One hundred and two years ago—1919—player/manager Clark Griffith attained a controlling share of the Washington Senators baseball club. After some early success, including a World Championship in 1924 and WS appearances in ‘25 & ‘33, the Senators became the joke of Major League Baseball. As the old saying went, they were “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League” for the next two decades.
Upon Clark Griffith’s death, ownership of the Senators was passed to his son, Calvin, in 1955. After witnessing six more seasons of lackluster baseball in the nation’s capital, the junior Griffith decided enough was enough. Having secured a stadium in the Twin Cities suburb of Bloomington, MN, he moved the Senator franchise to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Before the new Metropolitan Stadium could be broken in, however, the Minnesota Twins trotted out upon a different field—”Old” Yankee Stadium—for the first time in a big league contest. Though the April 11, 1961 opening-day Bronx crowd of 14,607 was puzzlingly paltry, it in no way belied the talent New York possessed. These were the Yankees of Mantle & Maris vintage, coming off a 1960 World Series defeat and on their way to a 1961 World Series victory.
The first pitcher a Twins batter—Zoilo Versalles—ever stepped into the box against? No less than the venerable Whitey Ford, he of postseason dominance and an eventual 25-4 record with a 3.21 ERA in 283 innings to nab the ‘61 Cy Young Award. Both at the time and even now (if you know your Twins/Yankees history), it was seemingly a mismatch for the ages.
Through six innings, a taut pitcher’s duel commenced. Though featuring Harmon Killebrew’s base knock (the first in Twins history), MN starter Pedro Ramos was matching Ford out for out. Leading off the seventh, however, Bob Allison deposited a Ford offering deep down the left field line for a round-tripper. This was quickly followed by an Earl Battey double, a walk drawn from Reno Bertoia, and then Ramos helping his own cause with a single to plate them both—3-0 good/new guys!
After another perfect inning from Ramos—retiring Maris, “Moose” Skowron, & Tony Kubel—Allison again began the 8th inning offensive attack with a single, later scoring on a Bertoia home run to pad the margin to 5-0. More insurance—always helpful against the mighty Yanks—was added in the ninth when Versalles singled, stole second, stole third, and then scored on a sacrifice fly from the Killer.
Gunning for the complete game shutout, Ramos induced fly ball outs from Hector Lopez, Yogi Berra, & Mantle to finish off the gem. Much like how the new MN football franchise—the Vikings—would upset the vaunted Chicago Bears in their inaugural contest a few months hence, the Twins had felled the mighty Bronx Bombers.
Of course, as is often the case with new franchises, immediate success proved difficult. In 1961, the Twins would finish 70-90, with Ramos somewhat ignominiously losing 20 games (alongside Jim Kaat’s 17 losses and Camilo Pascual’s 16 defeats). Yet, for a single shining afternoon on the grounds that Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio once roamed, David’s pebble slew the mighty Goliath.
Were my grandfather—who passed away roughly one year ago—still with us, I’m sure he’d have some interesting remembrances of the birth of Minnesota Twins baseball. In lieu of that, I’d love to hear some memories from some of the more venerable Twins fans on this site who might recollect MLB’s initial foray into Minnesota.