All Stars (6) Earl Battey, Mudcat Grant, Jimmie Hall, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Zoilo Versalles
Franchise (1901-1965) 4647-5238-107; 11-15 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1965) 433-374-3; 3-4 WS
The Twins deviated a great deal from the formula of the previous few seasons in 1965, and found what seems to be unlikely success for a variety of reasons. While they had an MVP on the field, it would be entirely appropriate to say that their most valuable team members might be one of a trio of men who didn’t play in a single game.
Billy Martin was named coach by Calvin Griffith in an attempt to add some fire and aggressiveness to the team. The 1965 Twins were characterized as much by base running as they were by the power that had been so prominent in the early 1960’s. The team stole 92 bases in 125 attempts, up from 46 in only 68 attempts the year before and 34 of 46 in 1963. The Twins only hit 150 home runs in 1965, down from the 220’s in the previous two seasons, but still managed to score more runs than they had in those two seasons. Martin’s presence was no small factor in the change in style.
The pitching coach, Johnny Sain, also deserves a lot of credit for the success of 1965. Prior to the season, he installed a four-man pitching rotation in an effort to maximize the use of the talent of Kaat, Grant, and Pascual. For the first several weeks of the season. The Twins started one of those three men in 13 of the first 14 regular season games. Both Kaat and Grant were able to put together very good seasons, and Pascual was on his way before a back injury shortened his season. Sain was also credited with helping the bullpen pitchers to be ready for more innings and he convinced Mele that the relievers could be trusted in situations that normally would have been left to the starters.
The most valuable person to the Twins, however, was probably trainer George Lentz, whose ’65 season was probably the busiest of his career. Lentz saw at one time or another during the season every Twins regular, each of whom missed at least one game due to injury at some point in the season. Among those who missed significant time in 1965 due to injury were Camilo Pascual and Harmon Killebrew, while players like Earl Battey, Jim Kaat, Mudcat Grant, and Bob Allison played through injuries with quite a bit of success. That the team didn’t fall apart due to injuries alone was remarkable, that they won 102 games and the first AL Pennant for the franchise since 1933 can almost be called a miracle.
Bold = Player new to WAS/MIN in 1965
C Earl Battey .297/.375/.409 6 HR 2.6 BFW 22 WS 30 FRAR 6.1 WARP3
In 1964, Battey had reported to spring training weighing about 260 lbs. By the time that season started, he had managed to get down to 245. During the off season, Battey decided that he would not be able to lose weight simply by running in a sweat suit in the spring. Instead, he checked himself into a hospital where he had his goiter problem addressed with medication and a limited diet. Battey reported to spring training 1965 weighing in at just 223 lbs. By the time the season started he was locked in at 218. The weight loss helped Battey to get one more good season out of his ailing right knee. Once again Battey suffered a number of injuries during the season, including another set back to his right knee and a famous World Series collision with the railing, but still managed to start 116 games as catcher. TSN calculated that Battey had been “disabled” 16 times during the regular season. Though Battey seemed super human in how he fought through all of the injuries, it all eventually caught up with him.
1B Don Mincher .251/.344/.509 22 HR 0.4 BFW 17 WS 0 FRAR 2.9 WARP3
Mincher had begun to show signs of frustration in the spring of 1965, and started to make noise about wanting to be traded. With Killebrew and Allison both able to play first base, it didn’t seem as there would be any room for Mincher to play as a regular. Still, Mincher maintained a positive attitude and was willing to work in both the outfield and at third base if it would help the team. As it turned out, his number was called at his most comfortable position when Killebrew lost most of the second half of the season due to injury. Mincher responded to the regular playing time with the best season of his career so far. The biggest compliment he might have received, however, came from Killebrew before the injury. Harmon suggested to Mele that perhaps he should play another position to get Mincher in the lineup more. Sure enough, Killebrew started to show up at third base when the team faced right handed pitchers, and when he returned for the last few weeks of the season he was installed there regularly so Mincher could remain at first base for the World Series.
1B/3B Harmon Killebrew .269/.384/.501 25 HR 1.3 BFW 6 FRAR 5.1 WARP3
Killebrew was hoping to win his fourth consecutive home run crown in 1965, but an injury that occured on August 2nd guaranteed that he wouldn’t do that. In the game against Baltimore, Killebrew’s elbow was struck by Russ Snider when the first baseman tried to reach for an errant throw and tag Snider all in one motion. It turned out the Killebrew had dislocated the shoulder, and though it wasn’t fractured there was a slight bone chip, meaning that he would miss most of August. It is possible that Killebrew would have won his fourth straight home run championship, AL leader Tony Conigliaro had only seven more than Harmon, but manager Sam Mele noticed that something was “off” about his slugger earlier in the season. Killebrew’s numbers were down slightly, but he still managed to finish 15th in AL MVP voting and remained one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball.
2B Jerry Kindall .196/.274/.289 6 HR -1.4 BFW 6 WS 27 FRAR 1.9 WARP3
2B Frank Quilici .208/.280/.255 0 HR -0.4 BFW 2 WS 16 FRAR 1.1 WARP3
St. Paul native Jerry Kindall won the job out of spring training primarily due to Sam Mele’s concern that the Twins needed a good glove to fill the second base role. Kindall did the job in the field, but had a miserable season at the plate. Kindall was deactivated before the World Series, with Frank Quilici taking over his duties for the bulk of September. Kindall was released by the Twins before the 1966 season.
SS Zoilo Versalles .273/.319/.462 19 HR 3.3 BFW 32 WS 56 FRAR 10.4 WARP3
The franchise’s fourth MVP award, first in Minnesota, was earned by a great season from a somewhat unexpected player. Prior to the season, had one suggested that the MVP would come from Minnesota, there were probably seven or eight names that would have been mentioned before Versalles, assuming that the diminutive short stop would even be on the list to start with. In fact, there were threats from the organization that Versalles was to be traded before the season started.
Versalles had a reputation for taking it easy in spring training, and in Sam Mele’s opinion, did so to an extreme on one particular play that he didn’t make in an exhibition game. Versalles was immediately benched in a move that sent a message to the entire team. When Versalles made his displeasure with the benching known to coach Billy Martin and Mele in the dugout, he was fined with the full blessing of Calvin Griffith who said “this club needs a shaking up.”
Whether the spring incident was a motivator or not, Zoilo had the season of a lifetime. It had been popular, for a time, to claim that Versalles did not deserve the award. I won’t jump into the debate other than to say that there are some very strong arguments that suggest he was probably the best choice. What remains undisputed was that Zorro had his personal best major league season, and that his play throughout the year was one of the major reasons that the Twins won 102 games.
3B Rich Rollins .249/.309/.333 5 HR -1.4 BFW 10 WS 18 FRAR 2.1 WARP3
1965 was Rollins’ worst season as a Twin, and by season’s end he had lost his regular job. Rollins only had two at-bats in the World Series, and was fighting with five other players for the second base job in the spring of 1966.
LF Bob Allison .233/.342/.445 23 HR 1.5 BFW 22 WS 23 FRAR 5.8 WARP3
LF Sandy Valdespino .261/.319/.322 1 HR -0.7 BFW 6 WS 9 FRAR 1.1 WARP3
Valdespino was the classic example of Mele’s change of philosophy in 1965. Typically, Allison would have played the bulk of the games as the left fielder, only taking occasional rests or sitting out when injured. Mele made a point early in the season to get Valdespino into games, electing to rest Allison against hard-throwing right-handed pitchers or during part of double headers. By the time the season was in its latter half, Allison and Valdespino were considered a true platoon. It was true that Allison was slumping, so the decision might have been made a little easier for Mele, but it was still a bit out of character. Allison’s season hit its low point on September 2 when he struck out five times in a game against the Tigers. The high point, of course, was his catch in Game 2 against the Dodgers.
CF Jimmie Hall .285/.347/.464 20 HR 0.8 BFW 26 WS 9 FRAR 4.8 WARP3
Hall got sick early in the season and dug himself quite a hole in terms of personal success. On May 7, he was batting just .221/.303/.456. From that day on Hall batted .295/.352/.465, despite a sore knew that bothered him most of July and August, to bring his performance on par with that of a year ago. While his numbers were similar to 1964, he received much more national acclaim due to his team’s success, actually finishing 13th in MVP voting, the only season in which Hall got any votes.
RF Tony Oliva .321/.378/.491 16 HR 2.8 BFW 33 WS 26 FRAR 8.7 WARP3
Those who like to argue that Veralles didn’t deserve the MVP award often present Tony Oliva as the alternative, a point that is also hard to argue. Oliva won his second consecutive batting title though he actually slumped his way through the first couple of months of the season. As May came to a close, Oliva was batting just .256/.293/.483, like most of his teammates dealing with nagging injuries throughout. Starting in June, however, Oliva went on a tear to reclaim his batting title, including a 14-game hitting streak in early July in which he batted .424/.469/.712, and two five-hit games (7/21 and 7/28). Overall, his rookie season was probably better, particularly in the power categories, but Oliva proved that it was no fluke in 1965.
SP Jim Kaat 18-11 2.83 ERA 1.25 WHIP 2.1 PW 17 WS 3.8 WARP3
Kaat’s spring holdout netted him a $9,000 raise, something that didn’t come easy from Calvin Griffith. If Kaat set out to prove he was worth the money, he did a good job of doing just that in 1965. With the new rotation he got a lot of chances early to prove himself, pitching three games in the span of time that he would have normally pitched just one. Kaat liked the new rotation, saying that it kept pitchers sharp and that “we get paid for the number of games we win. The more I pitch, the more I have a chance to win.” On June 9, Kaat was cruising along in a game against the Cleveland with a 1-0 lead heading into the ninth inning. With one out and a 2-and-1 count on Rocky Colavito, Cleveland manager Birdie Tebbets decided to make an issue of a small hole in the sleeve of Kaat’s sweatshirt. Umpire Bill Haller, who admitted he hadn’t noticed anything prior to Tebbets’ complaint, ordered Kaat to trim his sleeves. Following the delay and the arguments, Kaat promptly walked Colavito then allowed the game-winning home run to Max Alvis three pitches later. Kaat dismissed the notion that the incident had anything to do with the loss, stating that “Alvis would have hit that pitch if I had been wearing ten sweatshirts.” Kaat missed some time due to a strained arm late in June, but still managed to appear in 45 games (42 starts), both career highs at the time.
SP Mudcat Grant 21-7 3.30 ERA 1.16 WHIP 1.4 PW 17 WS 4.4 WARP3
Though Grant’s ERA was about a half a run greater than Kaat’s, he still managed to be the team’s top winner, partially due to the fact that the Twins offense scored almost a full run more per nine innings that Grant was on the mound. In the spring, Johnny Sain taught Grant to throw a fast curve, something that was not a part of Grant’s repertoire before. After a few struggles with the pitch in spring, Grant mastered the pitch and cited it as a major reason for his success in 1965. The biggest change for Grant, however, happened almost immediately when he arrived in Minnesota the year before. During his time with Cleveland, Grants BB/9 rate hovered consistently around the 4.0 mark. WIth the Twins, Grant was able to drop that number significantly:
1958 – 5.0
1959 – 4.4
1960 – 4.2
1961 – 3.7
1962 – 4.9
1963 – 3.7
1964 (CLE) – 3.8
1964 (MIN) – 1.8
1965 – 1.6
Grant was not immune from the injury bug that seemed to strike every player on the 1965 Twins. He won three games in one late July week with both knees wrapped due to tendonitis. Grant even volunteered to pitch out of the bullpen in late June when the Twins were particularly short on relievers. Grant was one of the Twins’ best players in the World Series, and even helped himself by knocking a three-run home run in Game 6.
SP Camilo Pascual 9-3 3.35 ERA 1.21 WHIP 0.7 PW 9 WS 2.2 WARP3
Pascual marked a personal milestone in 1965. On May 21 he earned the win against the Kansas City A’s to go 5-0 on the season. He led the league in wins at the time, but more significantly to some moved his career record to 133-132, the first time the Cuban had ever been above .500. Pascual seemed well on his way to adding to that record when he tore a muscle in his back against Cleveland on June 24. He made several attempts to pitch in July, but ended up needing surgery on a knot in his back. Pascual returned to the team in early September and looked to be back to his old self. Still, Pascual only managed to pitch five innings in the World Series, and was in line for another pay cut from Griffith after the season.
SP/RP Jim Perry 12-7 2.63 ERA 1.13 WHIP 1.9 PW 13 WS 4.0 WARP3
Perry didn’t figure to be a huge factor for the Twins, particularly as a starter, but was plugged into the rotation when necessary due to injury. Perry filled any role he was asked to extremely well, including a two-hit shutout of the Boston Red Sox on August 8, but he still started the 1966 season in the bullpen.
SP Jim Merritt 5-4 3.17 ERA 1.15 WHIP 0.6 PW 5 WS 1.8 WARP3
Like Perry, Merritt was not a huge part of the Twins’ plans going into the season, but managed to find playing time due to several injuries to starting pitchers. The 21-year-old had a lot of success as a fill-in starter in August, earning himself a chance to pitch out of the bullpen for the rest of the regular season and in the World Series.
RP/SP Dave Boswell 6-5 3.40 ERA 1.16 WHIP 0.7 PW 7 WS 2.5 WARP3
20-year-old Dave Boswell saw more action than was previously thought as well, though he also spent some time on the injured list during the 1965 season due to a month-long battle with mono.
RP Al Worthington 10-7 2.13 ERA 1.22 WHIP 2.6 PW 12 WS 5.0 WARP3
With all of the injuries to starting pitchers in 1965, the bullpen had to carry a bit of an extra load. They all seemed equal to the task, including 36-year-old Al Worthington who proved that his 1964 career-best season was no fluke. Worthington appeared in a career high 62 games for the Twins. 10 years prior, Worthington played a key role in the Minneapolis Millers’ run to the American Association pennant. In 1965, he pitched four scoreless innings in his first and only career World Series.
RP Johnny Klippstein 9-3 2.24 ERA 1.18 WHIP 1.7 PW 8 WS 3.4 WARP3
RP Bill Pleis 4-4 2.98 ERA 1.48 WHIP 0.4 PW 4 WS 1.4 WARP3
Klippstein and Pleis both pitched significant innings and had a lot of success in 1965.