January 6, 2019

The day Catfish faced Mudcat and only 537 bothered to watch

Down the stretch the Twins came in 1965 as they closed in on 102 wins and the American League pennant. They would win the pennant by seven games when it was all over, yet late in the season they would, at times, struggle to fill Metropolitan Stadium with fans.

That was most evident on Sept. 20, 1965. Jim “Catfish” Hunter, pitching in his first season of major league baseball, would take the mound against another Jim: Jim “Mudcat” Grant of the Twins. Grant was poised to win 20 games, while Hunter was learning the game en route to a Hall of Fame career (Catfish would eventually win 20 or more games in five straight seasons).

Despite the pitching match up and a Twins team with 90-plus wins, fan turnout was abysmal, according to “Cool Of The Evening,” a book by Jim Thielman about those ’65 Twins.

It was 19-year-old Catfish against Mudcat, who was obviously the bigger attraction at the time. Far more exciting was the fact the Twins’ magic number was down to three, which meant any combination of wins by the Twins or losses by the (Chicago) White Sox that totaled three would result in the Twins’ winning their first pennant. Today, this would be a desirable game to attend in any big-league city, but in 1965 a paltry 537 patrons walked through the turnstiles in Bloomington.

Why so few? That’s left unexplained in the book; however, weather likely played a role. Baseball-Reference.com shows that it rained during the game, although the box score also shows they played nine innings. And it was relatively cold at 52 degrees. Weather in Minnesota in 1965 was terrible, according to Thielman’s book.

Fans had endured the state’s coldest March since the turn of the century and would soon be treated to the state’s coldest September in almost 100 years. Tornadoes in May and June caused $131 million in property damage.

Those few fans watched the Kansas City A’s beat the Twins, 8-2. Hunter improved to 7-6 by limiting the Twins to two runs over seven innings, while Grant, denied his 20th win, gave up four runs (three earned) over eight innings with six strikeouts. The Twins bullpen gave up four runs in the top of the ninth inning. The Twins fell to 96-56 after the loss, but would finish the season at 102-60. Grant would eventually win 21 games before the season was over, while Hunter finished at 8-8 in his rookie campaign.

Extra innings…

-Speculation had it that slugger and ex-Yankee prospect, Tyler Austin, would be let go to make room for Nelson Cruz on the Twins roster, but that was not the case. Instead, the Twins designated 6-foot-10, right-handed pitcher, Aaron Slegers, for assignment.

According to MLB Trade Rumors:

Slegers, a towering righty, stands at 6’10” and has pitched 29 innings for the Twins across the past two seasons but struggled to a 5.90 ERA in that time. Although Slegers hasn’t had much experience at the MLB level, he’s had quite a bit of success in Triple-A, where he’s pitched to a 3.54 ERA in 233 2/3 innings with 6.8 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and average or better ground-ball tendencies.

-This is my second time to read Thielman’s book. I didn’t care for it at first, but it’s a better read this time, probably because I’ve become more interested in the Twins.

-Despite the poor fan turnout on Sept. 20, 1965, and the season-long terrible weather, the Twins still led the American League in attendance that year at 1.46 million, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

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.