The San Diego Padres were in their second season in 1970 and had placed a Northwest League rookie team in Kennewick, Wash. Johnny Podres' pitching career had ended with the Padres in 1969, and he was doing some special assignment work the next year for Peter Bavasi, the Padres farm director.
Years ago I was at a baseball function, struck up a conversation with Bavasi, and we started talking about our love for The Pod — him from Johnny's days with the Dodgers and Padres, me from his five seasons (1981-85) as Twins pitching coach.
"I'm flying with Johnny to Kennewick in June that year, where our new draft choices are assembled," Bavasi said. "I tell him, 'The big problem is to figure out starters and relievers, since they are out of high school and were starters.'
"Johnny smokes a few more cigarettes on the flight, has a beverage or two, and then he tells me, 'I got it.' I say, 'What?' And he answers, 'Wait and find out.' "
Podres was a starter for nearly all of his distinguished career, including the 2-0 shutout of the Yankees on Oct. 4, 1955, four days after his 23rd birthday, in a Game 7 that gave the Dodgers their only World Series championship in Brooklyn.
He was a great admirer of starting, not only because of the huge responsibility of the task, but also knowing in advance the one day out of four that he would need a good night's sleep.
And that was Pod's method for culling the starters from the relievers in Kennewick. He gathered the prospects and asked:
"How many among you like staying out late, having some drinks, meeting a few strangers, on more nights than not?"
Sensing a trick question, only a half-dozen in the group tentatively raised a hand. Podres nodded and said, "OK, you're the starters. The rest of you milkshake drinkers run some laps."
This is the way the yarn was told to me and knowing Pod, before and years after he got sober during his time in Minnesota, I embrace it as darn near factual.
For sure, it tells the status in which starters were held when there were only four of those, plus the "spot" guy for doubleheaders, on a team and they pitched at least 70% of a team's innings.
Amazingly, the 2023 Twins were right there with the five-starter rotation (including Kenta Maeda and Tyler Mahle before injuries), having pitched 71% of the team's innings entering this weekend.
Yet there are eight relievers (as on all clubs) and the Twins have to keep busy the St. Paul above-ground railway to maintain fresh arms.
Which makes today's self-assigned task very difficult: Inspired by the current situation with several Twins bullpeners drawing groans when summoned, name a Bullpen Villain of the Decade for the Twins' 63 seasons in Minnesota.
It was tougher than imagined, but here goes:
1960s: Ray Moore, nicknamed "Old Blue," blew the Twins' first-ever home game and was in the doghouse for most of his three-season tenure here. His numbers weren't that awful, though. The choice becomes a long shot:
Georges Maranda, 32 games in 1962, a 4.46 ERA, a Canadian, and always remembered by me for Maureen, a member of the baseball-loving Smiths from Dupont Avenue in south Minneapolis, shouting from behind the home dugout that something untoward should be done to the Queen as Georges left after getting rocked at Met Stadium.
1970s: Not a great decade for winning but relief was the best part of the staff, with Bill Campbell, Tom Burgmeier, Tommy Johnson and Mike Marshall. Again, a long shot, based on subpar results and also a single moment:
Dave Johnson — and the night in extra innings in Anaheim, when manager Gene Mauch set up a five-man infield with the care of a great orchestra conductor to cut down a winning run from third, and then Davey threw a wild pitch to the backstop on his first pitch, bringing home that run.
1980s: Ron Davis. A towering man, affable and legendary, towering over all other giants of failure in Twins bullpens.
1990s: Weak field of contenders, mostly because of a lack of longevity for relievers in a decade that started with a World Series win and ended with threats of contraction. The winner probably should be Dave Stevens, who kept getting late-game chances with subpar results, but I'm going with George Tsamis — a great character for his 41 games in 1993 (1-2, 6.19 ERA) and forever as manager of independent Saints.
Moment: George enters, walks a couple to load bases, then goes 2-0 and out comes pitching coach Dick Such to say, "George, you gotta throw strikes." To which George says: "No kiddin', Suchie."
2000s: Outstanding decade and generally excellent bullpens were a big reason. So we're going with a young fellow who came and went rapidly: Adam Johnson, No. 2 overall choice in 2000 draft, had four shaky starts — then five relief appearances in two stints when he allowed 18 hits and 14 runs. Blame the people drafting No. 2, not him.
2010s: Matt Capps. Easy fodder. Hardcore critics still complain about giving up a young catcher — Wilson Ramos — for Capps in 2010, the first year in Target Field.
2020s: We're years from a decision, but sheer numbers already make it a slow-horse race:
Alex Colomé (2021), Emilio Pagán (2022) and now Jorge López as the leading contender in a crowded field with 100 games remaining this summer.