Between 1936 and 1964 the New York Yankees absolutely dominated the American League. They won every pennant but a handful. Detroit won two (1940 and 1945), Cleveland had two (1948 and 1954), St. Louis (1944), Boston (1946), and Chicago all got one (1959). All the others belonged to New York. That streak came to an end fifty years ago at the hands of a very unlikely franchise; a franchise that seldom won much of anything, the Washington Senators/ Minnesota Twins.
The 1965 Twins were new to Minnesota, having moved from Washington in 1961. They finished seventh in 1961, moved to second in 1962, dropped back to third the next season, then slid all the way to sixth in 1964. In 1965 they finally broke through, winning the AL pennant by seven games over the White Sox with the Yanks collapsing all the way to sixth, 25 games out of first. That was fifty years ago and that makes it as good a time as any to look at both teams.
The Twins went 102-60 in 1965. It was a pitching era dominated by great hurlers, especially in the National League. That being said, Minnesota won with their hitting. The team led the AL in runs, hits, doubles, and average. It came in second in triples, total bases, OBP, slugging and OPS. They were fourth in home runs and stolen bases. By contrast, the pitchers ranked in the middle of the pack in most stats. Their high was third in ERA (and in earned runs allowed) and the low was seventh in strikeouts. They did manage to finish second in saves, which was still a new stat and not viewed the same way we view it today.
The manager was Sam Mele. He was Minnesota’s first manager, taking up the reigns in 1961. He lasted through 50 games in 1967. His overall record was 524-436 and the Twins were his only managerial stint. After being fired, he ended up working for the Red Sox until his retirement.
The pitching staff was, as mentioned above, not the heart of the team, but it was sufficient to put a pennant on the flag pole in Minnesota. Four men started more than 12 games. Jim Kaat started 42 of them. He went 18-11 with an ERA of 2.83 (126 ERA+ and a BBREF WAR of 0.4). His WHIP was 1.248. He led the team with 154 strikeouts, but gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. He could also hit a little, racking up a home run, nine RBIs and a .247 average (an OPS+ of 63). The ace was another Jim, Jim “Mudcat” Grant. He was 21-7 with an ERA of 3.30 (ERA+ of 108 and a 2.7 WAR). Another Jim, this time Perry, started 19 games. He went 12-7 with a 2.63 ERA (136 ERA+ and 2.5 WAR). Veteran Camilo Pascual was 9-3 in 27 games, all starts, had an ERA of 3.35 (107 ERA+ and 0.7 WAR) and struck out 96. Dave Boswell was 20 and Jim Merritt was 21. Both started a few games and ended up with ERA+ numbers over 100.
The bullpen, which was set up differently in 1965 than today, was led by Al Worthington. He had 21 saves, a2.13 ERA, and a team leading ERA+ of 168. He got to the big leagues in 1953, didn’t do much as a starter, and by 1959 was in the bullpen. In 1965 he was 36 with three more good seasons still ahead of him (including an AL leading 18 saves in 1968).
Earl Battey did the bulk of the catching with Jerry Zimmerman as his primary backup. Battey was a decent catcher (his caught stealing rate was a league leading 48%) who hit reasonably well. In 1965 he hit .297, walked more than he struck out, had six home runs, and 60 RBIs. His 3.2 WAR was sixth on the team. Zimmerman hit .214.
The normal infield consisted of Don Mincher, Jerry Kindall, Zoilo Versalles, and Rich Rollins from first around the horn to third. Shortstop Versalles had a career year hitting .273 with a 115 OPS+ and 7.2 WAR. It got him the AL MVP award. He led off for Minnesota and stole 27 bases while being caught only five times. Hidden in an OBP of .319 are 122 strikeouts, about three for every walk he took. Mincher was a bopper who hit .251 with 22 home runs (fourth on the team). Both Kindall and Rollins were mediocre hitters, who by World Series time were spending a lot of time on the bench. Kindall hit all of .196 and was replaced by Frank Quilici, who at least hit .200 (actually .208). Rollins’ problem was simple; he had to make room for Harmon Killebrew. Killebrew was hurt during the year and Rollins replaced him. When “Killer” returned, Rollins was bench material. Killebrew was problematic at best at third. Never much of a fielder (to call the arm “scatter arm” is to do a grave injustice to “scatter armed” infielders everywhere), Killebrew played third like he should have been a first baseman (or an outfielder, or a designated hitter, or…), but the Twins needed the bat and Mincher was at first. Killebrew hit .269 with 25 home runs in 400 at bats. He had 75 RBIs and 72 walks (to go with 69 strikeouts) and put up an OPS+ of 145 to go with 4.3 WAR (third on the team). In other words, it was your normal Harmon Killebrew year.
The outfield was the domain of five men: Bobby Allison, Jimmie Hall, Tony Oliva, Joe Nossek, and Sandy Valdespino. Both Allison and Hall had power. Each hit at least 20 home runs (23 for Allison, 20 for Hall) while Valdespino was a superior fielder. The star was Oliva. He hit a league leading .321 to win his second consecutive batting title. His 185 hits also led the AL. He had 16 home runs and 98 RBIs to go 107 runs scored and 283 total bases. His OPS+ was 141 and his WAR 5.4. Other than the players listed above, no player appeared in more than 25 games.
The Twins made a run at the World Series title, ultimately losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In both 1966 and 1967 they finished second, then slid to seventh in 1968. They rebounded in 1969 to win the first ever American League West title. They would lose a playoff to Baltimore three games to none. They would repeat in 1970, again losing the playoff to Baltimore, then fall back to third and ultimately fail to make another playoff until the 1985 season when they finally won a World Series, the first since the team was in Washington all the way back in 1924.
Tags: 1965 Minnesota Twins, Al Worthington, Bob Allison, Camilo Pascual, Dave Boswell, Don Mincher, Earl Battey, Frank Quilici, Harmon Killebrew, Jerry Kindall, Jerry Zimmerman, Jim Kaat, Jim Merritt, Jim Perry, Jimmie Hall, Joe Nossek, Mudcat Grant, Rich Rollins, Sam Mele, Sandy Valdespino, Tony Oliva, Zoilo Versalles