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3 baseball players with birthday cakes

Rich Rollins, Bernie Allen and Garry Roggenburk

Bernie Allen

Most college seniors who sign pro baseball contracts today spend a few years in the minor leagues. Bernie Allen spent 80 games there before having a solid rookie season in 1962 at age 23.

Allen was a reluctant star quarterback for Purdue University - reluctant in that he didn't like football. With six kids in the Allen family, he figured when the Boilermakers offered him a scholarship that it was his best chance to get a college education.

Despite being slightly built, even for a 1950s college football player, he survived the Big 10 to sign a big-league baseball contract for $50,000, and then spent just one season at minor league Charlotte before bumping aside Billy Martin to take the Twins' second base job in 1962. He started 159 games and committed just 13 errors.

Allen's first major league hit was a run-scoring triple, and he went on to hit 12 home runs, which at the time was a club record for second basemen. That rookie season suggested that the Twins had found a man who might anchor that position for a while.

It had been a struggle for club owner Calvin Griffith to find a decent second baseman dating back to World War II -- before Griffith moved his franchise from Washington to Minnesota.

Allen's next season was more the struggle to be expected of a man with about 850 pro at-bats under his belt, and he was batting a Nick Punto-like .198 in late August of '63 before batting .321 in the last six weeks of the season.

Unfortunately, that was close to the high point for Allen's career in Minnesota. In 1964, shortstop Zoilo Versalles made a languid throw to Allen on a double-play ground ball. Allen hung in at second base as Don Zimmer rolled through Allen's legs.

Allen injured the knee in June, but didn't have surgery until October because the doctor Griffith allowed to examine the knee said Allen did not need surgery.

Foots his own bills

Allen ended up paying his own way on four round-trips to Oklahoma City for examination and surgery by Dr. Don O'Donoghue, a specialist Allen chose after carefully investigating orthopedic surgeons. O'Donoghue was the Iowa native who pioneered knee surgery on athletes such as Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, Jim Plunkett, Willis Reed and Earl Monroe.

The surgeon told Allen he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament, which had subsequently shriveled. The leg could be repaired, but the initial thought was Allen's career might be over.

Claiming he was too dumb to listen to the doom, Allen worked hard immediately after his surgery to find his way back. He played both second and third base for the '65 Twins, but the knee hampered him. Allen ultimately finished his career in Montreal in 1973, which is not how people in the '60s thought it would end. About two-thirds of his career games came after he was told his career was over.

Allen credited pitching coach John Sain with pointing him down the path to positive thinking, which Allen maintained helped him during his recovery.

Sain recognized that Allen was struggling with the injury and was feeling he was no longer part of the team. Sain provided Allen with books on positive thinking, and kept insisting to Allen that the mind controls the body. Allen listened, agreed, and fought for his career.

Allen was an intelligent man who even served as an assistant coach at Purdue during the winter of 1963 while he finished his college degree.


Where are the 1965 Minnesota Twins?

 


Bernie Allen was born April 16, 1939 in East Liverpool, Ohio. Teammates Garry Roggenburk and Rich Rollins were also born on April 16.


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