Reusse: Camilo and his curveball deserve spot in Twins' Hall

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 26, 2012 - 6:49 AM

Camilo Pascual gave instant credibility to the team after it moved to Minnesota in 1961.

Former Twins pitcher Camilo Pascual (1964)

It is the summer of 1961, the first year of Major League Baseball in Minnesota. We're in Murray's, then and now a famed steakhouse.

The night games start at 8 o'clock sharp, so there's time to have an early dinner in downtown Minneapolis and get to Met Stadium for the first pitch. That's what we're doing, my father and me and some of his friends, and all around the restaurant, there's a hum of excited baseball talk.

The Yankees were in town -- a big deal for us prairie folks, and even bigger because this was the Year of Maris and Mantle.

The Yankees already were far clear of the Twins in the 10-team American League, but there was no gloom among the ticketholders on this night. Camilo Pascual would be the starter for the Twins, and even the mighty Yankees were not eager to take hacks against Camilo's curveball.

This had to be June 23, a Friday night. The only way I can be sure is to recall that it was early summer, for the result that Twins fans received in late June was duplicated on Aug. 29, a Tuesday night, when the Yankees returned to Bloomington.

Met Stadium was expanded on the fly that first season, and a full house in June was announced at 30,940.

Pascual had us howling from the top of the first. With one out and one on, he struck out Roger Maris swinging and Mickey Mantle looking. There's a vision of Roger swinging through a curve, and then the Mick -- with bat on his left shoulder -- glancing back at the plate umpire and walking away from the plate.

OK, I'm dreaming. There's no way the memory bank is that strong.

But I do remember that the seats were good enough to see Camilo's expression, to see the way he dug into that curveball, and watching it take a magical drop as it neared the plate.

The curve made him famous, but Pascual also threw hard and mixed in an excellent changeup. He led the American League in strikeouts (221) and tied for the lead in shutouts (eight) in that first season in Minnesota.

Camilo added to those totals vs. the Yankees on June 23: beating Bullet Bob Turley 4-0, giving up six hits and one walk while recording eight strikeouts. He got Maris once, and Mantle and Yogi Berra twice apiece on Ks.

Camilo had the encore vs. the Yankees on Aug. 29: beating Ralph Terry 3-0 on a four-hitter, with two walks and nine strikeouts. Mantle struck out three times -- to the delight of the 40,118 ticketholders that by then could fit into Met Stadium.

Harmon Killebrew was our instant hero of that first season in Minnesota. Pascual was a close second.

Pascual led the AL in strikeouts in his first three seasons in Minnesota. He won 20 games in 1962 and 21 in 1963, with an AL-leading 18 complete games in both. He was 88-57 with a 3.31 ERA from 1961 through 1966 in Minnesota.

The Twins started a Hall of Fame in 2000 -- an excellent idea, and with Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Calvin Griffith (the man that brought the Twins here) as a well-chosen first group.

Worthy names were added, but in recent years, the voters of generations younger than mine kept ignoring Pascual, to the point that his absence from the Twins' Hall became a dreadful oversight.

"Camilo should have been among the first," Julio Becquer said Wednesday.

Becquer was Pascual's roommate when they both came from Cuba to Geneva, N.Y., in 1951, to play on a Washington Senators Class C farm club.

"It was an all-Cuban team -- all of us signed for the Griffiths by [scout] Joe Cambria," Becquer said.

Becquer made his home in Minnesota after baseball. Julio and Tony Oliva have shared a frustration over Pascual's absence from the Twins' Hall -- shared it with a lot of old-time fans, including someone who was a 15-year-old kid on June 23, 1961, and insists he can still see the Mick glancing back at the plate ump after having no chance against a strike-three curveball from Camilo.

There's nothing official yet on the team's 2012 Hall of Famer, but there should be an announcement on this TwinsFest weekend that Camilo Pascual, now 78, finally will be recognized for what he was:

The first great pitcher to wear a Minnesota uniform in the big leagues.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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