Souhan: Boswell was a character as well as a competitor

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 13, 2012 - 7:09 AM

Former pitcher Dave Boswell, who died Monday, is remembered fondly by Twins teammates and execs as a battler on the mound. And after games, too.

Pitcher Dave Boswell joined the Twins as a 19-year-old in 1964 and won 20 games in 1969, but hurt his arm in the 1969 postseason and left baseball after 1971.

Photo: John Croft, Star Tribune file

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Most of the stories told about Dave Boswell begin on the mound or in a bar, and then there are those that begin on the mound and end in a bar.

"Actually, they always end the same," Clark Griffith said. "With lots of beer."

Boswell won 20 games for the Twins in 1969 and pitched in the 1965 World Series and the '69 American League Championship Series. Monday night, he died of an apparent heart attack at his home in Joppa, Md. He was 67.

"I have a baseball card of Dave on the bookshelf in my office," Griffith said. "I hadn't looked at it for years. For some reason that I'll never understand, Monday afternoon, I turned and looked at it and said, 'Ah, Boswell.' It was like somebody was trying to tell me something."

They played Legion ball against each other when Griffith was growing up in Washington and Boswell was the son of a steel worker living in a tough section of Baltimore. Buck Boswell, his father, would carry a 10-gallon crab pot and a "stomper" in his trunk to shape the high school mounds on which Dave would pitch.

Griffith became a Twins executive. Boswell became a phenom.

He broke into the bigs in 1964 at the age of 19, winning his first two decisions. In 1969, he started Game 2 of the ALCS against Baltimore. It was the pinnacle, and undoing, of his career.

"Bos was such a great competitor," Tony Oliva said. "He was talking in the dugout, saying, 'Just get me one run, just one run.' We didn't."

Boswell pitched 10 shutout innings. Baltimore's Dave McNally pitched 11. In the bottom of the 10th, Boswell threw a slider to strike out Frank Robinson. "It felt like my shoulder went right into my jawbone," Boswell would tell the Fort Myers News-Press years later. "The arm would actually turn black and run all the way down to the elbow."

After five full seasons in which he never posted an ERA higher than 3.40, Boswell would see his ERA climb to 6.42 with the Twins in 1970 and 4.66 with the Tigers and Orioles in 1971. He wouldn't pitch in the majors again.

"He was a good roommate," said former Twins player and manager Frank Quilici. "They put me in his room so I would settle him down, and after three years I thought I was going his way. But that was a good way to go."

Sometimes it was a tough way to go. Boswell is more famous for a punch he took than any pitch he threw.

On Aug. 7, 1969, the Twins were playing in Detroit. Most visiting ballplayers would frequent the Lindell AC, a bar near Tiger Stadium.

That day, Boswell refused to run with the other pitchers, citing a blister on his foot. When manager Billy Martin saw him at the bar, he confronted Boswell, who eventually advertised his intent to get back at pitching coach Art Fowler for complaining to Martin.

Boswell found himself in an alley with outfielder Bob Allison, a Martin ally. Boswell knocked down Allison. Martin knocked down Boswell. Boswell required 20 stitches in his head. Martin said he won a fair fight.

"There were two guys from the Lindell holding Bos' arms," Griffith said. "Boswell was furious about that right up through ... Monday.

"Boswell was really strong. He would have killed Martin if he had had the chance."

Boswell would work briefly for the Twins as a scout. He worked for beer distributors and at fantasy camps and as a pitching coach for hire. "He's the kind of guy who today would be making $6 million a year and wouldn't have a care in the world," Griffith said. "But he didn't pitch in those days. He pitched in a time when players didn't make that much and the pension was not that great."

Boswell had beaten cancer. "I thought he was better," Oliva said. "That's why I was so surprised to hear the news. His wife called my wife [Tuesday] morning and had a long talk."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel played with Boswell but hadn't heard from him in years before Boswell reached him recently. "He had been out of the hospital four or five days," Manuel said. "He had had open heart surgery. We talked about him coming fishing with me over the winter."

Quilici remembers an opponent spiking him at second base. "Bos said, 'Wait until I pitch to that guy, he won't walk for a week,' " Quilici said. "Next time, Bos stuck a fastball in his ribs. The guy was rolling around on the ground. Bos walks up and says, 'Take that, you SOB.' "

"I miss him," Griffith said. "When I traveled with the team, we always went out after his starts, either to lament the disaster that had occurred or to celebrate the enormous victory. The results were similar."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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