April 19, 2020

The day Ex-Twin Baron von Mitterwald hit 3 home runs, plus a sad footnote

Catcher George Mitterwald, whose nickname was “Baron von Mitterwald,” spent seven seasons with the Twins before he was traded to the Chicago Cubs prior to the 1974 season. And the new season got off to an auspicious start after the Baron slugged three home runs with eight RBI on April 17.

The Cubs blasted the Pittsburgh Pirates that afternoon at Wrigley Field, making quick work of journeyman pitcher, Jerry Reuss, who served up 10 runs, all earned, over two innings. He was lifted for a reliever for an inning, then Pirates manager, Danny Murtaugh, handed the ball to Steve Blass.

Blass, a former starter, won 19 games for the Bucs in 1972 and a World Series in 1971. He won more than 100 games over his 10-year career, all of it spent with the Pirates. But after the 1972 season, Blass suddenly could not throw strikes. His predicament was captured poignantly by baseball writer, Roger Angell, in a story called “Gone for Good.”

Baseball-Reference.com data show that for most of Blass’s career, he walked around three batters per nine innings. But in 1973, it ballooned to eight walks per nine innings. After winning 19 games in 1972, Blass fell to 3-9 in 1973.

Angell writes:

“Of all the mysteries that surround the Steve Blass story, perhaps the most mysterious is the fact that his collapse is unique. There is no other player in recent baseball — at least none with Blass’s record and credentials — who has lost his form in such a sudden and devastating fashion and been totally unable to recover.”

But there he was on April 17, 1974, getting the ball from his manager to face the Cubs. The Baron connected for two home runs off Reuss, then added a third against Blass. His ability to throw strikes really was gone for good. Blass would go on to walk seven batters over five innings and the Cubs won big, 18-9. It would be Blass’s final major league appearance.

Despite the score, the Pirates did not go quietly, banging out 16 hits in the loss. And the Cubs left starter Burt Hooton in the game to give up all of them. Here’s a pitching line you don’t see anymore: he went nine innings and allowed nine runs (five earned) on 16 hits with a walk, seven strikeouts and he gave up three home runs.

And yet Hooton picked up win No. 1 of the 1974 season.

I doubt the modern game, or whatever it is they play today, would have allowed Hooton to go the distance after giving up that many hits.


Hi, I’m Rolf Boone, Twins fan.

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.