1967 Minnesota Twins
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1967 Minnesota Twins / Franchise: Minnesota Twins / BR Team Page
History, Comments, Contributions
The 1967 Minnesota Twins fell short in one of the greatest pennant races in baseball history. Having played in the 1965 World Series, and barely lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers then, and then having finished second to the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, the Twins were considered as the preseason favorites to win the pennant in 1967, after the young and talent-laden Orioles.
There was some tension on the club, however. The previous year's pitching coach, Johnny Sain, had been dismissed because he wanted sole and full control over the pitching staff and manager Sam Mele was reluctant to give it to him. When his services were not retained after the 1966 season, staff ace Jim Kaat wrote a critical letter which ran on page 1 of the Minneapolis Tribune defending Sain and blaming Mele for failing to make full use of his skills. The letter did not change anything, except undermine Mele's authority, and Early Wynn took over as pitching coach. The Twins started the season slowly, and on May 15th were 11-15, 7 1/2 games behind the Chicago White Sox. The Orioles were doing just as badly, and would never figure in the pennant race. Among the major culprits for the poor start were Kaat, who was 1-6, 6.66 at that point, and OF Tony Oliva, who was batting .183. In contrast, SS Zoilo Versalles was hitting .350 from the lead-off spot after a big drop-off in 1966 from his MVP season in 1965. That rebirth would not last, and Versalles would end the year at .200, with little other contribution at the plate.
The Twins had some very solid pitching though, notwithstanding Kaat's poor start, with Dean Chance, Dave Boswell, Jim Merritt, Mudcat Grant and Jim Perry all being quality starters, and Al Worthington and Ron Kline handling the bullpen chores. Another key player was 2B Rod Carew, promoted straight from Class A ball at the insistence of owner Calvin Griffith, who played so well that he got to start the 1967 All-Star Game. Cesar Tovar was moved to CF to accommodate Carew, but proved so versatile and useful that he played all over the field. And 1B Harmon Killebrew hit more homers than anyone during the 1960s and was the top power threat. The Twins made it back to .500 by mid-May, but got stuck there, costing Mele his job on June 8th. He was replaced by AAA manager Cal Ermer, who had had a lot of success in the minor leagues, but had only been in the majors for a very short stint as a player, and a single season as a coach. Still, by mid-July, the Twins were back in contention, along with four other teams - the White Sox, the Detroit Tigers, the California Angels and the Boston Red Sox, who were barely above .500, but had not been distanced as no team was able to take a commanding lead. The Red Sox soon put together a 10-game winning streak to close in on the leaders, while the Angels dropped behind the pace.
At the end of August, Boston was in front of Minnesota by half a game, with Detroit a game behind and Chicago a game and a half. The four teams would jockey for position over the final month of the season, but none of the four would either be able to build a lead, or fall behind the three others. The three other contenders did make moves to strengthen themselves during the season, especially the Red Sox who were able to overcome the beaning of star OF Tony Conigliaro by adding Ken Harrelson and others. The Twins, though, stood pat, even though they had two gaping holes in the line-up, at shortstop and catcher, neither position contributing any offense all year. Kaat and Oliva got hot, though, after their poor starts. Between them, Killebrew, Oliva and LF Bob Allison hit .317 with 17 homers in September, while Kaat went 7-0. With one week to go, all four teams were still bunched together. The White Sox were the first to be eliminated, on Friday, September 29th, with only the week-end games remaining. Minnesota was leading at that point, with a record of 91-69, a game ahead of Detroit at 89-69, and of Boston at 90-70; the Twins were playing the Red Sox at Fenway Park for their final two games, while the Tigers had to play a pair of doubleheaders against the Angels. The red-hot Kaat started the Saturday's game, but had to leave in the 3rd inning, with a 1-0 lead, when he heard something pop in his elbow. The unheralded Jose Santiago won the game for Boston, 6-4. Boston and Minnesota were now tied for first, with Detroit, who had split its first doubleheader with the Angels, half a game behind. On the Sunday, 20-game winner Dean Chance started for the Twins against Boston's ace, Jim Lonborg. The Twins scored a pair of unearned runs to take a 2-0 lead after 5 innings, but Lonborg initiated a rally with a bunt single to lead off the 6th, and a string of singles, some defensive miscues and a pair of wild pitches by Worthington featured in a nightmare five-run inning. The Tigers again split their doubleheader, Boston ended up 5-3 winners, and the Twins had fallen a game short of the "Impossible Dream".
Carew ended up with a team-leading .292 average and won the Rookie of the Year Award. Killebrew hit .269 with 44 homers, 113 RBI and 105 runs, Oliva hit .289 with 17 homers and 83 RBI, Allison hit .258 with 24 homers and 75 RBI, while Cesar Tovar hit .267 and scored 98 runs. On the downside, Versalles hit .200 with an OPS+ of 51, opening day C Earl Battey hit .165 and his main replacement, Jerry Zimmerman, hit .167. Kaat finished the year at 16-13, 3.04 and Chance at 20-14, 2.73; Jim Merritt was 13-7, 2.53 and Dave Boswell 14-12, 3.27. Worthington saved 16 games with a 2.84 ERA, while Kline was 7-1 with 5 saves in 54 games. Kaat, Chance and Boswell all topped 200 strikeouts, making the Twins the first-ever team to have three pitchers with 200 or more strikeouts; the 1969 Houston Astros and 2013 Detroit Tigers matched that feat and the 2018 Cleveland Indians became the first team to have four 200-K men on their staff.
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Rod Carew, Dean Chance, Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva
- AL Rookie of the Year Award: Rod Carew
- AL Comeback Player of the Year: Dean Chance
- AL Gold Glove: Jim Kaat (P)
- Topps All-Star Rookie Team: Rod Carew (2B)
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- Mark Armour: "Felled by the Impossible: The 1967 Minnesota Twins", in Daniel R. Leavitt, ed.: Short but Wondrous Summers: Baseball in the North Star State, The National Pastime, SABR, Number 42, 2012, pp. 76-80.
- Cameron Bright: The 1967 American League Pennant Race: Four Teams, Six Weeks, One Winner, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2018. ISBN 978-1-4766-7296-0
- Daniel R. Levitt: "A Surprising Disappointment: The Minnesota Twins of the Late 1960s", in Gregory H. Wolf, ed.: A Pennant for the Twin Cities: the 1965 Minnesota Twins, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 386-392. ISBN 978-1-943816-09-5