This article was written by Alan Cohen
The magic number was one. A Minnesota win or Baltimore loss would assure the 1965 Twins of the American League pennant. Baltimore was in no mood to cooperate. They had swept a doubleheader on Saturday night and they were looking for their seventh consecutive win as they took the field on Sunday, September 26, against the California Angels at just about the same time the Washington Senators took the field against the Twins.
The scene, ironically, was the nation’s capital. Only seven of the 1965 Twins had been with the Senators when they departed Washington for the Twin Cities after the 1960 season. Griffith Stadium was history and the teams were playing at D. C. Stadium. In 1965, Washington had been a home away from home for the transplanted Twins. Going into this game they had won seven and lost only one in their old hometown, and had gone 14-3 overall against the Senators.
The assemblage was small; only 8,302 were on hand to witness history in a town where late September had far more to do with the beginning of the football season, and most folks stayed home to watch the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys on television.
The irony was not lost on the Boston Globe’s Harold Kaese, who wrote after the game, “The Washington Senators have won their first pennant since 1933, but nobody is dancing on the steps of the Capitol. There will be no pennant-raising next spring in District of Columbia Stadium. The Senators are now known as the Minnesota Twins. All the frolicking will be in Minneapolis, St, Paul and the land of sky blue waters. The pennant the Twins clinched Sunday should belong to the fans of Washington. For the Twins to clinch it in Washington – their original home – was the cruelest of ironies. Simply diabolical.”1
Early in the year the Washington club had determined that a home-run-hitting contest before the opening game of the final series of the season between the Senators and the Twins was a good idea. With Friday night’s rainout and Saturday afternoon’s doubleheader, the contest was moved to Sunday afternoon. The Twins sluggers were somewhat preoccupied. Nevertheless, the event was held and Twins Jimmie Hall and Bob Allison tied the Senators’ Don Lock.
The Sunday game’s hero, Zoilo Versalles, one of the seven Twins who had been with the Senators in 1960, was wrapping up his 1965 MVP season as the Twins took to the field for the clincher after sweeping a doubleheader and clinching a tie the day before. In the second game of that doubleheader, Versalles had collided with the Senators’ Fred Valentine in a play at second base, and had been hospitalized overnight for observation.
Jim Kaat took a 16-11 record to the mound for the Twins. Washington manager Gil Hodges was not about to give the game away. He had set up his pitching for the series and scheduled his ace, Pete Richert (15-10), for the Sunday finale. It was hoped that the lefty would keep Tony Oliva in check.
The game was scoreless in the first two innings. Washington broke the ice by scoring a run in in the bottom of the third. Ken McMullen singled. Frank Howard followed with another hit. Oliva’s throw trying to get McMullen at third got past third baseman Harmon Killebrew. Kaat fielded the overthrow poorly and was charged with an error as McMullen scored and Howard went to second base.2 Richert was able to make the run stand up until the sixth inning. Through five innings, the only hit he allowed as an infield hit by Oliva in the first inning.
Versalles led off the sixth with a triple to left-center field. Don Zimmer was catching for the Senators that day. (The one-time Dodger shortstop of the future caught 33 games for the Senators in 1965 in a utility-player role.) With the right-handed hitting Joe Nossek at the plate, a pitch from Richert went off Zimmer’s glove. The ball went just a short distance, but Versalles scampered home with the tying run.3
In the eighth inning Frank Quilici led off with a double and advanced to third base on a wild pitch. Versalles came to the plate with one out and launched a fly ball to center field that was deep enough to score Quilici with the deciding run. It capped a great campaign for Versalles who had been fined $300 by the club during spring training for insubordination. The fine was not rescinded.4
The Senators had two more at-bats but couldn’t do any more scoring against Kaat. The Twins lefty stranded a runner in the eighth inning. Ed Brinkman led off the inning with a single but was erased on a double play. A single by Howard proved harmless as Kaat struck out Woodie Held to end the inning.
Kaat set the Senators down in order in the ninth inning to earn his 17th win. The final batter was Zimmer, who struck out, becoming Kaat’s 10th strikeout victim of the game. Richert, who allowed two tainted runs and gave up only three hits, was tagged with his 11th loss.
And when it was all over and the champagne was flowing, the telephone rang. On the other end, speaking with manager Sam Mele, was Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a former mayor of Minneapolis and US senator from Minnesota. “I just wanted to congratulate you, Sam, and tell you I’ll be in a front-row seat when the World Series starts,” said Humphrey.5 Afterwards, Humphrey, accompanied by his Secret Service detail, visited the locker room of the victors.6
The clubhouse was rocking. The Twins were drinking champagne, throwing food, and tearing the uniforms off one another’s backs. Amid the jubilation Mele exclaimed, “We’re in, and we went right through the front door winning three straight. That’s the way to do it.”7
And Killebrew, who had first played with the Twins when they were the 1954 Washington Senators, reflected, “It’s hard to get used to the taste.”8
Not at the celebration in Washington was team owner Calvin Griffith. He dared not set foot in the city as there were subpoenas waiting for him and members of his family. They were being sued by H. Gabriel Murphy, a 40 percent shareholder in the team, who was still angered by the team’s move to the Twin Cities in 1961.9 Murphy made his way to the clubhouse for the celebration, stood in a corner, and mused, “It’s a great day, isn’t it?”10
Back in Minneapolis, the fans at the Minnesota Vikings game cheered the news of the win in Washington, but there was no champagne to flow in the Twin Cities – liquor sales were banned on Sunday in Minnesota.11
That night, Mele went to his home in Quincy, Massachusetts, for yet another celebration. His daughter Cheryl, remembering how her dad’s job had been in jeopardy at the end of the previous season, greeted him with a homemade sign stating for all to see – “We Eat Again Next Year!”12
Thielman, Jim, Cool of the Evening: The 1965 Minnesota Twins (Minneapolis: Kirk House Publishing, 2005).
Washington Evening Star
The Sporting News
Winona (Minnesota) Daily News
1 Harold Kaese, “Twins’ Pennant Belongs to D. C.,” Boston Globe, September 27, 1965: 21.
2 Merrell Whittlesey, “Champion Twins Sweat Out the Result in NL: Kaat’s Peak Game Opens Champagne,” Washington Evening Star, September 27, 1965: B2.
3 Bob Addie, “Twins Edge Nats, Clinch Pennant,” Washington Post, September 26, 1965: C5.
4 Shirley Povich, Washington Post, September 26, 1965: C1, C5.
5 Bob Addie, “Twins Shower in Champagne,” Washington Post, September 27, 1965: C5.
6 Jim Thielman, Cool of the Evening: The 1965 Minnesota Twins, 203.
7 Max Nichols, “Twins Pull All Victory Stops, Stage Orgy of Grog and Grub,” The Sporting News, October 9, 1965: 24.
8 Addie, “Twins Shower.”
9 Addie, “The People Who Boss the Twins Deserve Their Pennant,” The Sporting News, October 9, 1965: 9.
10 Addie. “Twins Shower.”
11 Winona (Minnesota) Daily News, September 27, 1965: 1.
12 Will McDonough, “Meles ‘Will Eat Again Next Year,’ ” Boston Globe, September 27, 1965: 21.