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Original Twin Elmer Valo saw a lot of baseball history

Portrait of Elmer Valo

Elmer Valo isn’t exactly a well-known page of Minnesota baseball history. In fact, he barely qualifies as a footnote. Valo’s most noteworthy accomplishment was his longevity in the game, but it lead to him being a part of some significant teams.

Valo broke into the league in 1940, as a 19-year old, thirteen years after his family emigrated from Slovakia. He debuted for the team he would spend much of his two-decade professional career with, the Athletics—at this time located in Philadelphia. The first decade of Valo’s career would come under the tutelage of the legendary manager Connie Mack, minus the two years (1944 and 1945) that he didn’t play professional baseball, likely for obvious reasons. He played for the Athletics until 1956, which included their first year in Kansas City, just the first time that Valo would experience a franchise relocation. The Athletics didn’t have a lot of noteworthy baseball talent in those years, but among the names to pass through was the legendary Johnny Sain (Spahn, Sain, and pray for rain.)

Primarily a right-fielder in his younger days, Valo played all three outfield positions, but transitioned to primarily a bench-bat by the time he moved to his second professional franchise—in today’s game, he likely would have been an outstanding DH ala Nelson Cruz. After his team relocated to Kansas City in 1956, the Pennsylvania native found himself back in the Keystone State, signing with the NL Phillies on May 22, a day after the Athletics released him. After playing the 1956 season for his hometown team, in a stadium named for his first manager, Valo was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers, a team full of legendary talent.

(Side note: there was a shortstop named Roy Smalley on the 1956 Phillies. No, not that Roy Smalley, his dad. Smalley Sr was also Gene Mauch’s brother-in-law, just to add in some more Twins connections.)

The 1957 Dodgers roster, outside of Valo, reads like an introduction to baseball history. On that time you could find Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, PeeWee Reese, Duke Snider, Don Zimmer, Don Drysdale, and Sandy Koufax. Valo also spent 1958 with the Dodgers, although the victim of another relocation, he would play it on the West Coast.

The Dodgers released Valo before the 1959 season, and he split that year between PCL Seattle and American League Cleveland. He was again released after the 1959 season, and signed with the New York Yankees.

During his time with Cleveland, Valo shared a clubhouse with notable baseball people Billy Martin, Minnie Minoso, Tito Francona, Mudcat Grant, and Jim Perry. His Yankee teammates included Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford. Maris happened to do something very noteworthy the next season.

The Yankees released Valo in May of 1960, seeing him sign a day later with the Washington Senators. You know what’s coming next.

If you’re counting, this marks the third franchise relocation to impact Valo, as the Griffith-owned franchise left DC for Minnesota following the 1960 season. Valo wasn’t a Twin long, as Minnesota released him in Mid-June 1961, and he would finish the season, and his career with his second stint as a Phillie.

In his year with the Senators, Valo played with some names you know well. Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison roamed the outfield and Earl Battey knelt behind the plate. They were joined by Zoilo Versalles, Jim Kaat, and Camilo Pascual. Billy Martin would be added to the Twins in 1961, briefly reunited with a former teammate.

As a 40-year old batter, Valo played exactly five innings in the field for the Twins, yet accrued 36 plate appearances, largely (obviously) as a pinch hitter. A pinch hitter who hits .156/.250/.219 isn’t much of an asset, so its no wonder that Minnesota released him midseason. I said he didn’t contribute much to the Twins, but seeing baseball through his eyes would have been incredible—and that story doesn’t end with his playing career.

After his retirement, Valo spent time in the Cleveland organization as a coach and as a MiLB manager. He was also a scout, spending one season in the role for the Mets in 1962, and thirteen for the Phillies from 1970 through 1982, and staying active with the Phillies as an advisor for the rest of his life, before passing away in 1998. SABR has a much more through biography of Valo, a forgotten member of the Minnesota Twins that saw a lot of baseball history thoughout his three (or possibly four) decade-spanning MLB career.