June 23, 2018

The first designated hitter to hit a home run? The Twins’ Tony Oliva

I experienced a moment of serendipity Friday at the local thrift store, of all places. I was perusing used books when I came across the following: “Baseball: A doubleheader collection of facts, feats and firsts,” which was compiled by editors of The Sporting News and published in 1993.

The book fell open to a bookmarked page. The bookmark? A Kirby Puckett baseball card. And the page? Page 341, which explained more about Tony Oliva and his accomplishment on April 6, 1973. The designated hitter rule was introduced to the American League that year and the Twins played a season-opening game at Oakland on that date in April. Oliva was the DH that night and he hit a two-run home run off Catfish Hunter en route to an 8-3 win for the Twins. Oliva finished 2-for-4 and drove in three runs.

I had no idea that Oliva was the first DH to hit a home run.

Other discoveries:

-Twins’ infielder Cesar Tovar was the second player in major league history to play all nine positions, including pitcher, in one game on Sept. 22, 1968. The Twins beat the Oakland A’s 2-1. The first player to do it was Bert Campaneris of the Kansas City A’s on Sept. 8, 1965.

-The 1967 Twins were the first team to have three pitchers with 200 or more strikeouts. Dean Chance struck out 220, Jim Kaat 211 and Dave Boswell 204.

-The original Washington Senators, and the forerunners of the Twins, played their last game on Oct. 2, 1960. Pitcher Pedro Ramos took the loss for the Senators, but six months later Ramos was the opening-day starter for the Twins against the New York Yankees in April 1961. Ramos went the distance and pitched a three-hit shutout to beat the Yanks, 6-0.

Extra innings…

-It’s nice to be able to write about the Twins and not have to focus on the 2018 team. In brief, the Twins failed to sweep the Boston Red Sox on Thursday and now they have a two-game losing streak on their hands after they were blown out 8-1 by the Texas Rangers on Friday.

-Jake Odorizzi gets the ball Saturday.

-Oliva played his entire 15-year career with the Twins. Despite frequently being injured, Oliva hit .304, with nearly 2,000 hits and 220 home runs. He was the 1964 Rookie of the Year. Tovar spent eight of his 12-year career with the Twins. Tovar hit .278, collected 1,500 hits and stole 226 bases.

-Chance played three of his 11-year career with the Twins. In 1967, he went 20-14 with a 2.73 ERA and those aforementioned 220 strikeouts. In 1964, he won the Cy Young award with the Angels. Kaat spent 15 of his 25-year career with the Twins. He finished with 283 wins and 16 gold glove awards. Boswell pitched eight seasons, seven of them with the Twins. In 1969, he went 20-12 with a 3.23 ERA.

The baseball card…

and the book.

 

COMMENTS

Hi, I’m Rolf Boone and I love the Twins.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.