This article was written by Neal Poloncarz
The third player selected in the June 1966 amateur draft, Wayne Twitchell pitched for five big-league clubs, mainly with Philadelphia. At 6-feet-6, he possessed velocity, but he lacked control and couldn’t develop an out pitch to become a dominant hurler. Then, when he finally put together an All-Star season, a knee injury clouded the remainder of his career.
Wayne Lee Twitchell was born on March 10, 1948, in Portland, Oregon. He played baseball, football, and basketball at Woodrow Wilson High School, earning all-state honors in the first two sports. (Dale Murphy was a fellow alumnus.) A quarterback, Twitchell actually preferred football to baseball. “I just didn’t figure baseball to be my game.”1
“During my senior year, I had opportunities to play collegiate football. My dad, Ralph, was a standout tailback for Oregon State (in the 1930s).2 The University of Arizona offered me a partial scholarship to play baseball in the spring, rather than spring football practice. I talked to my dad at length. … He cautioned me (that) knee injuries were historical in our family. One ended his collegiate football career. I was tall and angular. He said, ‘If you think you have a future in baseball, you might want to forgo the football opportunity.’ He left the decision up to me.” 3
The Houston Astros helped Twitchell make up his mind by drafting him, right after Reggie Jackson was selected by Oakland. He opted for baseball, and was assigned to Bismarck-Mandan of the Low A Northern League. There he impressed enough to be called up to Triple-A Oklahoma City (Pacific Coast League), where he made three starts.
In consecutive seasons, Wayne pitched in Class-A, in the Carolina League. In 1967 he appeared in 16 games as a spot-starter for Asheville (NC).
Beginning with Asheville of the Carolina League in 1967, Twitchell moved up through the Astros’ farm system. On May 6, 1968, pitching for Greensboro of the Carolina League, he combined with future major leaguer Mike Flanagan to strike out 17 batters in a victory over Raleigh-Durham. Twitchell whiffed 11 in seven innings and Mike Flanagan fanned six in two innings.4
In the summer of 1969, Twitchell returned to Oklahoma City, where he was 2-5 with an ERA of 4.76. The Astros brass grew impatient. “The worst part of it … well, I always seem to have the knack of always bringing the teacher out in people,” he recalled after he finally made the major leagues. “I was taught close to 20 different deliveries, which complicated things.”5
Hard pressed for results, the Astros gave up on Twitchell, selling his contract to the Seattle Pilots in November of 1969. “We just couldn’t wait for him to develop,” said Houston manager Harry Walker.6 Twitchell was elated about an opportunity to pitch in the Northwest.7 However, before the 1970 season began, the Pilots franchise was sold to an ownership group headed by Bud Selig, and moved to Milwaukee.
Now property of the Milwaukee Brewers, Twitchell was back home in 1970, pitching for Portland of the Pacific Coast League. He met his future wife, Barbara Pace, that season. With a 9-12 record for Portland, Twitchell pitched well enough for the Brewers to add him to the major-league roster, and he made his big-league debut on September 7, 1970, at Metropolitan Stadium, against Minnesota. In a middle inning of relief, he struck out the side, including Harmon Killebrew.
“When you see a boy with the kind of stuff he has, you want to say to yourself that you just want to see more,” said Brewers manager Dave Bristol.8 But Twitchell didn’t mesh with the Brewers. “I just didn’t fit in with Milwaukee,” he said. “They had their ideals about pitching and it wasn’t about my style. I was a fastball pitcher and they were trying to make me into a spot pitcher.”9 The Brewers traded Twitchell to the Phillies just before Opening Day in 1971 for minor league outfielder Pat Skrable.10 He was assigned to pitch for the Eugene (Oregon) Emeralds of the PCL.11
“If the Phils’ Eugene club hadn’t been so close to home, I would have called it quits,” Twitchell said. “Nobody had given me a chance to learn things myself. But when I got to Eugene, manager Andy Seminick left me alone and I pitched naturally.”12 That approach worked. Pitching mostly in relief, Twitchell struck out 116 batters in 95 innings. Called up to the Phillies after the PCL season ended, he made his Philadelphia debut in a start at Veterans Stadium on September 4 against the New York Mets. He yielded three unearned runs, including a home run by Cleon Jones, and got a no-decision.
On September 23 in Montreal, Twitchell earned his first big-league victory in a relief role.
He walked two Expos batters in the eighth inning, saw them move into scoring position on a passed ball, then fanned Bobby Wine and Terry Humphrey to end the inning. Philadelphia scored three runs in the top of the ninth and Twitchell got the win.
Twitchell stuck with the Phillies in 1972, filling a vacancy caused by the retirement of Jim Bunning.13
The 1972 Phillies were dreadful (59-97). Steve Carlton won 27 games, 46 percent of the Philadelphia victories. “He was a fun guy to be around, except the days he pitched,” Twitchell once observed.14 He didn’t consider Carlton a mentor but learned a lot from him. “He helped me because I was able to observe the level of intensity which he took the mound. It was eye-opening. I would watch the sequence of his pitches and try to incorporate them into my game.”15 On August 19 Twitchell won what may have been his most satisfying victory, shutting out the Astros, 4-0, striking out eight and issuing no walks. “I can’t think of anyone better to beat,” he said.16 The Astros’ Jim Wynn observed, “If Twitchell can get a breaking ball over the plate to add to his fastball, he’ll win a lot of games.”17
In 15 starts and 34 relief appearances, Twitchell finished the 1972 campaign with a 5-9 record and posted a 4.06 ERA. “The big guy can throw as hard as anyone in the world when he gets it going,” said Cincinnati scout Ray Shore, adding: “But he doesn’t always get that fastball over the plate.”18
“You need something to complement your fastball,” Phillies pitching coach Ray Ripplemeyer had told Twitchell. “You need a slider.”19 After the 1972 season, Twitchell sought the counsel of Jim Bunning. The future Hall of Famer “reinforced my belief that a good slider has to be thrown in front of the body, not behind,” Twitchell said.20 A slider was born, and “initiated with impressive results,” said a Philadelphia sportswriter, a development that “has the Phillies clubhouse buzzing with anticipation.”21
Veteran catcher John Bateman thought highly of Twitchell. “He has unlimited potential,” said Bateman. “When he gets to the point where he can throw the breaking pitch for a strike on the first pitch, or on a 3-and-1 count, he’ll be some kind of pitcher.”22
Twitchell began the 1973 season in the bullpen, but hoped to win a berth as a starter.23 “On May 7, Danny Ozark walked up to me in the clubhouse and said, ‘You’re starting!’ Number one, I was surprised, number two; we were playing the Cincinnati Reds. If you remember them in the ’70s, they were a bit of a challenge! Anyway, I got a chance to pitch and actually I was fairly successful. I pitched seven-plus innings and gave up a couple of runs. So, I garnered another chance by doing that.”24 Philadelphia prevailed, 3-2, in 14 innings. Twitchell stayed in the rotation.
“Sparky Anderson remembered that game, and he selected me to pitch for in the All-Star Game,” Twitchell said. “At the break I was 7-3, and an ERA near 2.20.” 25 “That was the ultimate.”26 In the midsummer classic, at Kansas City, he pitched a scoreless inning and struck out Reggie Jackson.
Twitchell became a solid mound performer for the Phillies, as he didn’t beat himself with walks or bad pitches.27 In June he shut out Houston and San Diego in consecutive starts and was named the National League Player of the Week. His ERA was under 2.00.28
“He’s still learning,” said Carlton. “But with that fastball and slider, he has a big edge every time he is on the mound.”
On September 18, 1973, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Twitchell’s fortunes took a downward turn. Cubs slugger Billy Williams tried to beat out an infield single as Twitchell covered first base. Williams’s head-first slide pounded Twitchell’s right knee. A gruesome injury ended his extraordinary season: 223 innings, 172 hits, 99 walks, 169 strikeouts, 28 starts, 13-9 record, and a 2.50 ERA (ranked third in the NL).
Twitchell underwent four hours of surgery for damaged ligaments, cartilage and capsule.29 It was a long winter. For eight weeks, Twitchell wore a cast from hip to toe. His surgeon, Dr. Donald Slocum, was frank: “If you do what I tell you to do, you’ll probably be able to play baseball again. If you don’t, you’ll never walk normal again.” “Obviously, I listened to him, and pitched another seven years,” Twitchell said.30
The Phillies’ trainer, Don Seger, flew to Portland and designed a routine to strengthen the hurler’s knee. “We don’t take any chances,” said Philadelphia general manager Paul Owens, who said he thought Twitchell was on the threshold of stardom. “If Seger is able to help even a little bit, the trip will be worthwhile.” Twitchell was very appreciative of the efforts of Dr. Slocum and Seger, his wife said.31 “I’m going to do what has to be done and let’s see what happens,” Twitchell said after the surgery. Teammate Jim Lonborg, an expert on knee injuries (he had major surgery himself) agreed that was the proper attitude. “You don’t go around setting target dates after surgery because of the intense disappointment if you don’t make it,” said Lonborg.32
Twitchell returned to action in May of 1974. He pitched in 25 games, with a 6-9 record, and a 5.21 ERA.
In 1975, for the first time in six years the Phillies wound up over the .500 mark. But for Twitchell the career pendulum swung the wrong way. He pitched into the seventh inning in only five of 20 starts. In August he relinquished his rotation spot to Dick Ruthven. Twitchell finished with an unimpressive 5-10 record and a 4.42 ERA. For the remainder of his career he was a swingman, shuffling between bullpen and starter roles.
In 1976 the Phillies won 101 games. Twitchell pitched sparingly the first half of the season, and almost entirely in relief the second half, making only two starts all season. He did not pitch in the National League Championship Series as Cincinnati swept Philadelphia. A free agent after the season, he eventually signed a multiyear contract. 35 The Phillies got off to a torrid start in 1977, but Twitchell was winless in a dozen appearances. On June 15 he and and catcher Tim Blackwell were traded to Montreal for catcher Barry Foote and pitcher Dan Warthen. Twitchell was disappointed to leave Philadelphia. In seven years in Philadelphia, he was 33-43.
At Olympic Stadium on September 21, Twitchell hurled his first complete-game victory of the season, against the St. Louis Cardinals. Jim Brewer, the Expos pitching coach, had worked with Twitchell to help him conserve energy and finish strong.36 After going 0-5 for the Phillies, Twitchell was 6-5 for the Expos.
The 1978 season was a turnabout for Twitchell. He won four games and lost 12. On May 20 Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Willie Stargell hit a 535-foot home run off Twitchell that landed in the upper deck of Olympic Stadium, the only fair ball ever to be hit there.
The Expos released Twitchell in February 1979. In April he signed with the New York Mets. He was 5-3 with the Mets out of the bullpen, and August he was sold to the Seattle Mariners, who released him after the season. At 32 years old, he was through as a player. In 282 major-league appearances, he had a 48-65 record with a 3.98 ERA. Baseball was good to him, he felt; he met wonderful people in the business. 37
In Oregon, Twitchell became a commercial real-estate broker. He and Barbara raised two sons, Matthew and Patrick. He loved to hunt ducks and fly-fish, and take people on salmon fishing expeditions.38
In August of 2006, at PGE Park, Twitchell and other Portland Beavers alumni were honored in a pregame ceremony.39 In 2008 he served as the pitching coach at Wilson High School.
After a prolonged illness, Twitchell died on September 16, 2010. He was 62. He is buried in Portland.
I sincerely appreciate the help provided by Wayne Twitchell’s widow, Barbara.
Her cordial disposition on the telephone made this biography a pleasure to write.
1 YouTube Video, OregonSportsHall, June 4, 2010. http://youtube.com/watch?v=Wu2M43u0bb4.
3 YouTube Video, OregonSportsHall.
4 The Sporting News, May 25, 1968.
5 Ray Kelly, “Twitchell Adds Slider – Presto! He’s Phil Ace,” The Sporting News, July 7, 1973.
6 “Twitchell Adds Slider.”
7 Interview with Barbara Twitchell, March 27, 2013.
8 Larry Whiteside, “Kids Add Kicker to Brewer Hill Plan,” The Sporting News, March 20, 1971.
9 Roger Fischer, “Wayne Twitchell: The Phillies Early Bird,” St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, March 8, 1974.
10 The Sporting News, March 13, 1971.
11 Kip Carslon and Paul Anderson, The Portland Beavers (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing; 2004), 97.
12 “Wayne Twitchell: The Phillies Early Bird.”
13 Interview with Barbara Twitchell, March 27, 2013.
14 Steve Bucci and Dave Brown, Drinking Coffee With a Fork. The Story of Steve Carlton and the ’72 Phillies.(Philadelphia: Camino Books Inc., 2011), 124.
15 Drinking Coffee with a Fork, 165.
16 Allen Lewis, “Twitchell Beckons for Starting Job,” The Sporting News, October 7, 1972.
17 “Twitchell Adds Slider.”
18 “Twitchell Adds Slider.”
19 “Twitchell Adds Slider.”
20 Allen Lewis, “Phils Willing to Deal Bowa,” The Sporting News, October 28, 1972.
21 “Twitchell Adds Slider.”
22 “Twitchell Beckons for Starting Job.”
23 Allen Lewis, “Phils signal for a New Era on 50% Turnover,” The Sporting News, December 30, 1972.
24 YouTube Video, OregonSportsHall.
25 You Tube Video, OregonSportsHall.
26 “Wayne Twitchell: The Phillies Early Bird.”
27 Ray Kelly, “Perennial Hot Prospect Brett New Phil Hill Flash,” The Sporting News, June 23, 1973.
28 “Perennial Hot Prospect.”
29 “Wayne Twitchell: The Phillies Early Bird.”
30 You Tube Video, OregonSportsHall.
31 Interview with Barbara Twitchell, March 27, 2013.
32 Ray Kelly, “Twitch, in Time, Can Save the Bacon for the Philly Nine,” The Sporting News, June 15, 1974.
33 Ray Kelly, “Phils had Bonds All Wrapped Up – Well, Almost,” The Sporting News, November 16, 1974.
34 Mark Tomasik, “Cardinals History Beyond the Boxscore, September 23, 2010, http://retrosimba.worldpress.com
35 Ray Kelly, “Phillies Flash Exit Sign for Allen,” The Sporting News, October 30, 1976.
36 Ian McDonald, “Change-Up Helps Expos’ Twitchell,” The Sporting News, October 8, 1977.
37 Interview with Barbara Twitchell, March 27, 2013.
38 Interview with Barbara Twitchell, March 27, 2013.
39 “Beavers Bring Back a Host of All-Time Greats Saturday to Cap Retro Celebration,” http://oursportscentral.com/services/releases/?id=3366907. August 22, 2006.