1967 Minnesota Twins
Managers: Sam Mele 7th Season (7th with Minnesota 524-436-3)
Cal Ermer 1st Season (1st with Minnesota 66-46-2)
91 W 71 L 2 T 671 RS 590 RA T2nd AL 1.0 GB (Boston 92-70)
4.09 RPG (AL = 3.70) 3.14 ERA (AL = 3.23)
.703 DER (10th AL)
All Stars (4) Rod Carew, Dean Chance, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva
Franchise (1901-1967) 4827-5382-109; 11-15 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1967) 613-518-5; 3-4 WS
While the Twins were in contention until the very last day of the 1967 season, one of the most successful managers in franchise history was an early season casualty. Dick Young wrote in The Sporting News that in essence the firing had begun in 1964 when Griffith gave Mele a pay cut after the team finished four games under .500, the only full season in which Mele managed a team below the .500 mark. Mele stuck around, won a pennant and made back more than the cut that had been taken, but got a quick ax in 1967 when the team was 25-25 less than a third of the way through the season. Griffith had been quoted as saying that there was extra pressure on Mele since it was his decision to let Johnny Sain go the year before, a factor that probably played a major role in the early-season dismissal.
In Mele’s place came Cal Ermer. Ermer had been a manager in the minor leagues for 20 years, most of which came with the Twins organization. Griffith had told him as early as 1965 that he was to be the next manager of the Twins, the only question at the time being “when?” Ermer’s time came on June 9, a loss to the Orioles in his first game as a major league manager.
Things picked up for Ermer and the Twins, who were six games out of first place when the managerial change took place. By August 13, the Twins had a taste of first place, a position they held for the bulk of the final two months of the season. If not for the nightmare of the three consecutive losses to end the season, including a two–game sweep by the Red Sox at Fenway that clinched the AL for Boston, the 1967 season might be remembered as fondly as 1965 or 1969.
Bold = Player new to WAS/MIN in 1967
C Jerry Zimmerman .167/.243/.192 1 HR -0.9 BFW 5 WS 26 FRAR 0.9 WARP3
After backing up Earl Battey for most of his career, Zimmerman finally got a chance as a regular in 1967. True to the rest of his career, Zimmerman flourished behind the plate but struggled mightily at the plate. His highlight in 1967 was catching Dean Chance’s no-hitter.
1B Harmon Killebrew .269/.408/.558 44 HR 4.2 BFW 38 WS 9 FRAR 10.6 WARP3
At the age of 31 Killebrew had a season that surpassed all others in his career up to that point. Over the previous two seasons Killebrew, at management’s suggestion, had been working on hitting better in clutch situations. Essentially, he was sacrificing some of his power to hit the ball were the fielders weren’t in certain situations. Another area in which Killer improved that didn’t see nearly as much press was in on-base percentage. Killebrew set a career mark by walking 131 times (15 intentional), 24 more than his previous high in 1961. His .408 OBP was also a career high at the time. Harmon finished second in AL MVP voting in 1967, behind only triple-crown winner Carl Yastrzemski.
2B Rod Carew .292/.341/.409 8 HR 1.6 BFW 19 WS 19 FRAR 5.0 WARP3
The Twins signed Rod Carew just one day out of high school in 1964. Three years later, the 21-year-old jumped from Wilson in the class “C” Carolina League all the way to a starting job on the Minnesota Twins. Calvin Griffith thought he was ready: “Carew can do it all. He can run, throw and hit. He has had some growing up to do, but it looks like he has made great strides. He could be the American League All-Star second baseman if he sets his mind to it” (quoted in TSN, March 25, 1967). Sam Mele was more reserved on the matter, quoted in the same article: “I’m considering him, but I want to see more before I say more.” Griffith’s seemingly bold prediction came true, as Carew was selected to be the starting second baseman in the mid-summer classic and was a runaway choice for AL Rookie of the Year. Carew got two hits in his major league debut and seemingly didn’t look back. It wasn’t long before Carew was being called the “Twins’ go-go rookie” as he shredded American League pitching to the tune of .335/.373/.430 through mid-June. Pitchers seemed to figure him out a bit more in the second half of the season, but Carew’s promising career was off to a great start.
SS Zoilo Versalles .200/.249/.282 6 HR -1.6 BFW 9 WS 37 FRAR 1.6 WARP3
Just two years removed from an MVP award, Versalles’ performance fell off a cliff. His fielding was still pretty good, but it didn’t make up for his poor performance at the plate. At season’s end, Versalles was traded to Los Angeles along with Mudcat Grant in exchange for three players. Versalles was not happy with the move. He blamed Ermer, who had developed a reputation for favoring personnel he had worked with in Denver. Versalles was quoted near the time of the trade as saying “I hope Minnesota wins the pennant for the fans, not for the club.But it’s going to be tough now, you know. The people are not going to see great plays like Zoilo can make.”
Versalles never again found his MVP form for 1965. He played three more major league seasons after leaving the Twins, bouncing between four different teams before retiring after a horrible year with Atlanta in 1971. At the time of the trade, Versalles was the only shortstop Minnesota baseball fans had known.
Versalles, Sens/Twins career: 9 Seasons .250/.296/.383 87 HR 35.6 WARP3
3B Rich Rollins .245/.305/.342 6 HR -1.4 BFW 7 WS 3 FRAR 0.8 WARP3
Rollins seemed destined for back up duty after the 1966 season. It was assumed by the media, fueled in part by Calvin Griffith’s enthusiasm, that rookie Ron Clark was set to take over third base for the foreseeable future in Minnesota. Sam Mele assured Rollins that he would get a fair shot at the job in spring training. A good spring for Rollins combined with the fact that Clark didn’t really live up to the hype meant a regular job for Rollins. A short and unproductive stint for Clark during a Rollins injury proved that the Twins had made the correct decision. A knee injury sidelined Rollins towards the end of the season, forcing him to go under the knife in the off season.
UT Cesar Tovar .267/.325/.365 6 HR -1.0 BFW 21 WS 10 FRAR 3.9 WARP3
While Tovar didn’t have a regular home in the field, his value to the team was illustrated by the fact that he played in 164 games in 1967. The bulk of his playing time came as a replacement for Rollins at third base, but Tovar also played a significant number of games in the outfield. At season’s end, Tovar had played six positions for the Twins. He was thought of so highly by the local media that Max Nichols of the Minnesota Star actually cast his MVP vote for Tovar, the only first place vote that didn’t go to Carl Yastrzemski. I point out the MVP vote as a reflection of Tovar’s perceived value in 1967, not as a endorsement of the vote as a good idea, or even a sane one -Ed.
LF Bob Allison .258/.356/.470 24 HR 1.3 BFW 24 WS -6 FRAR 4.4 WARP3
Allison was another of the long-time Twins starters who had to fight for a job in spring training. Entering the season, it seemed as though there were several candidates for the job, but Allison seemed to regain his form in the spring. He went on to put up the best numbers he has produced since 1964.
CF Ted Uhlaender .258/.285/.381 6 HR -1.1 BFW 11 WS 5 FRAR 1.3 WARP3
When injuries forced Cesar Tovar to play a significant amount of time in the infield, Uhlaender slid in to the center field position. He wasn’t a great hitter, but his defensive reputation continued to carry him.
RF Tony Oliva .289/.347/.463 17 HR 2.0 BFW 25 WS 15 FRAR 6.6 WARP3
Saying that the 1967 season was Tony Oliva’s worst of his career so far seems a bit unfair considering how high the bar had been set. The fact remains that he established career lows in all of the slash statistics. That said, most MLB players would love to have those kind of numbers described as the worst season in their career. It is interesting to note that, at the age of 28, baseballreference.com lists the following as the most similar to Oliva (* = Hall of Famer):
1. Enos Slaughter*
2. Pedro Guerrero
3. Jim Edmonds
4. RIchie Zisk
5. Hack Wilson*
SP Dean Chance 20-14 2.73 ERA 1.10 WHIP 1.6 PW 20 WS 7.3 WARP3
The 1964 Cy Young award winner had fallen out of favor with the Angels due to a 12-17 season in 1966 (though he really didn’t pitch that poorly) and a tendency to berate his teammates for losses. The Twins sent Jimmie Hall, Don Mincher, and Pete Cimino to California in exchange for Chance and a PTBNL (Jackie Hernandez). Chance wasn’t nearly as dominant as he had been in 1964, but he did improve upon his performance of the previous two years and won 20 games for the second time in his career. Despite his record, it was the elusive 21st win that might have defined Chance’s season had it not been for the fact that he, technically speaking, pitched two no-hitters (the first in a weather-shortened game on August 6, the second was of the nine-inning variety and is the one in the record book).
SP Jim Kaat 16-13 3.04 ERA 1.18 WHIP 1.4 PW 17 WS 6.9 WARP3
Kaat’s relationship with management was tenuous at best following his open letter that was published after the departure of pitching coach Johnny Sain following the 1966 season. Though he disagreed with the methods of new pitching coach Early Wynn, Kaat was a good soldier and did what he was told. An example would be Wynn’s spring conditioning program that included a lot of running for the staff. Kaat, like Sain, felt that the pitchers could be using their time better than simply taking laps. Still, Kaat participated in the runs while openly disagreeing with the approach to the media. An early slump in the regular season brought speculation that Kaat was pressing to hard to prove himself a team player after what became known as the “letter business” from the previous season, but Kaat worked out of it and had a successful season. There was talk that Kaat’s emergence in 1967 might have been due to manager Mele’s departure, but Kaat dismissed that pointing out that his slump ended three starts before the move was made. He even credited Wynn for his success, saying that the two of them worked well together.
SP Jim Merritt 13-7 2.53 ERA 0.99 WHIP 2.0 PW 19 WS 7.5 WARP3
All of the spring hype surrounding the starting rotation centered around the foursome of Chance, Kaat, Grant, and Boswell. Though Merritt didn’t start a game until the end of May, and argument could be made that he was the Twins’ most effective starting pitcher in 1967. The highlight of Merritt’s season was probably his complete game victory in the Twins’ dramatic win that knocked the White Sox out of first place on August 13. Merritt’s greatest skill was his control. He walked just 30 men all season (1.19 per 9 innings, tops in the AL), including a stretch of 65 2/3 innings in which he only issued two walks: one intentional and one to Mickey Mantle.
SP Dave Boswell 14-12 3.27 ERA 1.21 WHIP 1.3 PW 15 WS 7.5 WARP3
After a failed attempt to change his delivery in the spring, Boswell struggled early in the 1967 season. Once he decided that new delivery wasn’t working, Boswell had trouble going back. Enter pitching coach Early Wynn’s “wringer” – a program based on the notion that a tired pitcher will eventually revert back to his natural form. For four consecutive days Boswell threw in the bullpen until it would have caused pain to throw anymore. Whether the wringer was responsible for Boswell’s success may be up for debate (Boswell certainly seemed to think so), but his numbers immediately started to improve after his struggles in the first four starts of the season.
SP/RP Mudcat Grant 5-6 4.72 ERA 1.45 WHIP -1.4 PW 1 WS 0.5 WARP3
Grant’s final season in Minnesota was forgettable for all involved. He struggled through a season in which his playing time was limited by injury and a seemingly perpetual place in Cal Ermer’s doghouse. The most public incident was a curfew violation for which Grant (and four others) were fined and held out of his next start. He was only used sparingly down the stretch, with whispers that he tried to fake a knee injury earlier in the season to avoid a trade. Grant was more than happy to be traded to the Dodgers at the end of the season, and he did not hold back in his feedback about the club on his way out. Among the charges that Grant leveled were favoritism from the manager and an undercurrent of racism that he said had not been present in his earlier years with the club.
RP Al Worthington 8-9 2.84 ERA 1.25 WHIP 1.0 PW 11 WS 4.9 WARP3
Worthington wasn’t near as dominant as he had been in the previous three seasons, but was still a very effective reliever, especially considering that he turned 38 years old in 1967.
RP Jim Perry 8-7 3.03 ERA 1.32 WHIP 0.7 PW 9 WS 4.0 WARP3
Despite a very good season in which he was primarily a starter in 1966, Perry toiled in the bullpen for the bulk of the 1967 season. Most of Perry’s starts came towards the end of the season, including back-to-back shut outs in the heat of a pennant race on August 10 and 15.
RP Ron Kline 7-1 3.77 ERA 1.20 WHIP -0.3 PW 5 WS 1.8 WARP3
The Twins picked up Kline from the Senators in exchange for Camilo Pascual and Bernie Allen. He lasted only one season before being traded to Pittsburgh.