After a weekend of snow, this seems fitting: writing about a Twins’ opening day that nearly didn’t happen because of terrible spring weather. In the end, the Twins won in extra-innings over their arch-rival and would embark on a history-making season. MLB.com selected this game as one of the top five opening day games in the team’s history.
The weather was awful in Minnesota in 1965. Forty-inches of precipitation fell from the skies, a blizzard hit the state in March and then all of it combined to melt and flood the area, including near Metropolitan Stadium, the home of the Twins. It would get worse: tornadoes would damage the area in May and June to the tune of $131 million.
That’s according to Jim Thielman, author of “Cool of the Evening,” a 2005 book about the 1965 Twins. Thielman used that backdrop to inform the opening graf to his book. It’s a good one.
Hope had gone limp. A dirty crust of snow smothered the grass at Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium weeks before the 1965 baseball season. The dugouts were filled with two feet of ice. A St. Patrick’s Day blizzard had marooned parts of the state in 25-foot snowdrifts, with a promise of more jeweled flakes to come. It would take hours of work and moments of prayer in the reluctant spring to make the field south of Minneapolis and Saint Paul playable for April’s baseball season opener against the defending American League champion New York Yankees.
So the stage was set for baseball on April 12, 1965. Pitcher Jim Kaat, one of several players who had to be flown by helicopter to the ballpark because of area flooding, took the mound for the Twins, while the Yanks countered with their own Jim: Jim Bouton, best known now as the author of Ball Four.*
It was still cold. The game time temperature was 44 degrees, according to Baseball-Reference.com, but with the wind blowing out to right field at 18 miles per hour, the wind chill felt like 36 degrees.
Neither starting pitcher would figure in the decision. The Twins scored four runs early, the Yanks scored four runs late and the two teams were tied going into extra-innings. The Twins untied it after rookie Cesar Tovar singled to center in the 11th for the 5-4 Twins win. The losing pitcher was none other than old friend, Pedro Ramos, the ex-Twin who shut out the Yankees in the Twins’ very first game as a new franchise. By ’65, Ramos was no longer a starter and was in the bullpen for the Yanks. He would go on to record 18 saves that season.
As for the Twins, they rolled through the American League en route to a 102-60 record and an appearance in the World Series opposite the Los Angeles Dodgers. How dominant were the Twins in 1965? They were 13-5 versus the Yankees, 15-3 against the Washington Senators and an incredible 17-1 versus the Boston Red Sox, a team that lost 100 games that season.
The Twins had a winning record against seven of the nine other American League teams. They were 9-9 versus the California Angels and 7-11 against the Cleveland Indians, partly because of pitcher “Sudden” Sam McDowell, who won 17 games that season and struck out a career high 325 batters.
McDowell blew away the Twins on Aug. 14, striking out 11 over nine innings. He allowed only three hits in the 3-1 Tribe win.
*Bouton’s Ball Four is one of the most overrated books about baseball I’ve ever read, despite its near universal acclaim. I don’t get it. I found the behind-the-scene insights to be tame and his life largely a snooze after he retired from the game. A much better and funnier read along the lines of what Bouton tried to unearth is “Seasons in Hell” by Mike Shropshire.