There will be a package of stories in Sunday’s Star Tribune marking the 50th anniversary of Minnesota’s eventful 1967 sports calendar:
The Twins in “The Great Race,’’ the Vikings with Norm Van Brocklin gone and Bud Grant hired as coach, the arrival of the North Stars, the Muskies and Met Center, and the Gophers earning what remains the last Big Ten football title as tri-champions with Purdue and Indiana.
These retrospectives give us a chance to put researcher John Wareham to work in the Star Tribune library. The broad sheet copies from that research always seem to present as much interesting stuff as what makes its way into the articles.
One intriguing sidelight was found in Twins pieces in the June 21, 1967 editions of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune and the afternoon Minneapolis Star.
The Twins had played a Tuesday night exhibition game at Indianapolis against the Indians of the Pacific Coast League on June 20.
Tom Briere, the beat writer for the Tribune, had a story on the exhibition game, leading with the fact that third base coach Billy Martin had entered at second base in the sixth inning and had a couple of hits.
There was also a four-paragraph item – obviously, written under a severe deadline – that an altercation had broken out between Ted Uhlaender and Tony Oliva on the team bus from the Detroit airport to the hotel.
The final paragraph also said pitcher Dave Boswell had “instigated the fracas with some by-play in the back of the bus.’’
Max Nichols’ piece in the afternoon Star included the information that manager Cal Ermer had called a noon meeting with the players to discuss the situation. Nichols’ coverage included this:
“These three players exploded in a pushing, shoving and shouting contest about midnight as the Twins bus neared the Detroit hotel.’’ He also wrote, “Gestures by Boswell evidently started the scuffle.’’
There were two parts to this 50-year-old story for me:
One, Tony Oliva is my favorite all-time Twin, as a player and personality; and two, Briere and Nichols were riding on the team bus (as beat reporters often did in that era) and felt the freedom to publish what they had observed.
I was at the ballpark Friday to interview Ron Gardenhire. I wrote that piece for Saturday’s paper and then decided to go to ask Tony O. about the blowup on the bus, figuring there wasn’t that much to it.
“Hey, Senor,’’ as I’ve called him for 40 years, I said, “I ran across these clippings of a fight on the team bus in 1967. You’re not a fighter.’’
Tony walked over and said: “That’s true. I’m not a fighter, I’m a lover.’’
Then, Tony took the copy of the Star’s front sports page, looked at the headline – “Ermer’s Strong Hand Calms Twin Squabble’’ – and offered the slight smile that indicates he’s interested in something.
“There was a part of this that no one would talk about, and the writers didn’t write,’’ he said. “Boswell had a gun on the bus.
“It was an exhibition game, and I don’t know – there was probably a lot of drinking by some players, if they weren’t playing, or after they left the game. We were on the way in from the Detroit airport, and Boswell started waving around a gun, above his head, like he was going to shoot a hole in the roof.
“I don’t know if the gun was loaded or not. I told Boswell to put the gun away, that it was not funny, it was dangerous.
“That’s when Uhlaender got involved.’’
Tony shook his head and said: “Ted and I had played together since the instructional league. He was my interpreter then, because he knew some Spanish. We were friends. But that night, some stuff came out of him that got quite a few players mad … not just me.
“He started saying, ‘You Cubans this, Cubans that,’ and it wasn’t good. Sandy Valdespino was hotter than I was. He was coming over the seat. And Ted was saying, ‘You’re going to have the black guys on your side over this, but I’m going to have the white guys.’
“Harmon [Killebrew], [Bob] Allison … they were looking at him, didn’t know what to do. Ermer said something to us when we got off the bus. They didn’t want any mention of the gun, so people wondered, ‘Why was Tony telling Boswell what to do?’ ‘’
Oliva said there was a knock on his door the next morning at 9 o’clock. It was Uhlaender.
“He said, ‘You know me, Tony … we go way back; that stuff I said, that’s not the way I am,’ ‘’ Oliva said. “I told him, ‘That was last night. We will forget it.’
“That was quite a team meeting. We played good after that and almost won a pennant, but we played that way because we had a good team. There were some bad feelings after that mess on the bus.’’
Dang. This was way more than I expected when going downstairs at Target Field to see my man Tony O. on Friday.