There I was again: All set to write about a new Twins discovery (at least for me) when I came across another Twins item that was equally new but also deeply disconcerting.
The initial discovery was about Twins Hall of Fame player Kirby Puckett and the two times he played in the infield. Puckett was otherwise long associated with center field for the team. If this is somehow in doubt, please see highlights of the 1991 World Series, Game 6 to be exact.
Puckett first played the infield for the Twins on Aug. 16, 1990, which led me to check how the Minnesota paper of record covered the game. As I scrolled my way to a game story, I came across an anniversary story of sorts about the 1965 pennant-winning Twins and how a number of former players from that team were not doing so well, perhaps none more worse off than Zoilo Versalles, the ’65 American League MVP.
“I’ve been through hell,” Versalles told the Star Tribune. “What the hell is next, I don’t know.”
His troubles, he said, began in 1968 when he injured a foot while trying to leg out a grounder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Pain led to prescription drug use, which led to massive stomach ulcers — ulcers so bad that most of his stomach would eventually be removed, according to the story.
At the time the story was published, Versalles said he hadn’t worked in six years, and was living off a baseball pension, Social Security and a worker’s compensation settlement after he hurt his back while employed by Northwest Airlines.
His major league career ended at 31. He played baseball in Mexico, then returned to Minnesota where he worked a variety of minimum wage jobs as his health deteriorated. In addition to stomach ulcers, he also had back surgery and suffered two heart attacks.
“I have no education at all and that is a big lack,” said Versalles, who joined the Washington Senators at 17. “I’m just a kid they took out of the jungle (Versalles was from Cuba) and put in a uniform because I could play baseball.”
Five years after that story Versalles would die at 55.
I was pretty shocked by what I read and it made me think about the current labor negotiations between major league baseball and the players’ association. It’s easy to be cynical about millionaire players arguing with billionaire owners, but Versalles’ story is a reminder that collective bargaining certainly had its place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Perhaps if those improved labor conditions had been won earlier, the Versalles story might have had a different outcome.
-Back to Puckett: On Aug. 16, 1990, in a 7-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians, he played in right field, then at shortstop, third base, second base and went 2-for-5 at the plate.
-On Sept. 10, 1995, his final season of major league baseball, Puckett was the DH, then he played at second base, shortstop, third base and second base again in a 9-8, 10-inning win over the California Angels. He went 2-for-6 at the plate, including a double, and drove in three runs. He was hitting .319.
-Puckett committed no errors in his two appearances in the infield.
8/16/90: The day Kirby played the infield…he did it again on 9/10/95. pic.twitter.com/0Yj2mXZ7JR
— Jeff (@MNTwinsZealot) February 6, 2022
-One final note: If you read this blog, thanks for your patience. This site was down for about 10 days. My host helped, but he finally referred me to another expert who got it up and running. Thanks to all of those who were involved.