The Twins traded pitchers Dean Chance and Bob Miller and position players Ted Uhlaender and Graig Nettles to Cleveland for pitchers Luis Tiant and Stan Williams on Dec. 10, 1969.
Nettles was the third baseman for Cleveland and then the New York Yankees over the next 14 seasons. Calvin Griffith’s modest-sized promotion staff did not arrange for a Nettles send-off at the Metrodome in July 1983, even though he had 321 home runs, 1,052 RBI, two Gold Gloves and two World Series titles in the American League after leaving Minnesota.
The Twins kept Tiant for only one season, and also could have honored him for the 143 wins that he had in the decade (1971-80) after being released in Minnesota. Calvin passed on that opportunity, also.
Times have changed. The Twins of Target Field are so into ceremonies and reunions that on Friday night they put a pregame spotlight on the most embarrassing personnel move in the 56-year history of the franchise.
David Ortiz, 40 and leading the major leagues in RBI, continues to claim that he is retiring. And this was Boston’s one trip to Minnesota, barring a postseason matchup.
The Twins requested Ortiz to go through the pregame recognition, even though he went to Boston 14 seasons ago, became “Big Papi,’’ won three World Series, soared past 500 home runs and also past 500 insults aimed at his former organization.
And who could blame him for that last stat?
Ortiz was a middle-of-order hitter for a 2002 Twins team that rallied to win an AL Division Series against the extra-strong Oakland A’s. And it now stands as the Twins’ only playoff series victory in 25 years, if you assume the Twins won’t get one this October.
The Twins decided to release Ortiz two months after that ALDS victory for this combination of reasons:
One, they didn’t want Ortiz to take them to arbitration and get $1.5 million; two, they felt Matt Le- Croy would make an adequate designated hitter; and three, they wanted a roster spot to make a claim in the Rule 5 draft.
Hey, it’s not every day you get a chance to claim a talent such as Jose Morban for $50,000.
“Obviously, it was a mistake on my behalf, and I’ve owned up to it too many times,’’ said Terry Ryan, the Twins’ beleaguered general manager, before Friday’s game.
The years of “owning up’’ from Minnesota have not soothed wounds. In March, Ortiz allowed a couple of reporters to interview him while he was eating a nutritious lunch outside the Red Sox spring clubhouse.
On that morning, Big Papi addressed the Minnesota-produced irritant on his Hall of Fame résumé at length, with this as the punchline:
“Terry Ryan doesn’t feel bad just because he let me go. He feels bad because he also knows the Twins treated me bad …
“Because I was a good kid.’’
If Ryan had taken a vote of Ortiz’s teammates, it would have been a landslide to keep him. I’m guessing even LeCroy would have voted to retain the power hitter the Twins called “Big O.’’
That popularity among the 2002 Twins helped to produce a pregame recognition on Friday that was both sentimental and humorous.
First, it was mentioned that Ortiz’s admiration for Kirby Puckett (never a teammate, but working in the organization) was one reason that he chose No. 34 when he went to Boston.
Then, Puck’s children, Catherine and Kirby Jr., came to home plate, received big hugs from Big Papi, and a check for $10,000 was presented to the Kirby Puckett Scholars in Ortiz’s name.
Then, former teammates Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins, Corey Koskie and Eddie Guardado and ’02 manager Ron Gardenhire came out to greet Ortiz. They repeated on the video board the oft-told tale of the occasion on which Koskie, in his role as chief prankster, put a large amount of peanut butter in Ortiz’s “tidy whities.’’
The gift presented was a jumbo-sized jar of Skippy peanut butter, with a Big Papi label.
The fellows from ’02 laughed, exchanged hugs, and then Ortiz headed for the visitors dugout, waving the peanut butter to the crowd.
It wasn’t much of a crowd 10 minutes before the first pitch. And the announced attendance of 22,786 was much smaller than what the Twins imagined for a weekend series vs. Boston when the teams both left Fort Myers, Fla. at the end of March.
It’s starting to look as if the Twins playing baseball at a .300 clip might have a tendency to suppress attendance.
Ortiz’s latest broadside at his time in Minnesota came this week in a USA Today article. Ortiz told baseball writer Bob Nightengale that he would walk around the Twin Cities during his six seasons (including partials) here and the locals didn’t even know they had a baseball team.
Big Papi backed off on that before the game, saying: “Minnesota has always been a great place to be. I was talking to one of my boys that works for USA Today and I was telling him how it felt to play at the Metrodome.
“That’s the not the case here at Target Field. This is a beautiful park; this is a park that you want to come out and play. Minnesota is a wonderful place … I always love to come back.’’
Very good, Big Papi. And enjoy Cooperstown.