We are chronicling the ongoing ballplaying career of former Twins outfielder Lew Ford with a column that will appear at startribune.com and in Thursday’s print edition.
Justin Morneau also was able to add a few observations on Ford, with whom he first played in the minor leagues at various stops. They were both at Class AAA Rochester in 2003, before making their Twins debuts within 12 days of one another: Ford on May 29 and Morneau on June 10.
“Believe it or not, what sticks in my mind with Lew is how often he lost a shoe running the bases,’’ Morneau said. “Most guys going from first-to-third, if they were going to lose something, it would be a helmet. With Lew, it was always a shoe.
“You’d say, ‘What is that?’ And his answer was that he kept his shoes tied loose, because it saved him time taking them off and putting them on. That’s the way my 7-year-old son does it now, so, ‘OK, Lew, I guess that makes sense.’ ‘’
Ford’s method of hitting – to get the bat head out quickly – could be a reason that he has remained an effective hitter for the Long Island Ducks in the independent Atlantic League. Presuming this baseball season occurs, Ford again plans on the double duty of being a Ducks' DH and the hitting coach (as his 44th birthday arrives in August).
“Lew in his prime might have trouble in today’s big-league game because they would shift him,’’ Morneau said. “He could turn on anybody’s fastball – extra-quick hands. He got more base hits right over third base than any hitter I’ve ever seen.’’
Morneau laughed – as do all old teammates when talking about Ford – and said: “He was a very intelligent man. He could build a computer. The details of life were the hard part for him. I remember one road trip where he had a desktop computer with him, but he forgot to bring a toothbrush.
“Lew was one of those guys that every team needs … a character by nature. A.J. [Pierzynski] was tough on him, but guys like Michael Cuddyer and Mike Restovich, they had been with Lew longer and they swore by him.
“Cuddy would say, ‘In Lew’s world, this all makes sense.’ ’
Jim Frey died on Sunday at age 88. He was the second candidate along with interim Tom Kelly to be named Twins manager in the fall of 1986. I had a conversation with Andy MacPhail in Fort Myers – before the coronavirus shutdown – on the lobbying it took to convince owner Carl Pohlad to give the job to Kelly.
MacPhail was 33 and about to be put in official charge of the baseball operation as general manager. Pohlad was a believer in experience and was nervous about teaming a 33-year-old GM with Kelly, then 36.
“I finally won the argument, but it wasn’t easy,’’ MacPhail said.
Frey was given a chance to join the organization as an adviser – to both MacPhail and Kelly – but turned that down with a harrumph. Which worked out fine for him, since three weeks after the Twins announced their decisions, Frey was named as the replacement for the resigned Dallas Green as the Cubs’ general manager.
Frey had spent a decade (1970-79) as Earl Weaver’s hitting coach in Baltimore. George Bamberger was the pitching coach for much of that time. There lives no film of a staff meeting featuring those three (I would assume), and that’s a shame.
Weaver would rate no lower than a tie for first with two or three others as my all-time favorite baseball person. Earl drinking a beer in his undergarments and arguing strategy with ball writers such as Ken Nigro and Jim Henneman was more fun than two county fairs.
Earl never could be accused of failing to overmanage a first inning and one afternoon in Baltimore, the Twins were threatening immediately against an Orioles lefthander – Mike Flanagan, maybe Scottie McGregor.
Earl saw a 6-foot-2 African-American entering the right-handed box, and signaled for an intentional walk. After the count reached three balls, Jim Palmer, sitting in the dugout, said: “Earl, why are you walking Dan Ford, with Larry Hisle on deck?’’
Earl shot out of the dugout to call off the intentional walk, but Ford walked, and Hisle got a hit, and after the game, I went immediately to the O’s clubhouse to hear Weaver's view of that situation.
We walked in and, before hellos were exchanged, Weaver threatened all with violence if any wisecracks were made about his momentary inability to discern Ford from Hisle. Being among those cussed at by Earl in advance of a potential question remains a career highlight.
Billy Martin was a small, obnoxious, ump-baiting jerk. Earl Weaver was a small, obnoxious, ump-baiting charmer. I don’t know how that could be, but it just was.
And by all accounts, the hitting coach – Frey – was a prime branch in the Weaver coaching tree.
In his first year as a big-league manager in 1980, Frey got the Kansas City Royals to their first World Series. In his first year as the Cubs manager in 1984, he got them to the NLCS for the first postseason appearance since the 1945 World Series.
I was in the manager’s office a handful of times in Frey’s tenures with K.C. and the Cubs, but all of the good Frey yarns came second hand – including from Ned Colletti, great P.R. guy with Cubs, later a general manager of both the Giants and the Dodgers.
My favorite second-hand Frey-ism involved an earnest Chicago media member (a radio guy, in this telling) in the manager’s office after a young Doc Gooden had shoved his fastballs and curves down the Cubs’ throats.
“And how about his poise,’’ the radio guy said, in a declarative sentence.
“Poise,’’ Frey was said to sneer. “You’re not impressed with the fastball that comes in at 98, at the letters or the knees? You like his poise. The curveball that drops from the letters to the ankles … that’s not what you like. You like his poise.’’
In honor of Frey, some press box wags have been known to watch Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay or Roger Clemens handcuff the opposition, nod and say to the nearest scribe:
“How about that poise.’’