June 9, 1967
Sam Mele became manager of the Minnesota Twins on June 23, 1961, just a few months into the team’s inagural season in Minnesota. He had been a coach under manager Cookie Lavegetto for the previous three seasons, and took over the team when performance did not match expectation early in the 1961 season. Though the team finished seventh in a ten-team American League, Mele stuck around and had success in ’62 and ’63 before a difficult 1964 season began speculation that Calvin Griffith might be looking to replace Mele with popular coach Billy Martin. Mele was forced to take a pay cut after his first sub-.500 season as manager, and it seemed as though Griffith was looking for a reason to give Martin the managing duties.
The 1965 season changed all of that. The Twins won 102 games and coasted to the AL Pennant. Sam Mele played a key role, piecing together lineups day-to-day with key injuiries throughout the season. Despite the success, the whispers for Martin continued.
The Twins won 13 fewer games in 1966 and finished second to the Baltimore Orioles in the standings. Mele’s season was highlighted by some very public clashes with some of his more popular coaches, including pitching coach Johnny Sain. Mele let Sain go at the end of the season – a major factor involved in his firing early in the 1967 season.
Hopes were high in Minnesota for the 1967 season. Griffith had made an offseason deal to acquire Dean Chance, and rookie sensation Rod Carew began his career. When the team only started the season 25-25, Griffith had enough, and dismissed Mele.
What seemed like the obvious choice to replace Mele, however, did not come to fruition. Rather than naming Martin to replace Mele as expected, Griffith named Cal Ermer as the new manager of the Minnesota Twins. Ermer was an organization man, a long time manager in the minor leagues. Griffith had told him as early as 1965 that he was to be the next manager of the Twins, and two years later Ermer, who had played just a single major league game, was guiding a major league team in a pennant race.
I wrote this as part of the Franchise 1967:
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.