Twins wave impressive credentials
The exodus of star players from Minnesota for the big money of the free agent era has been exceeded only by the mad dash for the exists at Oakland, but far from falling apart as the A's have done, the Twins have remained bona fide contenders.Skip to next paragraph
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Relief ace Bill Campbell and hitting stars Larry Hisle and Lyman Bostock went the free agent route in 1977 and '78, and the team hung in there. Perennial batting champion Rod Carew and hard-hitting Danny Ford had to be traded last year lest they too be lost to free agency, and not only did the Twins survive, they amazed the baseball world by staying in the thick of the American League West race all season.
Now this year it's former 20-game winner Dave Goltz who must be replaced -- and probably will be! That's the optimistic outlook at camp here, anyway, as the Twins prepare to mount what they feel can be another strong challenge.
Some credit obviously belongs to owner Calvin Griffith, who has managed to keep or acquire a respectable amount of talent without letting his payroll soar into the stratosphere. Then there is manager Gene Mauch, who each spring takes what is left for him to work with the molds it into a team that inevitably does better than expected.
Last year, for instance, while pre-season favorites California, Kansas City, and Texas failed to generate much steam, the unsung Twins seized first place and held it through most of May, remained a close second or third until late August, and weren't eliminated until the final week. This season the same other three clubs are again considered the top contenders, with the Twins pretty much consigned to the middle of the pack. But Mauch thinks the so-called experts have just repeated their annual mistake of underrating his team.
"Anybody who thinks we're not gonna compete is crazy," said Mauch, ticking off such plus factors as his fine young catcher Butch Wynegar, the outstanding all-around ability of Ken Landreaux, a hard-hitting infield that may also be the best around defensively,m some good starting pitchers, and a strong bullpen headed by the redoubtable Mike Marshall.
Mauch didn't mention it, of course, but another area where the Twins have an edge is in the managerial department. Gene is the dean of major league pilots, with 20 years of continuous service (nine with Philadelphia, seven with Montreal , and four with Minnesota) -- a truly amazing record in what has to be one of the world's most insecure positions.
Those who think Mauch is overrated point out that none of these teams has ever won even a division title -- and they love to mention the 1964 Phillies, who blew the National League flag with a late September collapse. Any objective assessment, however, indicates that Gene just hasn't had the material, and that his teams have almost always played beyond their apparent capabilities. Even in 1964, he probably deserved credit for keeping the Phillies in contention rather than blame for the fact that they couldn't hold on.