This is part two 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.
What do Richard Nixon, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Armstrong, and Harmon Killebrew all have in common?
These men all reached the pinnacles of their careers in 1969.
Nixon took the oath of office as America’s 37th President. Hendrix dazzled a crowd of hippies by playing the Star Spangled Banner at a rock concert near the small town of Woodstock, New York. And Armstrong took one small step on the surface of the moon. Also in 1969, the Department of Defense created ARPANET, a computer network that eventually gave birth to the internet. Charles Manson and his gang of deranged disciples horrified the nation with a string of brutal murders. And the government began using the draft lottery to determine which young men would fight in Vietnam.
1969 was an incredibly eventful year, arguably the most eventful in American history. Anyone who isn’t a die-hard Twins fan could be forgiven for not remembering the incredible performance of Killebrew, who hit 49 home runs, collected the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award, and led Minnesota to the first ever American League Western Division title. In fact, the Twins were overshadowed even in the world of baseball – 1969 was the year of the Amazin’ Mets, who stunned sports fans by winning their first ever World Series title.
1969 Twins at a Glance
|Record||97-65, first in American League West|
|Heavy Hitter||Harmon Killebrew, .276/.427/.584, 49HR, 140 RBI|
|Ace Pitcher||Jim Perry, 20-6, 2.82 ERA, 261.2 IP|
|All Stars||C Johnny Roseboro, 2B Rod Carew, 3B Killebrew, OF Tony Oliva,|
|Clinched Pennant||September 22, with 4-3 win over Kansas City|
|Postseason Results||Swept in ALCS by Orioles, 3-0|
The 1969 Twins easily outmatched their competition in the American League West, finishing nine games ahead of the second place Oakland Athletics. This team featured a truly impressive offensive attack that led the league in batting average, hits, doubles, and runs scored and finished second in on-base percentage, third in slugging, and fourth in home runs. Killebrew was the biggest bat in the lineup, and he achieved team records that still stand in homers and RBIs. First baseman Rich Reese contributed a .322 average. Tony Oliva rebounded from a couple of subpar seasons to hit .309 with 24 homers. Super-utility man Cesar Tovar stole 45 bases despite bouncing around the diamond all season; he played all three outfield positions in addition to second and third base. And a 24 year old second baseman named Rod Carew won the AL batting title with a .332 mark. It was just the first of seven such crowns in a Hall of Fame career.
This Twins team could pitch, too. Jim Perry and Dave Boswell both posted 20 win seasons. Veterans Jim Kaat and Dean Chance added depth to the rotation. Though not as spectacular as the hitters, the teams pitchers managed a 3.24 team ERA, third in the AL.
Before 1969, a first place finish would have sent the Twins directly to the World Series. But this was a new era in the game, the first year of division play. The brand new American League Championship Series, a best of five contest, determined the pennant winner. And as good as these Twins were, they were completely outgunned by one American League team: the Baltimore Orioles, winners of the AL East with a stunning 109-53 record.
The ALCS was over after three games, though it was arguably closer than it looked. In Game 1, the Twins and O’s stayed tied until the 12th inning, but a walkoff bunt single by Paul Blair drove home Mark Belanger for the 4-3 Oriole win. Game 2 went into extra innings too, this time with a 0-0 score, but the Orioles again triumphed when Curt Motton drove home the game’s only run in the 11th. Back in Minnesota for Game 3, the Orioles ended any hopes of a close-fought battle with an 11-2 laugher.
The 1969 Twins thus established themselves as the answer to a sports trivia question (who won the first ever AL West title?) and might have even cracked the top 500 most interesting news events of the year. But they also set a terrible precedent for the franchise. This was the first ever Twins team to get swept by an AL East foe in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it would not be the last.