John Joseph Sevcik may have only 12 major-league games on his baseball résumé but those 12 games took place in 1965 when the Minnesota Twins won the American League pennant by winning a franchise-record 102 games and advanced to the World Series. The Twins lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games, and Sevcik did not get to play in any of them, but he witnessed history first-hand and has an American League championship ring to prove it.
John and his twin brother, Jim, were born in Oak Park, Illinois, a village about 15 minutes west of Chicago, on July 11, 1942, to hard-working parents Joseph and Helen Sevcik. Jim is technically John’s older brother as he was born 20 minutes earlier. They also had a younger sister, Janet, who was born five years later.
Joseph Sevcik, of Czechoslovak heritage, worked for the Burton-Dixie Corporation, a bedding company, and attended law school at night. After earning his law degree, Sevcik entered politics and served in the Illinois legislature as a state representative from 1966 to 1977, when at the age of 61 he died suddenly of a heart attack while battling lung cancer. Helen (Urban) Sevcik, of Lithuanian ancestry, worked for Sears Roebuck until John and Jim were born and then she became a full-time homemaker. She died at 62 of pancreatic cancer a year after her husband died.
Although he was born in Oak Park, John and his family lived in Chicago. When he was about 7 or 8 the family of five moved from Chicago to the city of Berwyn, about 10 miles west of Chicago.
John spent his first two years of high school at Morton East High School in Cicero, and then attended Morton West High School in Berwyn when it opened in 1958. Morton West had an enrollment of more than 2,300 students, so its varsity athletic programs had plenty of good players to choose from. John became the starting catcher on the baseball team as a sophomore and was a starter at tackle on the football team his junior and senior years. Twin brother Jim was the starting shortstop as a sophomore on the baseball team and a starting end on the football team as a junior and senior. After his senior season, John was picked to the Illinois all-state team as a tackle and was a scholastic All-American.
John and Jim grew up in Big Ten country and the brothers knew that they wanted to play football and baseball together in the Big Ten. They were recruited to play football by Big Ten universities like Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Indiana as well as Arizona, Florida, Colorado, Missouri, and Vanderbilt. It was important to John and Jim that they stay fairly close to home so that their parents could watch them play. One of the problems they faced if they selected a Big Ten school was that the Big Ten had a grant-in-aid program meaning that how well off you were financially would determine how big a scholarship you would be given. Outside of the Big Ten it was pretty much a full-ride scholarship. After numerous trips the boys still had not made a choice on what school they would attend.
When the John and Jim went out on recruiting trips, the instructions from their father were always the same: Look, learn about the school, ask questions, but don’t sign anything until you come home and we can discuss the trip. On a recruiting trip to Colorado the brothers were wined, dined, taken skiing, and set up with dates before meeting with coach Sonny Grandelius for the final pitch. Grandelius pressured them to sign with Colorado but John and Jim knew the rules they were operating under. However, when Grandelius promised them everything under the sun and told them that their parents would be provided transportation and lodging for all their games, the boys relented and agreed that Colorado was the place for them. Joseph Sevcik picked the boys up at the airport and as they drove home he asked them about the trip. After telling him about how great a school Colorado was and how well the Colorado program takes care of the parents, the boys blurted out that they had signed with Colorado. What happened next, according to John, went like this: Their father couldn’t stop the car fast enough and he told them, “Geez! If they are going to do this for you guys, what do you think they are doing for the really good ballplayers, you dummies!”1
Joseph Sevcik was convinced that what Colorado was doing was illegal and he told the school that he would not co-sign the agreement. He could not have been more correct; shortly after Colorado lost the 1962 Orange Bowl, rumors started circulating that Grandelius used a slush fund to pay players and their families. The NCAA investigated Colorado and in April of 1962 the school was put on two years’ probation and Grandelius was fired.
John and Jim ended up attending the University of Missouri from 1960 to 1964, and they both played baseball and football from 1962 to 1964. John took over as the starting catcher about midway through his sophomore year. (At the time, freshmen were not allowed to play.) The Missouri Tigers went to the College World Series each year John played. In 1964 they lost the championship game 5-1 to Minnesota after having beaten the Golden Gophers 4-1 earlier in the tournament. The Tigers have not been to a CWS since 1964.
Within days after the 1964 College World Series, seven players from the Missouri squad signed professional baseball contracts. Five of them, including John and Jim, were signed by scout Bill Messman of the Minnesota Twins. Messman scouted for the Twins from 1959 to 1984, signing players like Gary Gaetti, Graig Nettles, and Tim Laudner, before he died in 1984. John and Jim received $10,000 signing bonuses from Minnesota and were assigned to the rookie league in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Before even appearing in a rookie-league game, John was sent to play for the Wisconsin Rapids Twins in the Class A Midwest League. There he appeared in 59 games and hit .284 with 14 doubles in 240 plate appearances. The team finished with a 50-71 record and the only other player on that team besides John who reached the major leagues was outfielder Pat Kelly, who played in the majors for 15 seasons with five different teams.
After Wisconsin Rapids ended its season, John and Glenda Lea Klipstein were married in Bismarck, North Dakota. They had met when he was attending Missouri and she was attending nearby Stephens College. Not too long after the wedding, Sevcik was off to play in the Florida Instructional League in the fall of 1964.
Because of the bonus signing rules at the time, players who got a bonus of $8,000 or more had to be placed on their team’s 40-man roster or be exposed to waivers or the Rule 5 draft as a first-year minor-league player. After the 1964 draft, the club owners did away with the first-year draft, but it still applied to first-year players selected in 1964. Rather than expose Sevcik to waivers, the Twins kept him on the roster.2 Manager Sam Mele already had catchers Earl Battey and Jerry Zimmerman and had to find a spot for Sevcik.
It was almost two weeks into the 1965 season before Sevcik saw his first major-league action. The Twins started the season with a 6-1 record and were in Detroit on April 24. After eight innings the Twins were losing 3-2, but they pushed two runs across in the top of the ninth for a 4-3 lead. Mele brought in Jerry Fosnow to close out the game and Sevcik to catch. The first Tigers batter, Willie Horton, hit a home run to tie the game. Bill Freehan grounded out and Dick McAuliffe walked and stole second before Larry Sherry struck out for the second out of the inning. When Fosnow walked Jerry Lumpe, the Twins manager had seen enough and called for the veteran Al Worthington. The Tigers countered with Gates Brown to pinch-hit for Don Wert. Brown hit a walk-off three-run homer and Sevcik and the Twins were 7-4 losers.
Sevcik did not play in his next game until May 31, the second game of a doubleheader against the Orioles in Baltimore, game 42 on the Twins’ schedule. He was the starting catcher and batted eighth in the Twins’ power-laden lineup. In his first plate appearance in the big leagues, against future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, Sevcik grounded out to the second baseman; in his second he coaxed a walk from Palmer and eventually scored what turned out to be the only run of his big-league career. In his third and final plate appearance in the game, he was struck out by Dick Hall. The Twins lost, 5-4, when Sam Bowens hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
As the Twins’ march to the 1965 pennant continued, Sevcik spent most of his time in the bullpen, playing briefly in six games in June, one in July, and then none in August. Asked if he went to Mele to request more playing time, he said, “If an especially tough pitcher was slated to pitch against us that day like a Sam McDowell, Whitey Ford, or Dean Chance, I would ask Mele during batting practice if I was in the lineup that day because I knew we needed a win! He would just laugh and walk away.”3 In his book Cool of the Evening, Jim Thielman wrote, “In early August, 23-year-old John Sevcik sat in the bullpen under the scoreboard in right-center field at Met Stadium. He hadn’t played in well over a month. The Twins-O-Gram, the portion of the electronic scoreboard that conveyed messages to fans, paid homage to the catcher with the lighted display: ‘Sevcik is here, sittin’ and a watchin’ and a waitin’.”4
When the calendar turned to September, the rookie Sevcik had played in only nine games, none since a brief appearance on July 10, and was 0-for-7. With the pennant wrapped up in late September, Sam Mele rested his regulars and Sevcik finally got his chance to play. He was the starting catcher against the Orioles on September 28 and on that day in Memorial Stadium got his only major-league base hit, a double to left field off Wally Bunker in the Twins’ 158th game of the season. Pitcher Jim Perry followed with a hit to left but Sevcik was thrown out at the plate on a strong throw from Curt Blefary. On October 3 at Met Stadium the Twins played their final game of the regular season and beat the California Angels, 3-2. Sevcik pinch-hit for pitcher Dave Boswell in the fourth inning and stayed in to catch the rest of the game. He didn’t get a hit in his final big-league game but he finally had a chance to walk off the field as a winner — in all his previous 11 games, the Twins had lost every time.
Sevcik did not get into any of the seven World Series games; as during most of the season, he witnessed Minnesota Twins history from the bullpen.
In 1966 Sevcik went to spring training with the Twins but did not make the team and spent the season gaining experience in the Double-A Southern League, starting at catcher for the Charlotte Hornets. He played in 94 games and hit .232 with three home runs.
In 1967 Sevcik once again was a Twins spring-training invitee but ended up getting farmed out to the Wilson Tobs of the Class A Carolina League, where he hit .286 with seven home runs in 262 at-bats as the starting catcher. Jim Sevcik was also on the Wilson team. This was the second time the Sevcik twins played on the same team in pro baseball; they were also teammates on the 1964 Wisconsin Rapids team.
John told a funny story about twins being twins.5 One particularly hot day the Tobs were playing a doubleheader and John had caught the first game, switched into a clean, dry uniform and was in the bullpen for the second game. As the game progressed, Jim, who was playing left field, decided that, since he did not expect to hit, he would conserve some energy and just sit in the bullpen instead of running back to the dugout when the half-inning ended. Jim was complaining about how beastly hot it was when some of the players in the bullpen decided that the Twins should switch uniforms and that John should play left field for the next half-inning. Just go out there and stand around, no one will probably hit anything to you anyway, they said. So they did, and the second batter hit a single to left, but as John told the story, he turned the single into a triple. As he hustled after the ball the players bullpen were roaring and Tobs manager Vern Morgan didn’t have a clue as to what was going on.
Later in 1967 John Sevcik was moved up to Triple-A Denver, where he hit .270 in 10 games. As it turned out, that was also the last time the Sevcik twins played together. After four seasons of pro ball and still in Class A, Jim decided that his dreams of reaching the major leagues were not going to materialize and that it was time to get a real job.
In 1968 John Sevcik was invited to spring training but had to miss a good portion of training camp because if his commitment to the US Army. He served in the Army Reserve from 1967 to 1973 and had to take time off from baseball each season to fulfill his active-duty commitments. He ended up getting sent back to Double-A Charlotte, where he again was the starting catcher, hitting a respectable .260.
Sevcik spent the 1969 season with Triple-A Denver, where he shared the catching duties and played in just 54 games, hitting .265. In 1970, still unable to find a catching spot on a very strong Twins team, Sevcik again was sent down to Triple-A after spring training. That season the Twins’ Triple-A team was the American Association Evansville Triplets, where Sevcik again shared catching duties but hit a strong .281 with a very respectable .345 on-base percentage and earned a spot on the 1970 American Association all-star team.
The spring of 1971 found Sevcik with no invite to the Twins’ spring training and another ticket to Triple-A, the fourth time he would play Triple-A baseball, this time in the Pacific Coast League with the Portland Beavers. Sevcik again was splitting catching duties when he was called into manager Ralph Rowe’s office late in the season. When the office door closed the first thing that crossed his mind was “Here it is, time for the pink slip.” It turned out not to be that at all. Rowe told Sevcik that he could keep on playing if he wished but his return to the big leagues was probably limited to backup catching and that maybe the best way to go would be to pursue managing. Rowe talked about how good a manager Sevcik would make with his temperament and catching experience and asked him to give it some thought. As the season wound down, Rowe kept after Sevcik about managing and told him to follow up with the Twins’ front office after the season. Sevcik talked to George Brophy, and he offered him a job as a rookie-league manager. Sevcik called Rowe, who told him what to expect from owner Calvin Griffith’s frugal Twins during salary discussions. Sevcik talked with Brophy again and the discussions went exactly as Rowe had told him they would. Sevcik turned down the offer. Brophy told him he was making a big mistake, but Sevcik stuck to his guns and walked away from baseball at the age of 28.
After baseball, John and Glenda stayed in the Minneapolis area. Glenda eventually opened an interior design and antiques business. John went into construction equipment sales and between 1972 and 1993 worked for a number of companies in the Twin Cities area, including George C. Ryan Companies, Valley Equipment Company, and Road Machinery & Supplies Company. In 1993, after a reorganization at the Road Machinery & Supplies Company, Sevcik found himself out of a job at the age of 50.
Sevcik reached out to an old baseball buddy, Rich Reese, who was an executive with Jim Beam Brands, and told him he was looking for a career change and wanted to get into the liquor industry. Reese hired Sevcik and it wasn’t long before John was responsible for sales in southern Minnesota and all of South Dakota. In 1997 the Texas region opened up and John and Glenda moved to San Antonio. Sevcik worked for Jim Beam Brands for about 13 years before retiring in July 2006.
As of 2014 John and Glenda were retired in Austin, Texas. John said he still followed the Twins and liked getting out to the local golf course a couple of days a week.
Jim Thielman, Cool of the Evening (Minneapolis: Kirk House Publishers, 2005).
The Sporting News
2012 Mizzou Football Records Book. grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/miss/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2012-13/misc_non_event/12-footbl-record-book.pdf “
2013 Mizzou Baseball Media Guide. mutigers.com/sports/m-basebl/archive/miss-m-basebl-archive.html
1 Author’s interviews with John Sevcik, conducted in August 2009 and June 2014.
3 Author’s interviews with John Sevcik.
4 Jim Thielman, Cool of the Evening (Minneapolis: Kirk House Publishers, 2005), 86.
5 Author’s interview with John Sevcik.