Rich Reese had a .322 batting average in 1969 for the Minnesota Twins. He was platooned at first base with Harmon Killebrew, who usually moved to third when a left-hander was pitching. With most of his plate appearances (nearly 80 percent) against right-handers that season, Reese figured he wouldn’t be in the lineup against Baltimore southpaw Dave McNally on Sunday, August 3. Thus, Reese enjoyed his Saturday night, extending it to 4:00 the next morning as he socialized with Boog Powell and Clay Dalrymple of the Orioles.1
The first weekend of August 1969 brought Baltimore to Minnesota for a preview of a likely postseason meeting. Both the Orioles and the Twins led their new divisions and were in line to play in the first league playoff game two months later.
Beyond the excitement of the series, attendance was boosted by the Twins’ first annual Camp-in. The idea of Minnesota pitching coach Early Wynn, an avid camper, the event drew thousands of fans from as far away as Florida and California. A section of the Metropolitan Stadium parking lot was filled with campers and recreational vehicles, converted from everything from buses to hearses,and the site of movies, dances, and other entertainment.2
In addition, the weekend was to be capped by Dave McNally of the Orioles, who came into August with a record of 15 wins and no losses. Wins and losses by a pitcher are determined by more than just a mound performance, and McNally earned the nickname “McLucky” from his teammates for the times they bailed him out during the year. Seven times McNally had left a game trailing, but the Orioles came back each time to take him off the hook.
Still, McNally had been outstanding. In his previous outing that year in Minnesota, in May, he took a no-hitter into the ninth before Cesar Tovar broke it up. McNally finished with a one-hit shutout for his sixth win of the year. Nine wins later he was back and hoping to become the first American League pitcher to win 18 straight games and the first to win 16 in a row to start the season.
Baltimore and Minnesota split the first two games of the series, and attendance topped 40,000 for the rubber game on Sunday. McNally’s pitching opponent was another left-hander, Jim Kaat, who gave up a leadoff single to Don Buford but retired the next three batters in the first. One was Frank Robinson, who looked at a third strike, argued with plate-umpire Frank Umont, and was thrown out of the game. The ejection also brought a quick exit for Orioles manager Earl Weaver when he came out to quarrel, the second straight day in which Weaver got run in the first inning.
In the bottom of the inning, the Twins threatened with two out when Harmon Killebrew doubled and Tony Oliva singled. Killebrew tried to score on the play but was gunned down by Baltimore center-fielder Paul Blair. It appeared they might have missed their best shot at McNally, who settled down and did not allow more than one baserunner in an inning over the next five.
Kaat was sharp, too, but Baltimore got to him in the fourth on singles by Merv Rettenmund (Frank Robinson’s replacement in right field) and Powell to put runners at the corners with no out. Brooks Robinson grounded into a double play with Rettenmund scoring.
The run held up into the seventh. McNally retired Tony Oliva and Bob Allison on flies to Blair and was down to the bottom part of the order. Leo Cardenas singled off Robinson’s glove at third, and Frank Quilici lifted a soft drive over shortstop Mark Belanger to put runners on first and second. Tom Tischinski was scheduled to hit. The third-string catcher was in the game as John Roseboro was getting a rest, and his backup, George Mitterwald, had recently left for two weeks in the Army Reserve.
Manager Billy Martin decided not to give Tischinski a chance at the plate, instead sending up Rick Renick, who drew a walk to load the bases, and Kaat was due up. Martin’s choices for another pinch-hitter were all left-handed: Reese, Graig Nettles, and Charlie Manuel. He went with Reese.
The fans cheered expectantly as Reese approached the plate, more loudly when he looked at the first pitch for a ball, and, after a strike, even louder when McNally missed again. A walk would force in the tying run along with bringing leadoff hitter Cesar Tovar to the plate. Reese swung and missed at a pitch and then fouled one off.
The next pitch was inside. “McNally almost nicked me with the next pitch,” Reese said after the game.“Actually, I tried to get hit because it would have forced the tying run home.”3
With the count full, the runners were moving as McNally delivered a fastball on the outer part of the plate. Reese lifted it to left. Buford first started in, then went back as the ball carried, perhaps helped by the wind. It looked as though the drive could be off the fence; instead, it landed three rows into the bleachers for a grand slam. Met Stadium erupted. Some yelled, “15 and 1.”4
Reese rounded first and didn’t see a runner in front of him. At first he feared that in his excitement he had passed Renick before realizing that the runners were going on a 3-2 pitch.5 When he crossed the plate, the Twins had a 4-1 lead.
Al Worthington relieved Kaat and gave up a homer to Blair to start the eighth. The Twins got the run back in the bottom of the inning on a one-out single by Oliva that scored Rod Carew. That was it for McNally, who walked off the mound to a loud ovation from the Minnesota fans.
When Worthington finished off the Orioles in the ninth, Kaat had his first win since July 17 and McNally his first loss since September 17, 1968.
For Reese, the pinch-hit grand slam was the first of three he hit in his career. He remembers them well, but, more than 45 years after his homer off McNally, some of the details got even better. Rather than recall that ball three almost hit him, as he was quoted in the newspaper, he said the pitch had nicked him. “Frank, that hit me,” he said he told Umont, who, according to Reese, growled, “Get back in there.” And as Reese finished his circuit, getting a grand slam rather than forcing home only one run by being hit by a pitch, he remembers Umont muttering to him, “You dumb son of a bitch.”6
Whether the tale was embellished or not, it remains one of the top events in Minnesota Twins history.
In addition to those cited in the notes, the following sources were useful:
Author’s scorebook from game.
1 Author interview with Rich Reese, August 1, 2015.
2 “Ol’ Campground at the Ball Park Filling Up Fast” by Mike Ponsor, Minneapolis Tribune, August 2, 1969, p. 1.
3“Martin’s Strategy a Success” by Sid Hartman, Minneapolis Tribune, Monday, August 4, 1969, p. 27.
4 At least one fan yelled “15 and 1,” referring to what McNally’s record would be if the Twins held the lead. It was the author of this article. Others may have shouted similar sentiments.
5 “Reese’s Homer Stops McNally” by Dave Mona, Minneapolis Tribune, August 4, 1969, p. 27; The newspaper story quotes Reese as saying, “I couldn’t figure out what happened when I was rounding first.” In the August 1, 2015 interview with the author, Reese related this with the implication that his confusion was in part because of the fogginess of the late night/early morning while out with Powell and Dalrymple. The reader may enjoy his latter-day recollections (the author certainly did) and come to his or her own conclusions about their veracity.
6 Author interview with Rich Reese, August 1, 2015.