December 30, 2015

New Billy Martin biography sheds light on Martin’s time with Twins

When one thinks of Billy Martin, synonymous with the New York Yankees as a player and manager, this image doesn’t come to mind:

The Martins’ Richfield neighborhood had big, old maple trees and was close to the Twins’ ballpark in Bloomington. There was a backyard for Billy Joe — Gretchen called him B.J. — and there was a garden where Billy grew vegetables. The Twins coaches, and some of the Richfield neighbors, had a yearly contest to see who could grow the largest tomatoes.

Billy Martin participating in a yearly contest to grow the largest tomatoes? Wow. That’s not the famous/infamous Martin most of us remember, but that’s the picture that writer Bill Pennington paints of Martin and his time with the Twins. His book, published in 2015, is titled: “Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius.”

Billy_Martin_1954
Billy Martin

Flawed? Yes. Genius? Well, that’s up for debate. Pennington writes that Martin cut his managerial teeth with the Twins and wound up spending nearly a decade with the organization. It’s where Martin implemented his style of always keeping the other team off balance with bunts, the hit-and-run, the double steal, stealing the other team’s signs and stealing home.

Hall of Famer Rod Carew stole home seven times (the record is eight) for Martin and the Twins in the team’s AL West-winning year of 1969.

Martin’s playing career actually ended with the Twins in 1961. Martin turned down a three-year contract for $100,000 to play in Japan and became a scout for the Twins, followed by third-base coaching duties under manager Sam Mele. Before Martin became manager of the Twins in 1969, he spent a year leading the Denver Bears, the Twins’ Triple-A team.

As a scout, according to Pennington’s book, Martin pleaded with the team to sign James Alvin Palmer out of high school. But the deal went south because Jim Palmer wanted $50,000 to sign and Twins owner Calvin Griffith was never known for writing fat checks to anyone.

Talk about missed opportunities: Palmer, who spent his entire career with the Baltimore Orioles, won 268 games, including 20 or more wins in a season eight times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

When Martin was third-base coach for Mele in 1965 — the year the Twins met the Los Angeles Dodgers and Sandy Koufax in the World Series — Mele credits Martin for helping the team win 102 games that season.

“Billy was responsible for a lot of new energy,” Mele said.

Although Martin’s years with the Twins were relatively free of conflict, they weren’t perfect. And when Martin got in trouble, you could find him in a bar, sometimes drinking with other players.

In one incident, Martin, along with Twins Bob Allison and 20-game winner Dave Boswell, were downing a few drinks when Martin asked “Bozzy” about his refusal to follow another coach’s orders to run laps before a game.

Bozzy left to confront the other coach — the “little squealer,” he called him — but was stopped by Allison in an alley behind the bar. Bozzy punched out Allison and then Martin slugged Boswell.

When fighting a bigger opponent, Billy later explained, you have to get inside and close to him. Pulling on (the chain around Boswell’s neck) kept Boswell close. Finally, according to Billy, he punched Boswell in the face, which sent Boswell bouncing off the alley wall.

Reporters would later ask Billy what happened next:

“Well, when he came off the wall, I hit him again,” Martin said.

Even though the Twins won the AL West division in 1969, team owner Griffith had had enough of Martin and fired him — much to the displeasure of Twins fans.

Twins fans hung Griffith in effigy in downtown Minneapolis. The team received hundreds of phone calls. Don Cassidy of the Twins’ media relations staff said some fans “broke into tears” during the calls. The local Teamsters Union said it was organizing a boycott of Twins games in 1970.

Carew said the players were stunned:

“Who fires a guy who took a seventh-place team and turned it into a division winner?”

Photo credit: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

December 21, 2015

Former MLB pitcher Philip Humber turns 33 today. Happy birthday, Phil.

Despite winning only 16 games in eight seasons, Philip Humber, who happens to turn 33 today, will be remembered for throwing the 21st perfect game in Major League history. He accomplished that feat for the Chicago White Sox on April 21, 2012, beating the Seattle Mariners 4-0. Humber threw 96 pitches over nine innings and... Continue Reading »

December 16, 2015

Thirteen years ago this month the Twins released David Ortiz

All professional sports teams have their share of bad personnel moves: paying too much for a free agent, getting stuck on the wrong end of a bad trade or letting go of a player who becomes a much improved player elsewhere. Some teams (see the Seattle Mariners) struggle with their personnel moves more than other... Continue Reading »

December 13, 2015

Michael Cuddyer says farewell to playing baseball on The Players’ Tribune

After suddenly announcing his retirement, Michael Cuddyer, a former member of the Twins for 11 seasons, explained his decision Saturday on The Players’ Tribune. It’s a nice piece called “Play Hard and Dream Big” that touches on the game, his approach to it and the path to becoming a professional and professionalism — something the... Continue Reading »

December 12, 2015

Winter Meetings come and go for Twins with no deals; team loses relief pitcher Zack Jones to Rule 5 draft; Cuddyer retires

The Winter Meetings in Nashville have come and gone for the Twins with no deals, including the decision to pass on this year’s Rule 5 draft. The team, though, left relief pitcher Zack Jones unprotected and he was taken by the Milwaukee Brewers. Jones, according to MLB.com, was ranked as the Twins’ No. 23 prospect.... Continue Reading »

December 9, 2015

Report: Twins trying to trade pitcher Ricky Nolasco

Starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco, who has been a disappointment for the Twins, apparently is the subject of trade talks, according to the Pioneer Press. Trade destinations include the San Diego Padres for pitcher James Shields, or the Milwaukee Brewers for pitcher Matt Garza. That would make for an interesting swap because the Twins drafted Garza... Continue Reading »

December 7, 2015

Pitcher Mike Pelfrey, formerly with the Twins, signs $16M deal with Detroit Tigers

No tears were shed Sunday after pitcher Mike Pelfrey, formerly with the Twins, signed as a free agent with the Detroit Tigers, agreeing to $16 million over two seasons. I’m not going to go so far as to say good riddance, but he won’t be missed. Pelfrey struggled with the Twins the past three seasons,... Continue Reading »

December 5, 2015

Inquiring minds want to know: Which position will Miguel Sano play?

Soon after the Twins signed and introduced Korean slugger Byung Ho Park, the questions started. Chief among them: If Park plays DH, where do you put Miguel Sano? Sano, the 22-year-old slugger-in-the-making, who hit 18 home runs over 80 games for the Twins last season, stands six-foot-four and weighs around 260 pounds. That’s probably perfect... Continue Reading »

December 2, 2015

Twins strike deal with Korean slugger Byung Ho Park

Well, that was fast. Two days after Korean slugger Byung Ho Park arrived in Minnesota, the Twins and Park have a deal, with Park agreeing to a four-year, $12 million contract, with a club option for 2020, according to MLB.com. All Park has to do now is live up to his end of the bargain... Continue Reading »

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.