Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
With the regular season winding down, and Miguel Cabrera closing in on baseball’s first Triple Crown in 45 years, I saw Tony Oliva at Target Field and asked the Twins legend what he remembers about that magical season for Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
“Forget about ‘67,” Oliva said, with a chuckle. “What about ‘66?”
“I don’t want to hear about ‘67,” Oliva said. “I put that out of my brain when we lost. We went to Boston to win one game, and we lost both.”
Yes, this was Boston’s Impossible Dream. One of the most famous pennant races in baseball history. Four teams slugging it out through the late summer -- Twins, Red Sox, Tigers and White Sox. The Twins entered a season-ending two-game series at Fenway Park, needing just one win, but Yastrzemski helped give Boston a sweep and the American League pennant.
Yastrzemski batted .326 with 44 home runs and 121 RBI. Harmon Killebrew also hit 44 home runs, but Yaz still gets credit for the Triple Crown.
“I think that was one of those dream years, when everything went perfect,” Oliva said.
But what about ‘66? Baseball had a Triple Crown winner that year, too, when Baltimore’s Frank Robinson batted .316 with 49 and 122 RBI.
Robinson ran away with the home run title (Killebrew was second with 39) and RBI title (Killebrew was second with 110). The biggest obstacle between Robinson and the Triple Crown was Tony O., who was a two-time reigning AL batting champ after batting .323 as a rookie in ‘64 and .321 in helping the Twins win the pennant in ‘65.
A check on Baseball-Reference.com, shows that Oliva went 4-for-4 on Sept. 11, in an 11-6 win over Robinson’s Orioles at Met Stadium. Oliva was batting .320, and Robinson was at .313 with three weeks remaining.
Oliva, now 74, said he got into a fender bender and suffered whiplash sometime right around then. Though he didn’t miss a game, his success waned. He finished the year batting .307 and tipped his hat to Robinson, the league’s MVP.
“Cabrera reminds me of Frank Robinson because Robinson was a righthanded hitter, and if you pitched him away, he could hit it out of the ballpark to right field,” Oliva said. “Cabrera is a dangerous hitter like that because you can’t pitch him inside or outside.”
No doubt, and looking back, you realize that facing Tony O. was no picnic for an opposing pitcher, either.
Barry Larkin became baseball’s newest Hall of Famer on Monday. Jack Morris and the rest of the players on this year’s ballot will have to wait.
The Baseball Writers Association of America released its annual vote results, and Larkin was named on 86.4 percent of the 573 ballots, exceeding the 75 percent threshold required to gain admission.
Morris, who grew up in St. Paul and pitched for the Twins in 1991, got 66.7 percent of the vote, up from 53.5 percent last year.
"I’m encouraged, and I’m very grateful for the guys that have taken another look and not voted for me in the past," Morris said. "The numbers are looking better, and that’s encouraging.
"I just have to congratulate Barry Larkin. He’s a worthy candidate, a class guy, and he’s endured a little bit. It's his day."
Morris' numbers were expected to climb this year because of the relatively weak pool of first-time candidates.
Of the newcomers, only Bernie Williams (9.6 percent) surpassed the 5 percent mark required to return next year. Former Twins pitcher Brad Radke was on the ballot for the first time and received only two votes, which means his name will not stay on in future years.
This was Morris’ 13th year on the BBWAA ballot, so he’ll get two more chances before his case will get turned over to the Veterans Committee.
It figures to be more difficult for Morris to gain votes next year, when the first-time candidates include Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Kenny Lofton. The 2014 rookie class includes Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina.
Three other players who appeared for the Twins -- Terry Mulholland, Ruben Sierra and Phil Nevin -- were on the ballot and all were shut out in the voting. Sierra and Nevin had only brief stints with the Twins while Mulholland, a left-handed pitcher, was with them in 2004 and 2005.
Star Tribune baseball writer Joe Christensen's Hall of Fame ballot: Barry Larkin, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff.
Star Tribune baseball editor Dennis Brackin's ballot: Larkin, Morris, Bagwell, Walker, Raines, Lee Smith.
Star Tribune assistant manager editor/sports Glen Crevier's ballot: Larkin, Bagwell, Trammell, Raines, Smith, Edgar Martinez.
The Twins Hall of Fame ballots are being mailed Friday. This year, 54 of us are part of the voting committee, and later this month, fans can vote online at Twinsbaseball.com.
Recent inductees include: Rick Aguilera (2008), Brad Radke and George Brophy (2009), Greg Gagne (2010) and Jim Perry (2011).
Not to knock any of them, but how can we continue to overlook Camilo Pascual?
With Patrick Reusse's urging, I've been voting for Pascual, but I must admit that I knew little about the Cuban righthander's career this summer, when we were putting together stories for Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame induction. I started interviewing folks about Blyleven's legendary curve ball, and the ones who remembered, were quick to mention his predecessor.
"The best curve ball in history, and a guy who gets overlooked, is Camilo Pascual," White Sox broadcaster Steve Stone said.
Hawk Harrelson heard us talking and launched into a story:
"We had a rainy day at the old Met, and Camilo did something I’d never seen somebody do: He struck out three guys all sitting on their butt. Rocky Colavito was hitting third, I was hitting fourth, and Jim Gentile was hitting fifth. The ground was wet, and we got out there so far -- wham! Right down on our butt."
The late Ted Williams also used to say Pascual had the most feared curve ball in the American League.
Signed out of Havana in 1952, Pascual blossomed into an elite pitcher with the Washington Senators, but those teams lost a lot of games, so his record really didn't show it.
When the Senators moved to Minnesota, Pascual gave the Twins instant credibility on the mound. He led the American League in strikeouts in 1961, 1962 and 1963, combining for 51 complete games during those three years.
He made three All-Star teams for the Twins and had two 20-win seasons (1962 and 1963). All those curve balls eventually took a toll on his right arm, and he wasn't quite the same after going 8-0 with a 2.49 ERA in his first 13 starts in 1965, the year the Twins reached their first World Series. They traded him to Washington in 1966 with Bernie Allen for relief pitcher Ron Kline.
In his comprehensive series ranking the all-time greatest Twins, Aaron Gleeman has Pascual at No. 20. As Gleeman writes:
Pascual arrived in Minnesota with one of the greatest four-year runs in team history, winning 15, 20, 21, and 15 games while leading the league in strikeouts in the first three years and finishing second in the fourth. In six seasons with the Twins he made three All-Star teams, won 20 games twice, posted a 3.31 ERA in 1,284 innings, and went 88-57 for a .607 winning percentage that ranked as the best in team history until Johan Santana came around.
Pascual pitched for the Twins from 1961-66, a short window, but he ranks among their Top 10 all-time leaders in several categories, including:
Wins: 88 (8th)
ERA: 3.31 (7th)
Complete games: 72 (4th)
Shutouts: 18 (3rd)
Strikeouts: 994 (7th)
About seven or eight years ago, Pascual was a guest on WCCO's "Sunday Sports Huddle" with Sid Hartman and Dave Mona.
"One of the first things he said was how pleased he was because he didn’t think anyone still remembered him in Minnesota," Mona said in an e-mail.
Pascual turns 78 on Jan. 20. It's time for the voters to remember him, so the Twins can celebrate his career next summer at Target Field.
What a beautiful night to salute one of baseball's greatest power hitters and all-time gentlemen.
Harmon Killebrew died nine days ago of esophageal cancer at age 74. The entire Twins team attended his funeral last Friday in Peoria, Ariz., and he was laid to rest Monday in a private service in Payette, Idaho.
Tonight, the Twins are giving Killebrew their own send-off at Target Field with free admission for fans.
The field looks immaculate. The sky is crystal clear. There's a water tower atop a building overlooking center field that has been painted off-white, with navy blue pinstripes and a big No. 3.
Hank Aaron is expected to be here. Scheduled speakers include Rod Carew, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Kaat, Paul Molitor, Justin Morneau, Bud Selig and Killebrew's wife, Nita.
Fox Sports Net will be televising. Here's a Twitter feed of all the tweets featuring the word Killebrew.
Harmon Killebrew issued a statement this morning, updating his treatment for esophageal cancer:
"My wife Nita and I continue to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and prayers we have received while I am undergoing treatment for esophageal cancer. My chemotherapy is ongoing and the team of medical professionals at the Mayo Clinic is hopeful for my full recovery.
"It has been a tough battle but Nita and I have found comfort in the love and encouragement from our family and friends. We still have a long road ahead of us and we ask for your continued prayers."
Twins president Dave St. Peter and General Manager Bill Smith visited Killebrew last week while attending the quarterly owners meetings in Phoenix. Smith said seeing Killebrew was the highlight of the trip, noting that the Hall of Famer greeted them with unbelievable vigor.
Killebrew, 74, is on the list of Twins instructors again for spring training. He told Smith to keep his uniform (old No. 3) and locker ready.
Bert Blyleven and legions of Twins fans can circle July 24, 2011 on their calendars.
That’s the date Blyleven will be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, N.Y., after finally being elected Wednesday.
In his 14th year on the writers’ ballot, Blyleven received 79.7 percent of the vote, climbing above the 75 percent needed to gain election to Cooperstown, N.Y.
Among 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, 581 submitted ballots, including five who left their ballot blank, so players needed 436 votes to gain entry.
Roberto Alomar will join Blyleven this year on the Cooperstown stage after receiving 90.0 percent of the vote, in his second year on the ballot.
Last year, when Andre Dawson was elected to the Hall, Blyleven fell just five votes short and Alomar fell just eight votes short.
For Jack Morris, the wait continues. In his 12th year on the ballot, he received 53.5 percent of the vote, up from 52.3 percent last year.
Blyleven, 59, will become the fourth player to go into the Hall of Fame as a Twin, joining Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett.
Blyleven ranks fifth on the all-time strikeout list with 3,701 and ninth on the all-time shutout list with 60, but it’s been a long road to Cooperstown since he retired in 1993.
In 1998, Blyleven’s first year on the ballot, he received 17.5 percent of the vote. Blyleven’s chances didn’t look much better in 2007, when his vote total went backward from the previous year, dropping from 53.3 percent to 47.7 percent.
Blyleven went 287-250 with a 3.31 ERA in his 22-year major league career. He didn’t win a Cy Young won, made just two All-Star teams, had just one 20-win season (1973) and set a record in 1986 when he gave up 50 home runs for the Twins.
For years, voters seemed to hold that part of his resume against him, but over time, an appreciation for Blyleven’s full body of work has grown. Some have said he had one of the best curve balls of all-time, and he has the strikeout total to show for it.
Blyleven has said he plans to continue broadcasting for the Twins, but they’ll need to find a temporary replacement July 24, when they’re playing the Tigers at Target Field. Blyleven will be busy getting a plaque and giving a speech.
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