Despite his slight frame (generously 5-foot-10, 160 pounds) and his constant
complaints about aches and pains, Zoilo Versalles had missed only 10
games in four seasons when the 1965 regular-season ended.
Statistically, 1965 was a mixed bag for Versalles, and in recent years those
who scrutinize numbers have suggested he did not deserve to win the 1965 Most
Valuable Player award.
Versalles led the league in total bases, doubles and runs scored. He won a
Gold Glove. He was third in the league in stolen bases. But he struck out more
than 100 times and some argued the numbers of teammate Tony Oliva, among others, were more
impressive. Detractors have cited that Versalles' "Total Player
Ranking" from reference book Total Baseball and his "adjusted
OPS" were not among the top five in the league, and that his career Win
Shares are the lowest of any MVP.
But as the season had progressed, opposing managers and players began to
mention Versalles was having an MVP season.
Researching an era or epoch to see how it was, reading what people of the
era did and said at the time, rather than cast a revisionist layer over it, is
an approach to studying history that was introduced around 1800. Applying this
research to baseball is preferable to creating designer metrics in an attempt
to ascertain how it was.
Some fans have done that in regard to Versalles, and printed their
conclusions in books and on Web sites, stating Versalles was undeserving.
Facts suggest otherwise.
A thorough review of Versalles' season -- what he did during games, what
managers and other players said at the time, not years later, shows that
becoming an MVP is more than just piling numbers high. By August of '65,
Versalles' play had created MVP buzz within the game. This buzz occurred
despite Oliva's powerful second-half offensive performance.
If players on championship teams are given stronger consideration for the
award, and if MVP really means the player who had the most impact on his team,
then Versalles remains the easy choice, as you will learn in Cool of the
A U.S. pro as a teen
Versalles had played U.S. pro ball as a teen against men much
older than he. Years of wear piled onto his slight frame at an early age, and
took its toll. This helps to explain why 1965 was his last great season.
By July of 1966, he was treated for a hematoma in his back and missed a
couple weeks' play. That was the start of lifelong back problems. Those back
problems continued after he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in November
Versalles never grew accustomed to baseball life after the Twins, and in the
off-season of '68 held strong hope he would return to Minnesota. He even worked
for the team in the off-season.
He never did play for the Twins again, and after his baseball career drove
truck and worked as an airline baggage handler.
By 1982, he was unable to work because of his back problems. He was 43, and
petitioned to have access to his Major League Baseball pension, but baseball's
collective bargaining agreement prohibited that before age 45.
At 45, Versalles was given about $13,500 annually.
He died in his Bloomington, Minnesota home at age 55.
In 2006, Zoilo Versalles became the 16th member of the Twins' Hall of Fame.