Except, perhaps, for the misty, air-conditioned valley on the dark side of the moon that Junior, Dick Tracy's son, is now being shown in the space coupe by Moon Maid, no more interesting weather conditions prevail anywhere than at the Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. and Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. It is not the cold or the rain or the tornado warnings but the wind that makes things so fascinating. The wind is a hitter's wind this time of year, and it is blowing home runs out of these two parks at a pace that staggers the imagination and the pitchers.
In Kansas City earlier this month, the Twins and the A's managed to split four games amidst 24 home runs, 28 walks, 51 runs and 27 pitchers, and they started right up again last week in their rematch in Bloomington. The series began at a slow pace, at least by Twin-Athletic standards. Only two home runs were hit Friday night because for once the wind was blowing in from the outfield.
The next afternoon, however, conditions were back to normal and so were the hitters. Rich Rollins got a home run for Minnesota in the first inning, but Kansas City struck back in the third. Wayne Causey hit one into the bleachers in right, and a few minutes later Manny Jimenez hit another to approximately the same spot with two runners on. Exit starting pitcher Lee Stange of the Twins. In the fourth inning Rocky Colavito hit a two-run home run into the left-field stands. The A's were ahead 7-1.
But 7-1 leads are peanuts when these two teams get together, and the Twins quickly proved it. In the bottom of the fourth Jimmie Hall put one about 15 rows up in right field, his third home run in three games, and the next batter, Bob Allison, hit one the same distance to left. A week previous the Twins had hit four in a row in Kansas City, so when Don Mincher grounded out to second base there was a scattering of boos. But two innings later Mincher hit a three-run homer to right to make the score 7-6. Exit starting pitcher Orlando Pena of Kansas City. An inning later Minnesota won the game on, of all things, a double.
On Sunday the home-run storm subsided. Only two were hit, both by the Twins, possibly because Camilo Pascual was pitching for Minnesota. Even so, the bombardment during the series had been impressive. In three games the two slug-happy teams had hit 11 home runs, seven by the Twins, four by the Athletics. The two-series, seven-game total stood at 35, or an average of five home runs a game.
Both the Twins and the A's are far ahead of any team's past home-run performance. The best ever was by the 1961 Yankees, who averaged 1.47 home runs a game and hit 240 through the season. After Sunday's game, the Twins were averaging 1.83 and the A's 1.48. The Twins have already hit more home runs in Kansas City than they did all last year. At this pace there will be a major league record total of 311 home runs hit in Kansas City this year, more than one apiece for every man, woman and child in the 288 new seats in the shortened right-field area. For the more romantic, the latest count shows eight Twins and three A's ahead of Roger Maris' record pace. Unfortunately, neither team has anybody threatening Walter Johnson's pace. The A's are in 10th and the Twins in fifth, and without pitching neither is likely to improve much on that.
Baseball's greatest non sequitur is that pitching is 75% of the game and home-run hitters drive Cadillacs. There is more excitement in Kansas City this year because of the acquisition of Rocky Colavito and Jim Gentile than all the pitching, colored uniforms, sheep and fireworks of the past were able to set off. Gentile and Colavito are being treated like movie stars, which they somewhat resemble. Both have made excellent starts, and Gentile, who moped and fought himself and the tough Baltimore park when he was playing there, is jumping around like a kid.
Owner Charlie Finley brought in his right-field fence to help Gentile—and to wave a red flag at the Yankees, who have the shortest foul line in baseball—but it is not this so-called Half Pennant Porch that has produced all the Kansas City home runs. In fact, only four of the 50 home runs hit in Kansas City so far have gone into the porch. Instead they are mostly the result of the winds, which blow up to 20 miles per hour away from home plate this time of year. Even without so much as a zephyr, the air in Missouri is light enough. "The new fence?" says K. C. Pitcher Orlando Pena, who ought to know. "That is nothing. The balls jump out of there." The situation is comparable in Minnesota. The air is somewhat heavier at the Met, but the winds blow harder. Twenty-five miles an hour was not unusual last week, and there were gusts up to 50.
At neither park do the fences curve sharply back as they do elsewhere, another big advantage for hitters. "There are your danger spots," Manager Bill Rigney of the Angels said early last week when his team was in Minnesota. He pointed toward two positions in the outfield. "It's not the 330 feet down the lines, but the 365 in left and right center. Suppose you hang a curve and a guy hits it down the line—a home run at 330. So you made a mistake and you have to accept it. But what hurts is when you make a good pitch and the hitter just gets a piece of it—not enough to get around on it, to pull it. It still goes out, over the short left or right center, at 365." There were 17 home runs hit at Metropolitan Stadium last week, and only one was truly a drive down the line. Most were aimed at the danger spots clustered around the 365-foot areas.
This takes nothing away from the Twins, a hitting club in any kind of weather or park. The lead-off man of late has been Rich Rollins, who had 16 home runs in each of the last two years. Don Mincher had 17 playing part time last season, Earl Battey hit 26, Bob Allison 35 and Harmon Killebrew has averaged 46 since the team moved to Minnesota three years ago. To this crew the Twins have added a pair of sluggers—even if they do not look like sluggers—who by themselves would be enough for nearly any other team: Jimmie Hall and Tony Oliva.
Hall, who has eight homers now, one for every 8.88 at bats, was apparently created from thin air. He had an undistinguished minor league career; as recently as last year he was open to draft. Passed over, he moved up to the Twins as a hanger-on, and did not become a regular until June 13. He went on to hit 33 home runs, breaking Ted Williams' rookie record. Hall is a wispy 170 pounds; at 26 he has a bit of gray at the temples. His swing is fast, whip-lashed, with the power coming from quick wrists.
Oliva, the 23-year-old Cuban rookie, has taken center stage not only from the rest of the Twins' power cadre, but from nearly everyone but Willie Mays. With at least two hits a game at the Met all week, Oliva raised his average to .441. He has a natural, level swing that permits him to pick up on low pitches, as well as on high ones, with little difficulty. Oliva was signed in Cuba by the late Joe Cambria and borrowed his brother's passport to get to Florida. Because he wanted to protect his brother, Oliva just assumed the passport name, Tony. His real name is Pedro, but now he likes Tony better. Anyway, Pedro/Tony Oliva got his start at Wytheville, Va. in the rookie league in 1961 and hit .410. Then the Twins sent him to the Florida Instructional League with Scout Del Wilber in charge. Wilber's orders were simple: teach him to field and speak English. "Nobody ever touched his hitting," Wilber says. "I'd see him around the cage even when he wasn't supposed to hit, and I'd tell him to go out there and field. He knew how to hit."
Oliva's English is still weak, but he works at it. He is a tremendously conscientious young man, and also a happy one. He is occasionally called "Cheeri-o" for his disposition, and because Oscar Robertson has already preempted "The Big O." Vic Power, his roommate, refers to him as "Mr. Cuban, 1964." Power also calls him "the best roommate I ever have. He is so quiet, but he is smart boy. He sees me sign autographs—'Best wishes, Vic Power'—and he ask me to show him how you write this 'best wishes.' All he want to do is eat all the time—eat anything, rice and beans, steak.
"I tell him, he not going to be happy like this all the time. He going to have a bad day some time, but he don't care. He just smile, smile and show that gold tooth. Nothing change this boy. We all talking about Mudcat Grant. He say, who is this Mudcat? I say, who is Mud-cat? You just get two hits off that guy. That who is Mudcat. He just smile. He don't know nobody. He don't know Mudcat. He don't know Bob Feller, Ty Cobb. But he a good boy. A clean-living kid, and the best roommate I ever have."
Oliva, with seven home runs, is one of three Twins among the top eight in the American League. Two others, naturally, are Athletics: Colavito and Gentile. If these two teams could only play home-and-home for the rest of the season, Babe Ruth would just be remembered for the candy bar.
The Twins and the Athletics hit 11 home runs during their three games in Minnesota's Metropolitan Stadium last week, an overwhelming number over the short left and right center-field fences, as shown below. In the second game a 25-mile-an-hour wind, with gusts up to 50, also helped the hitters. The 11 were hit by the following players and they came in this sequence: first game, 1) Hall (Twins), 2) Lau (A's); second game, 3) Rollins (Twins), 4) Causey (A's), 5) Jimenez (A's), 6) Colavito (A's), 7) Hall (Twins), 8) Allison (Twins), 9) Mincher (Twins); third game, 10) Mincher (Twins), 11) Battey (Twins).
Sluggers Killebrew, Hall, Oliva and Allison stare wide-eyed at rising balloons in unscientific attempt to determine prevailing wind. The experiment failed, but home runs prove wind is no gag.