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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Farewell, Sam Mele

From 1966 Minnesota Twins Yearbook

Sam Mele, the second man to ever manage the Twins, died this week. He passed away at his home on Monday, May 1, in Quincy, MA., at the age of 95. He was a solid hitter and outfielder as a player, before coaching stints with the Senators and Twins previous to his becoming their manager.

He was there to lead the very first era of team glory, and was the first Minnesota Twins manager to guide his team to the post-season. The Twins were the first to break the Yankee chain of domination, euphorically winning the 1965 American League Championship, before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the seventh game of the World Series.

Managerial Stats Table
1196139Minnesota TwinsAL2nd of 425.286077
2196139Minnesota TwinsAL4th of 44549.4791957
3196240Minnesota TwinsAL9171.56211632
4196341Minnesota TwinsAL9170.56501613
5196442Minnesota TwinsAL7983.48811636
6196543Minnesota TwinsAL10260.63001621.429AL Pennant
7196644Minnesota TwinsAL8973.54901622
8196745Minnesota TwinsAL1st of 22525.5000502
7 years524436.54639633.8.4291 Pennant

Provided by Baseball-Reference.comView Original Table
Generated 5/6/2017.

He would seem to have been the ideal man to guide a young team, not only because he was relatively young (39) when he took over the managerial reins from Cookie Lavegetto in June, 1961, but also because he was patient and yet authoritative - a man who would stand by young players like Zoilo Versalles and still not put up with distractions.  No example better illustrates this than his handling of "Zee," who was far from a finished product when Mele took over in '61. Zoilo had a tendency towards inconsistency and volatility in his emotions. At one point, he and the manager had a tense confrontation in the dugout before a game, which escalated to the point that Mele him fined several hundred dollars (read up on that at the newspaper clip link following this paragraph). But once the air cleared, Mele put the outburst behind, and reinstated Versalles as the starting shortstop. Zoilo went on to become the American League MVP in 1965. It follows that Mele would deserve some credit for that success.

He is also known for a passionate, fiery, on-field demeanor, and goes down in Twins lore for an incident on July 18,1965 (Box), when he charged umpire Bill Valentine at Metropolitan Stadium, during a game versus the California Angels. You can view details of this at the Austin (MN) Daily Herald, July 19, 1965, and here at The Lake Charles (LA) American, July 19, 1965.

1966 Minnesota Twins Yearbook - click for larger view

"Let me help you adjust your tie"
More to his basic nature, however, he was apparently a strong, loyal family man, devoted to his wife and children, and well regarded in baseball circles. I find it significant that his first team, the Boston Red Sox, brought him back as a scout almost immediately in 1967 after Twins Owner Calvin Griffith fired him (see Monroe (LA) Morning News of June 10, 1967). He spent the next 25 years with Boston as a scout, before retiring in 1992.

1964 Minnesota Twins Yearbook - Click on photo for larger view

The Twins sent out a press release on Monday, stating:

“The Minnesota Twins are deeply saddened by the loss of Sam Mele,” the team said in a statement. “The former skipper was an important figure in Twins baseball history. The beloved Mele, not only led the 1965 Twins to the American League pennant, but also helped establish the importance of Major League Baseball across the Upper Midwest.”

So long, everybody!” -  Herb Carneal

Sam Mele

Sam Mele managed the Minnesota Twins to the American League pennant in 1965, but just a year and a half later was fired by the team. Subsequently, his former team rallied to finish the 1967 season tied with the Tigers, just one game out of first place in the American League.

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