Short pitching and shorter defense makes the odds too long
Strong points: Excellent right-handed hitting power, one strong pitcher, one superb catcher. Only the Yankees and Tigers have hit more home runs over the last two seasons than Minnesota. Harmon Killebrew (46 HRs, 122 RBIs), Bob Allison (29 HRs, 105 RBIs), Jim Lemon (71 HRs, 200 RBIs in 1959-60) and Earl Battey (17 HRs) are all good long-ball hitters who are on close terms with the friendly left-field fence (330 feet) at Metropolitan Stadium. The dandy Cuban curve bailer, Camilo Pascual, led the league in strikeouts last season with 221, tied for the lead with eight shutouts and was second in complete games with 15. Earl Battey (.302) is exceptionally gifted behind the plate.
Weak spots: Pitching and defense. The Twins desperately need dependable starters behind Pascual and some relievers who can get somebody out. Slim left-hander Jack Kralick (25) appears to be the only sound starter (13-11, 3.61 ERA) behind Pascual. Rounding out the Twins' slim starting staff is left-hander Jim Kaat, a 17-game loser last season. Young left-hander Bill Pleis (23) was the only man in the bullpen who could be counted on. Center Fielder Lennie Green (.285), Right Fielder Allison and reserve Bill Tuttle can all run and throw. Killebrew or Lemon in left, however, is a sight to behold. Zorro Versalles (.280) makes all the plays at short except the double play. Rookies Bernie Allen at second and Rich Rollins at third are supposed to have good gloves but neither has played two seasons in pro ball. The only sure glove in the infield belongs to flamboyant Vic Power (obtained from the Indians), the peerless first baseman. He is still a dangerous batter although he was off 21 points last season from his lifetime .289 batting average.
The big ifs: The Twins are going with youth at three of their infield positions—Shortstop Versalles (21), Second Baseman Allen (23) and Third Baseman Rollins (24). They know what Versalles can do but the big question mark is the two rookies. Allen, the former Purdue quarterback who received a $50,000 bonus last June, didn't hit well in his first half season of play (.241 at Charlotte) but he surprised everyone with his bat this spring. Rollins, who hit .294 for the Twins in 13 games last year, was signed after graduating from Kent in 1960. Pitcher Kaat is young (23) and in his last 15 starts he posted a fine 3.28 ERA. He could be a winner this year. Jim Lemon won't ever help the defense, but the Twins would like to get his big bat functioning again. He hit only 14 home runs (52 RBIs) last season.
Rookies and new faces: Left-hander Dick Stigman, obtained from the Indians, was selected for the All-Star Game as a rookie in 1960. Last year he hurt his elbow and was ineffectual. If he is healthy, he would help the Twins' bullpen. First Baseman Don Mincher (23) is up for the third time (.211 BA in 1960-61), will spell Power at first.
OUTLOOK: The Twins were a solid seventh in the American League last year: seventh in hitting, pitching and position. There is little to indicate that they can do much better this year.
The single-handed twister
A throw came high from the third baseman. Vic Power leaped to his left and caught the ball in the webbing of his glove. His right hand was far from the play.
"I always catch the ball like that," Power said. "It's not hot dog. I'm just comfortable that way. I never worry about catching the ball one-handed." Despite his single-handed method, Power is considered the finest-fielding first baseman in the game.
"I have a funny hitting stance, too," he said. "That's natural for me. Only last year was not so good.
"I rested up this winter. For the first time in 15 years I stayed in New York. I didn't go home to Puerto Rico, so I didn't have to play ball. If I go home, they make me play."
How did Power stay in shape during the off-season?
"I twist nearly every night," he said. "Good for the legs."
"No," said Manager Sam Mele, "I definitely would not say that what went on last year was dissension. Sure I fined a lot of the players but I'm not going to say which ones I fined. Eight or nine of them got it because they wouldn't follow the rules I laid down. They'd raise hell when I took them out for pinch hitters or they'd arrive at the ball park late. It became a matter of who was going to be boss, and to tell you the truth I'm going to be the boss." There is no doubt that Mele is now the boss of the Twins and has gained the respect of his ballplayers. This year as the Twins went through spring training you could see them fielding and hitting and looking around to see if Mele was watching them. They know who the boss is. It cost a lot of them $100 last year to find out.
Earl Battey lifted his batting average 32 points in 1961, his second full year as a regular. "Sam Mele helped me an awful lot," said Battey. "He taught me to keep my weight on my back foot and not to lunge at the ball. He also showed me how to hold my body in check and made me close up my stance a couple of inches. It certainly helped my batting average last year.
"The only thing that's been bothering me this year has been my weight." Most ballplayers talk about being five or 10 pounds overweight in the spring. But this spring Battey was 32 pounds overweight. "I've got a thyroid condition," he said. "When spring training began I wore a rubber shirt and lost 17 pounds in seven days and there wasn't any kick to me at all. I was too fatigued, so I took off the rubber shirt and decided to get rid of the weight with pills and good sweat. The pills and good sweat better get me down to 220 before the season opens."
THICK-LEGGED CATCHER Earl Battey has occasional trouble with low pitches and that's about all. He is league's best man behind plate.