Cool of the Evening: The 1965 Minnesota Twins

A very good year

From the Saint Paul Pioneer Press

Saturday August 20, 2005

BY JASON WILLIAMS
Pioneer Press

The Twins are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their first American League championship team. This weekend, the organization will hold a reunion for 1965 team members, who will be recognized during a pregame ceremony tonight at the Metrodome.

Minnesota native and former newspaper reporter Jim Thielman reflected on Minnesota's first World Series team in his book, "Cool of the Evening" (Kirk House Publishers), which was released in January. At age 11, Thielman saw his first big-league baseball game during the summer of 1965 at Metropolitan Stadium. He received Tony Oliva's autograph after tracking down the star outfielder in the parking lot.

In "Cool of the Evening," Thielman captures the players' relationships and personalities, and he chronicles the on- and off-the-field aspect of the World Series, which the Twins lost in seven games to the Sandy Koufax-led Los Angeles Dodgers.

Here is what Thielman has to say about the book and the team:

Q What prompted you to write the book?

A I thought it was curious that after four decades, no one had bothered to put this season down on paper. A little research indicated there were clearly stories to be told, but some folks advised me the Twins lacked national appeal and thus it wouldn't sell like a book on the Yankees. That's OK. There have been enough books on the Yankees.

Q So what's up with the title, "Cool of the Evening?"

A It's an old baseball line, where players in the days before air travel would reflect on their game in the cool of the evening on a porch, or on a train. The Twins clinched the pennant early enough to reflect on that fine season. Also, '65 was a very chilly summer, so fans outdoors at Met Stadium witnessed games in the cool of the evening, and often in the cool, wet, wind of the evening.

Q You wrote that 4,000 fans gathered at the airport on a cold and rainy late September day, awaiting the team's return to the Twin Cities after clinching the American League championship during an East Coast road trip. How did the fans take to that team?

A They could not get enough of the team, because after four years in Minnesota the World Series was on its way, and Minnesota could boast that it wasn't just a big-league state, but that it was a championship big-league state.

Q I found this amusing regarding what you wrote about the celebration: "In the continuing display of one-upmanship, Saint Paul managed to sneak two bands into the celebration, even though it had been agreed there would be one from Minneapolis and one from Saint Paul." Was there a battle between the cities for ownership of this great team?

A Constantly. There were arguments over celebrations and parades. Saint Paul one-upped Minneapolis and got the Dodgers to stay in the Saint Paul Hotel free of charge. When the Twins announced applications for World Series tickets had to be postmarked after midnight September 15, people on the Minneapolis side of the river lined up in the rain to drop their applications in the mail. Saint Paul officials played it smarter: They established a special box for ticket applications, and anything deposited in that box would be held until September 15.

Q In making appearances to promote the book, have you heard any stories about what this team meant to the fans and to Minnesota?

A It seems that everyone who was 6 or older in 1965 has a story. One of the more poignant ones came from a guy in Iowa who indicated his childhood was troubled, but when he sat in his grandparents' car in the driveway and listened to the Twins on the radio all that trouble melted a bit. Some of the people can't get the words out fast enough when talking about the players, and it's a little odd to see their eyes light up when they talk. I mean, it has been 40 years. That's a very long time to cherish something almost as if it were still new.

Q You mentioned Vietnam. You talked about ace pitcher Jim "Mudcat" Grant's issues with having spring training in Orlando, Fla., with all the racial tension. At least for Minnesotans, was this team a diversion to what was going on in the country?

A There was as much bad news in the paper back then as there is today. In addition to the war and racial unrest, Minnesota had been hit by snowstorms followed by flooding and tornadoes. In terms of financial and human cost, 1965 is still considered the worst weather year on record in Minnesota. The Twins won games from the start of the season, so they became a welcome diversion. If you had a son in Vietnam or your house had been reduced to kindling it was certainly trying, but eventually people look for good news, and the Twins brought it daily.

Q On the back cover of the book, there is a quote from Tony Oliva: "There was no jealousy on that team. If you failed, there was always someone there to pick you up." But this team had some internal issues. You mentioned shortstop Zoilo Versalles' verbal squabble with manager Sam Mele during a spring training game. You wrote about Grant's taking issue with the organization for showing favoritism toward Bob Allison and Harmon Killebrew. However, these problems never seemed to cause lasting clubhouse dissension. So how much did team chemistry have to do with the Twins' success?

A These were pretty bright men, many of whom went on to great business successes, and a lot of them liked to lead. Yet Harmon Killebrew set the tone as a guy who didn't get too high or low. They also had opinionated men such as Bob Allison. But Bob told me years ago that this '65 team had just a great blend of personalities. Frank Quilici indicated when this amount of strong-willed talent ends up in one clubhouse there are usually some major eruptions, but these guys managed to either avoid them or iron them out. Dick Stigman told me if one guy was sitting in a hotel lobby and three others came by, that man was always invited to come along. Instead of the old "25 guys and 25 cabs," it was more like 25 guys and a bus.

Q You wrote in-depth about Versalles early in the book, chapter 3. Was this because he always seems to get lost in the conversation about this team, despite being the American League MVP?

A People think of this team as Allison and Killebrew, but in reality both were hurt for a good part of the season. Zoilo and Tony Oliva truly did hold that team together offensively. Versalles does become a forgotten man because that was really his last fine season and because he was kind of a mercurial character. His life story is certainly one of the more — if not the most — colorful of the team members. He and Tony both had difficult lives as Cuban natives who could not return home. I thought this was a crucial part of the story.

Q You call Grant a "sparkling extrovert." You mention his nightclub act, "Mudcat and the Kittens," and his feats during the season (21 victories) and in the World Series, where he had a 2-1 record with two complete games, a 2.74 earned-run average, a three-run home run, and became the first black American League pitcher to win a Series game. Besides being overshadowed by Sandy Koufax's phenomenal World Series, do you think Mudcat's accomplishments were lost on some people because he is black?

A I think his efforts are lost in part because of Sandy Koufax. They only awarded one Cy Young at the time, and Koufax won it in '65 and '66. If there had been one in each league, Mudcat would have been the American League winner in '65 and Jim Kaat in '66. Mudcat also made the mistake of spending most of his career in Cleveland, Minnesota, Oakland and Pittsburgh. Hardly media centers. I'd argue Mud was better than Al Downing, but people recall Downing because he played for the Yankees, and because he gave up Hank Aaron's 715th home run as a Dodger.

Q You didn't talk to outfielder Jimmie Hall for the book. He's not scheduled to attend this weekend's reunion. What is the deal with him?

A I was certain I'd track him down, but I ran out of time. Anecdotes and published stories about him paint him as a quiet man, and some may have perceived him as "funny." Yet as former Twins first baseman Vic Power once said, "But then, we're all a little funny." Based on my research, baseball was a job to Jim. I encountered quotes where he stated that once he left baseball you would not see him at the yard again. He's been true to his word. He's not the only baseball player from those low-salary days who viewed the game as just another job he had.  

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Cool of the Evening: The 1965 Minnesota Twins