1961 Minnesota Twins
Managers: Cookie Lavagetto 5th Season (5th with Was/Min 271-386-2);
Sam Mele 1st Season (1st with Minnesota 47-54-1)
70 W 90 L 1 T 707 RS 778 RA 7th AL 38 GB (New York 109-53-1)
4.39 RPG (AL = 4.53) 4.28 ERA (AL = 4.02)
.697 DER (8th AL)
All Stars (2) Harmon Killebrew*, Camilo Pascual
* Killebrew played in both games
Franchise (1901-1961) 4284-4954-105; 8-11 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961) 70-90-1
On April 11, 1961 the team that had called Washington home for 60 years opened play with a new uniform representing a new state. The Minnesota Twins won their first ever game, a 6-0 shut out at Yankee Stadium, and opened their new home stadium in front of 24,606 fans with a loss a few weeks later. In their first season in Minnesota, the Twins set a franchise record when 1,256,723 fans crossed the turnstile at Metropolitan Stadium. The team only broke a million fans once in Washington. At the end of the season, Calvin Griffith claimed that the team had made about $428 thousand in their first year in Minnesota, a huge change from the claimed $250 thousand that the team lost in its last year in Washington.
The first season in Minnesota wasn’t without its problems, however. After a start that didn’t live up to Calvin Griffith’s standards, he moved to action placing manager Cookie Lavagetto on a “one-week vacation” starting June 6. The idea, as expressed to the newspapers, was that Lavagetto would get a break, regroup, and come back to work by June 13. Griffith installed third-base coach Sam Mele as the interim manager.
Lavagetto returned to the team as planned but became a very outspoken critic of Griffith. As the month wore on, it became clear to those close to the team that Lavegetto wanted Griffith to fire him and Griffith wanted Lavagetto to quit. It all came to a head on June 23, when Lavagetto had learned after the fact that he had been fired. Griffith claimed that he tried to reach Lavagetto to give him the news personally, but Lavagetto had been unavailable due to a fishing trip with his son.
Bold = Player new to WAS/MIN in 1961
C Earl Battey .302/.377/.470 17 HR 2.9 BFW 20 WS 25 FRAR 5.9 WARP3
Prior to the season, the team’s hopes for Battey were clear. Prior to the season, manager Cookie Lavagetto said that he prayed every night that his catcher would not get hurt because “without Battey, we’re out of business.” Lavagetto also predicted that Battey would continue to improve, a statement that came to fruition as Battey had his best season yet in his first in Minnesota despite missing some time due to a hand injury and a beaning on July 23 that forced him out of the lineup for two weeks.
1B Harmon Killebrew .288/.405/.606 46 HR 3.3 BFW 27 WS -2 FRAR 6.8 WARP3
Killebrew’s 1961 season started off similarly to 1960 when he strained his hamstring in a game early in the season. He missed most of April, but came on strong when he finally broke into the lineup in the final days of the month. Killebrew set a new franchise record with 47 home runs. Had it not been for the missed month of April and a late August slump, it is possible that Killebrew’s name would be in the conversation with Maris in Mantle in terms of the home run race of 1961.
2B Billy Martin .246/.275/.361 6 HR -1.9 BFW 4 WS 19 FRAR 1.3 WARP3
At the beginning of June the Twins, already nine games out of first place and in the midst of a 13-game losing streak, made some major changes. Among them was a trade with Milwaukee that brought veteran Billy Martin to play second base. Martin was 33-years-old and had already won four World Series with the Yankees. His controversial reputation, however, preceded him. Shortly after Martin joined the Twins he said “My bad-boy reputation is a misnomer, but once you’re labeled they hang everything on you.” Martin got through the 1961 season without incident, and insisted that he had two or three more years in him. The Twins disagreed, but wanted to keep Martin with the organization in hopes that he would eventually be the manager, so they gave him a job as a scout after he was released in the spring of 1962.
SS Zoilo Versalles .280/.314/.390 7 HR 0.4 BFW 13 WS 36 FRAR 4.4 WARP3
Among the players who benefited from Billy Martin’s veteran presence was a 21-year-old Cuban short stop named Zoilo Versalles. Versalles was listed at 5’10” 150 lbs, and earned the nickname “Zorro” because of a typo on a baseball card. Very few in the organization thought that Versalles was ready to play short stop every day in the majors, and his chance more out of necessity than anything else. It didn’t take long, however, for Zoilo to impress manager Lavagetto: “I didn’t think Versalles was ready to play major league short stop,” Lavegetto told The Sporting News, “but from what I’ve seen in a few games, I’ll have to change my mind and say he looks like he is ready.”
3B Bill Tuttle .246/.321/.335 5 HR -1.7 BFW 5 WS 10 FRAR 0.9 WARP3
Tuttle came from Kansas City in a June 1 trade (a deal that included Paul Giel essentially being traded for himself when the A’s sent him back to the Twins 10 days later as the PTBNL). He became the every day third baseman later that month, replacing Reno Bertoia and Harmon Killebrew who had split time there before his arrival.
LF Jim Lemon .258/.329/.423 14 HR -1.1 BFW 9 WS -2 FRAR 1.0 WARP3
Lemon was unhappy with the contract Calvin Griffith offered and spent a good chunk of spring training holding out. After three weeks, he gave in completely essentially saying that his only choices were to sign on Griffith’s terms or quit. With both sides still unhappy after the hold out (though Lemon kept saying all the right things to the newspapers), it seemed clear that Lemon was a prime candidate for a trade. Griffith never got the right offer, however, and Lemon remained with the Twins. Lemon had his least productive season as a regular, a result of a season plagued by small injuries including a sore shoulder caused by an early seasons beaning. Lemon’s decline was further hastened by an injury that took most of his 1962 season away. As it turned out, 1961 was Lemon’s final full season in the majors. In 10 seasons he batted .265/.334/.470 with 159 HR and 22.0 WARP3. Lemon remained with the team for a couple of stints as a coach, including during the 1965 season. He served briefly and unsuccessfully as manager of the expansion Washington Senators in 1968. Lemon died from cancer at age 78 in 2006.
CF Lenny Green .285/.374/.400 9 HR -0.5 BFW 19 WS 1 FRAR 2.9 WARP3
Green had a 24-game hitting streak from May 1 to May 28. During the streak, he batted .362/.455/.500 but had zero home runs.
RF Bob Allison .245/.363/.450 29 HR 0.1 BFW 17 WS 9 FRAR 4.3 WARP3
Allison’s first season in Minnesota was a very good one, and he was talked up by management in the papers. “His potential is unlimited” said Cookie Lavagetto. Calvin Griffith added some pressure by saying “Allison can be as great as Mantle in the American League once he learns to relax and realize his full potential.”
Aside from his play, Allison also made headlines with an incident that involved teammate Camilo Pascual. In a June 18 game, Allison felt that Pascual wasn’t holding runners at first base properly. When Minnie Minoso stole second base in the third inning, Allison let Pascual know it. Pascual did not take the crtiticism well, and the two came to blows in the dugout. Rather than taking on the former fullback barehanded, however, Pascual grabbed a bat and hurled it at his teammate. The bat missed the mark and instead struck coach Clyde McCullough, who was the only injury listed from the altercation.
SP Camilo Pascual 15-16 3.46 ERA 1.21 WHIP 2.2 PW 13 WS 8.5 WARP3
Pascual faced more batters and pitched more innings in 1961 than he had in any season in his career prior, and his results continued to be sparkling. Pascual also bested his career mark by posting eight shut outs in 1961, including consecutive gems on May 15 and May 20; again on August 23 and August 29; and again on September 17 and September 23. His best game of the season, however, came on July 19th when he struck out 15 Angels on his way to a 6-0 shut out victory.
SP Pedro Ramos 11-20 3.95 ERA 1.30 WHIP 0.8 PW 15 WS 7.1 WARP3
Ramos led the AL in losses for the fourth consecutive year, this time with his own personal record of 20. As with the previous four, he really didn’t pitch that poorly, at the very least certainly not poorly enough to join the 20 game loser club.
1958 14-18 90 ERA+
1959 13-19 95 ERA+
1960 11-18 115 ERA+
1961 11-20 108 ERA+
One area in which Ramos didn’t help himself was with the home run ball. He led the AL with 39 home runs allowed, another career high. In the end it was all a little too much for Griffith, who put Ramos on the trade block right after the season, and finally made a deal with the Indians in the spring of 1962. Thus ended Ramos’ tenure with the organization. In seven years he posted the following line: 78-112 4.19 ERA (95 ERA+) with 37.6 WARP3. Ramos stayed in the majors until 1970. His record caught up to his performance a bit during his time with Cleveland, and he had only the second winning season of his career in 1963.
SP Jack Kralick 13-11 3.61 ERA 1.33 WHIP 1.7 PW 17 WS 8.1 WARP3
By mid season, Calvin Griffith proudly proclaimed that Kralick was his “most improved pitcher,” and interesting characterization considering that Kralick had been released from the White Sox organization a few years earlier due to the fact that he wasn’t showing improvement.
SP Jim Kaat 9-17 3.90 ERA 1.35 WHIP 1.1 PW 11 WS 6.4 WARP3
Kaat was impressive in his first full major league season, making the Twins very optimistic about what was to come from the 22-year-old lefty.
RP Ray Moore 4-4 3.67 ERA 1.54 WHIP 0.9 PW 6 WS 3.6 WARP3
Moore was the best of a bullpen that was seen as a weak link on the team. At age 35, the Twins knew he was not a long term answer.
RP Bill Pleis 4-2 4.95 ERA 1.65 WHIP -0.5 PW 3 WS 0.8 WARP3
Pleis has the distinction of being the winning pitcher in the Twins’ first win in Minnesota. Though he was not overly impressive in his rookie year, he did hang around with the team as a short reliever most of the decade.
RP Don Lee 3-6 3.52 ERA 1.11 WHIP 0.6 PW 8 WS 3.7 WARP3
Coming out of spring training, Lee was considered by Griffith as the “best looking pitcher” on the team. Late that spring, however, he was hit on his pitching hand by a line drive off the bat of Whitey Herzog, and never was quite right the entire season. Aside from the hand injury, Lee also dealt with the measles and a “variety of other maladies” throughout the year.
1961 World Series
The powerful Yankees made the World Series look like a formality, taking the series in five despite the fact that Mickey Mantle had very limited playing time.