It was a hot, humid Independence Day in Bloomington, Minnesota. Early-morning thunderstorms were a concern but by game time the skies had cleared. The announced crowd of 30,654 was the largest yet recorded for a Fourth of July game in Minnesota. The Oakland Athletics and the Minnesota Twins, who were fighting for first place in the newly formed American League West Division, were facing off in the opening game of a big three-game series. A’s owner Charles Finley was in attendance and in a pregame news conference predicted the A’s to win the division “because I told [manager] Billy Martin of the Twins he’s got some older fellows who are going to get tired in August. And we’re going to win.”1
Bob Miller was the starting pitcher for the Twins. Although originally signed by his hometown St. Louis Cardinals in 1957, he was now playing for his fourth team and had turned into a “whatever is needed utility pitcher.”2 Recently thrust into a starting role, Miller was making his third start of the year. At age 30 he was a veteran pitcher on an experienced squad coming off multiple top-three finishes in the last seven years, including a World Series appearance in 1965.
Catfish Hunter, who signed out of high school in 1964, was the starting pitcher for the A’s. At age 23 he was in the early stages of a 15-year career that culminated with his induction into the Hall of Fame. In May 1968 Hunter had pitched a perfect game against the Twins. Harmon Killebrew struck out three times, twice on called third strikes. Afterward Killebrew said, “He was throwing better than I’ve ever seen him throw.”3 But in 1969 Hunter did not fare as well against the Twins. By Independence Day he had three starts against them, losing twice (with one no-decision) and five home runs surrendered.
After Miller retired the A’s in order in the top of the first, the Twins wasted no time in solving Hunter in the bottom of the inning. Ted Uhlaender hit a leadoff double, and one out later Tony Oliva drove him home with a double off the right-field fence. Killebrew was next and he continued the early fireworks with a home run to left to bring in the second and third runs of the inning. The fans were just settling in and before they knew it, the Twins were ahead by three.
Miller’s job in the top of the second was to hold the A’s scoreless and preserve the three-run lead. He got off to a shaky start as Sal Bando led off with a single and after two wild pitches wound up at third base with no outs. After two groundouts and a fly out, Bando was stranded and the Twins still had their lead.
Both teams went in order in their next at-bats, and then the Twins tacked on a fourth run in the third with back-to-back doubles by Oliva and Rod Carew. The onslaught continued in the bottom of the fourth when Leo Cardenas hit a towering home run to center field. Two outs later, Uhlaender singled and Carew cleared the bases with the Twins’ third home run of the day. That was it for Hunter: manager Hank Bauer pulled him and brought in pitcher Jim Roland. The Twins added a run off Roland and the inning ended with the Twins up 8-0. Hunter’s day ended early with a record of eight hits (four doubles, three home runs, and a single) and seven runs surrendered. “With Catfish Hunter, it’s either short and sweet or long and loud.” “They’re either going to pop the ball into the stands or he’s going to pitch a shutout,” observed manager Hank Bauer. “You can’t defense the long ball.”4
The game settled down for the next two innings as Miller surrendered only two singles and the Twins could not muster any offense off Jim Nash, who replaced Roland. However, in the bottom of the seventh, Nash surrendered two runs. After Cardenas struck out to lead off the inning, Cesar Tovar hit a one-out single, stole second, and took third when a pickoff attempt went awry. After another strikeout, Uhlaender and Carew hit back-to-back doubles off Nash and the Twins scored their ninth and 10th runs.
Through eight innings, Miller had surrendered five hits and a walk but was the beneficiary of three double plays. The only remaining storyline was Miller’s quest for his first complete game since 1963. It was a sultry day and the ballpark staff had already treated 10 people for heat exhaustion. Miller thought he might be the 11th. “I lost 100 pounds out there,” he told reporters during his postgame interview.5
To lead off the ninth, Miller issued his second walk, to Ted Kubiak. After two fly-ball outs it was looking as though he would not only get the complete game, but also a shutout. “Of course, I was thinking of the shutout in the ninth inning. I’ve never had one,” he said.6 Bando stepped to the plate and stroked his second single of the game, advancing Kubiak to second. This brought manager Martin to the mound for a conversation with Miller. In very few words, Miller persuaded Martin to keep him in. Then Danny Cater hit a single to drive in Kubiak and Rick Monday hit a three-run homer to right center. Finally, Tom Reynolds grounded out to end the game. The shutout was lost but the Twins won the game and Miller achieved a complete-game victory.
The win pulled the Twins into a virtual tie for first. They would continue to expand the lead and win the West Division title by nine games over the second-place A’s. The A’s were still trying to prove themselves to their fans and owner. Of the lack of crowds in Oakland, Finley said, “Heck, I told [the players] we haven’t proved anything yet. We’ve got to prove a winner before the people come out to see us in Oakland.”7 The A’s did prove winners in the 1970s by winning five consecutive division championships, but for now the title remained in Minnesota. Despite Finley’s prediction, the veteran players on the Twins were not ready to yield their crown to the young Oakland Athletics.
1 Tom Briere, “Finley: Owners Hurting Baseball,” Minneapolis Tribune, July 5, 1969: 9.
2 Steve Treder, “Not Just Any Bob Miller,” Hardball Times, September 6, 2005.
3 Ron Bergman, “Catfish Is Perfect,” Oakland Tribune, May 9, 1968: 39.
4 Ron Bergman, “Twins Destroy the A’s,” Oakland Tribune, July 5, 1969: 9.
5 Dave Mona, “Twins Slug A’s 10-4,” Minneapolis Tribune, July 5, 1969: 9.