The Winning Teams: 1965

This is part one in a series examining every Twins team that has made the playoffs. Whether the current version of the Twins is 20 games over .500 or stuck in last place, fans can always hold onto memories of successful teams past.

The game must have felt like a hot dagger to the heart of every Washington fan. Just four years before, the perennially futile Senators had left town, only to be replaced by an even less effective collection of players. And now, as Washington Post writer Bob Addie lamented, “fickle fate ordained that the old Senators, now known as the Twins, should win the pennant by beating the new Senators.”

With a 2-1 victory over their former selves in front of a pitiful Washington crowd (8,302 fans), the Twins punched a ticket to the World Series for the first time since moving to Minnesota, and the first time in franchise history since 1933. Meanwhile, Washington endured a 72-90 record. It was the best performance so far by the new Senators, but still a forgettable one. The team left town four years later, and playoff baseball hasn’t returned to the nation’s capital since.

1965 Twins at a Glance

Record 102-60
Star Hitter Tony Oliva: .321/.378/.491, 16 HR, 98 RBI, 19 SB
Ace Pitcher Mudcat Grant: 21-7, 3.30 ERA, 270.1 IP, 142 K
All Stars C Earl Battey, P Grant, OF Jimmie Hall, 3B Harmon Killebrew, OF Tony Oliva, SS Zoilo Versalles
Clinched Pennant September 26 with 2-1 victory over Senators
Postseason Results Lost to Dodgers in World Series (7 Games)

It was a tough year for Washington, and not just on the baseball field. Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, and the nation he ran was heading toward chaos. Thirty-five thousand protestors marched in the  nation’s capital against escalating violence in Vietnam. And that wasn’t even the most significant protest march of the year – Martin Luther King led thousands on a march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery in support of civil rights. At times, the growing tension led to violent outbursts, most infamously in the Watts Riots that paralyzed Los Angeles for a week in August.

But at Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota the tension and turbulence must have seemed a world away, because everything went perfectly for the Twins. The 1965 team was one of the best they have ever put on the diamond. They won 102 games, still a franchise record. The pitching rotation featured some of the greats in team lore: Jim Kaat, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry, and Camilo Pascual. Grant was the workhorse, winning 21 games and racking up 270.1 innings. Kaat turned in an impressive performance himself, with 18 and 264.1 respectively.

The ’65 Twins also boasted some of the best hitters in the game. Harmon Killebrew was limited to 113 games because of injury, but he was still in his prime, and he smacked 25 homers. Rising star Tony Oliva earned his second AL batting title in just his second full season in the majors. Though his home run total dropped from 32 to 16, he still led the league in hits and finished second in MVP voting. The man he lost to was none other than Twins shortstop Zoilo Versalles, who put together a solid all-around season with 45 doubles, 12 triples, 19 home runs, 27 steals, and 126 runs scored. At first glance, Versalles’s .273 batting average may seem low for an MVP, but this was a different era. The Twins led the AL in hitting, and their team average was a mere .254. C Earl Battey, CF Jimmie Hall, and 1B Don Mincher all added solid seasons at the plate.

Back then there was no ALCS, and certainly no ALDS. The teams with the best record in each league met each other for the World Series. And the National League’s best was the Los Angeles Dodgers. Though the Twins actually had a better regular season record than the Dodgers (who finished 97-65), Los Angeles had two crucial advantages: Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Two Cy Young caliber pitchers capable of shutting down any lineup in the game.

Surprisingly, the Twins beat up Drysdale for 7 runs in Game 1, en route to a 8-2 victory. And though Koufax was masterful in Game 2, they managed to get to him late and won the game 5-1. Bob Allison may have provided the spark that won this one; he made a spectacular catch to rob Dodger 2B Jim Lefebvre of extra bases in the fifth inning. But when the Series moved to L.A., the Dodgers snuffed the Twins’ momentum with three decisive wins. The Twins took Game 6 and set the stage for Game 7.

Unfortunately, the 1965 World Series would be forever remembered as the Sandy Koufax Show. Kaat pitched well for the hometown squad, but Koufax never gave the Twins a chance. He went the distance, struck out 10, and only allowed three hits in a 2-0 Dodger triumph.

The 1965 Twins were thus denied the World Series title. But nobody can overlook the true significance of this team: the Twins had established themselves as a winning force in Minnesota, far removed from the losing legacy of Washington.

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Tags: Camilo Pascual Don Mincher Earl Battey Harmon Killebrew History Jim Kaat Jimmie Hall Los Angeles Dodgers Minnesota Twins Mudcat Grant Tony Oliva Washington Senators Zoilo Versalles