anyone who appreciates the soft-spoken grace of our very own "Killer" (and isn't that one of the most ill-fitting monikers in history?), this exchange with will be a treat!

DB: Did you use to go on David Letterman a lot?

HK: Used to a lot? I was on his show once [laughs].
DB: Just one?
 HK: Well, I came out with other Hall of Famers to do a Top 10 deal a couple years ago, but you might remember me being on a whole show [laughs].
DB: That's right!
HK: Yep, I was on for a whole hour (in 1986). And that was the first time that ever happened. I said, "What am I gonna do with David Letterman for a whole hour?" They said, "Don't worry, we got it figured out, it'll work out fine."
DB: So what do you remember about the experience?

HK: At first, they called me to ask if I would do a segment for a special they were doing. I said, "No, I don't think I want to do that." But they kept after me and talked me into it and sent a crew out to Oregon and Idaho, where I was, and they spent a whole week out there. They did a lot of filming and they cut it down to an eight-minute segment [laughs].

HK:So it came time for the show and they called me up and said, "We're not going to have time to put you on the show." I said, "Oh, great. Well, that's good [laughs]!" So I think they were feeling sorry or guilty and, a couple of months later they called and said, "Dave Letterman wants you to do the whole show." And I said, "Oh, I don't think so. What am I going to do with David Letterman for a whole hour?" And they said, "Aw, c'mon, it'll be great." Finally, I said I'd do it.

DB: Were you more of a Johnny Carson man?

HK: Well, in those days, yeah. I didn't really know Dave Letterman, but I knew he was a real baseball fan. Of course, when I was on there, it went great. Worked out real fine.

Brown concluded by thanking Harmon for his time and commented about what a nice and kind person he appeared to be. Even after diligent search, I haven't been able to locate the video of this online, remembering that I had taped it back in the day when it aired.
Not that you should construe my doing so as overly Twin-sessive, O.K.?

Thanks for reading!

As Herb used to say: "And the count rides along..."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Roger Erickson, 1980 Twins Yearbook

As I posted on Twitter, Rog always looked as if he'd skipped the week's boyscout meeting to join the major league free agent draft.  By looking at this mug, you'd never guess he was in the middle of a particularly heated brawl with the excellent Angels second sacker, Bobby Grich.  Proof positive that he was boy trapped in a man's body, with all the bad judgment associated with youth.

To me, he never fulfilled his early promise.

He was traded in  May, 1982, along with Butch Wynegar to the New York Yankees (see transactions section at link).  Never pitched in the majors again after 1983.

As Herb used to say...
...And the count rides along! - TT

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Remembering Lenny Green: The Twins First Center Fielder!

"Lenny was a sweetheart and a super guy to have on the club." 
- Tom Mee, Twins Public Relations Director
Passion + Intensity = Lenny Green.

Kirby Puckett was just thirteen months old.  Torii Hunter's smiling face would not come along for another 14 years. A two-year old named Jim Eisenreich was playing with blocks up in St. Cloud, Minnesota...

And Lenny Green was in the starting  lineup for the Twins in their inaugural game on April 11, 1961, versus the Yankees at the Stadium. He was the centerfielder in that game (link to his game logs), as he was for the majority of the games for the Twins that season. He came to the Senators/Twins organization in 1959 in a trade from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for the shrimpy-yet productive, Albie Pearson, the 1958 American League Rookie Of The Year.

He was a guy you rooted for, a guy who played with passion and could relate to people.  The Minnesota Historical Society (great stories at link!) featured Twins memories a while back.  One fan recollects an early summer game interrupted by fog; at one point during the delay, Lenny ran out to the outfield, with glove and wearing a miner's hat with a light, looking as he was ready to roam for flyballs.  It elicited a roar from the spectators!

He had above average speed, was an excellent fielder with good range, a below-average arm. In  "Split Doubleheader," Morlock and Little had this quip regarding Lenny's arm, and the 1963 outfield combination of Harmon and/or Bob Allison in left, and Jim Lemon in right:
"...Killebrew...would have had to chug heartily to beat Leadfoot Lemon (the '61 left fielder) in a footrace.  Allison had average speed, and Green had above average speed, but was lucky if he could toss a routine fly back to the infield on the third bounce...The best possible combination that could be made on a ball hit between Green and Killebrew would be for Green to chase it down, flip to Killebrew, who would fire to third to try to catch the batter."
That said, Green's range factor (ranked third twice among centerfielders, '60 & '65) and hustle had to have compensated some for his throwing deficiences. He placed in the top 5 in fielding percentage four times from 1960 through 1965; furthermore, he ranked in the top four centerfielders in putouts in '61 and '62. As a modern comparison for today's Twins fan, prospect Ben Revere projects similarly in his skill set, as a speedy, slap-hitting, weak-armed outfielder (and that from Paul Molitor who has worked with Revere on his fundamentals).

Batting practice, 1963, at The Met
Lenny held the Twins consecutive hitting streak of 24 games for 17 season before Kenny Landreaux broke it with his 31 gamer in 1979.

In his streak, stretching from May 1 to May 28, he:

  • Batted .362 (34 hits in 94 at-bats), in the two hole, starting and playing centerfield in every game
  • Had 11 extra-base hits (9 doubles, 2 triples, no homers
  • Walked 16 times (check OBP)
  • Had 11 RBI, struckout 12 times (again, in 94 ABs)
  • Stole 2 bases, was caught 4 four times (not great - also keep in mind, this wasn't a running era)
  • Had a .455 on base %, and a .500 slugging %
  • He had a .415 batting average on balls he put in play
  • Had an .093 WPA for the Twins (fair to conclude he wasn't exactly a game-changer over span)

 In addition, the Twins had a 9-15 won/lost record in this stretch.  Check out this link highlighting the games in his merry merry month of May, 1961, the section colored blue for emphasis.

 Born in Detroit at the height of the Depression in 1933, Green picked up his passion for baseball from his father; Gene Green was a Ford Motors employee, who played outfield for the plant team. Contemporary Jerry Griffin ( from biography at SABR Project) remembers young Lenny as a "graceful athlete, who could run like a deer, and was a strong line drive hitter...the ultimate team player who always had a big smile for everyone he met."

Team promotional picture

The new team and its stars were an example of cause celebre and general uproar in Minneapolis-St. Paul and its nether environs during the early '60s. Tom Mee recalls stopping in a little bar in Nimrod, Minnesota with Green, Earl Battey and Doc Lentz on a preseason Winter Caravan tour.

Only the bartender was on hand. Mee said to him "We're with the Minnesota Twins.  This is Lenny Green..." and before he could say anything else, the slack-jawed fan blurted 'Lenny Green! I'll be damned! Lenny Green! Lenny Green!'" ad infinitum.  "Everybody loved Lenny. And he could play" (from Showers, "Twins At The Met"). 

Spring training, Orlando, early 1960's

 Poor Len.  He always seemed to miss the gravy train on its way out of the station.  He, along with Vic Power, was traded to the California Angels in 1964, a year before the Twins went to the World Series.  His old team before Minnesota, the Orioles, went to and swept the '66 Series.  After the Angels, he put in a solid stint with the Red Sox - and again, was traded before The Impossible Dream of 1967. He played with the Tigers into June of 1968...but then was released 3 months before that outfit played in the big dance of '68. He was voted a $200 winners share (others made over $10,000 for making it the full season). If you're scoring at home, thats four championship teams, four years running, of which he was a member.  Just could never stick with any of them long enough to enjoy the thrill of victory. But he never lamented - he's quoted by Bill Nowlin in 2007 thusly:

"No, no," he relied, when asked if he missed getting the money and notoriety, "I had a good career, and I enjoyed it.  No, I don't ever feel left out.  I feel blessed to ever have been able to play."

After baseball, Lenny got a job with Ford, like his Dad, as a security supervisor for 27 years before retiring in the late '90's.  A bad back made surgery necessary in 2007, interrupting an otherwise enjoyable retirement. 

1963 Topps card

And with the Twins long history of top-shelf flycatchers, from Jimmie Hall to Lyman Bostock, from Eisenreich to Kirby, from Torri and now Denard Span, he could always lay claim to being the first centerfielder of the Minnesota Twins!

 To Quote Herb Carneal:

Below: See "The Sporting News" enlargeable PDF Feature On Lenny, from June 23, 1962