The Twins Almanac for January 21–27
January 21, 1914
Birthdate of Blix Donnelly
It’s the birthdate of 1932 Olivia High School graduate and 1944 World Series hero Sylvester “Blix” Donnelly. He spent his first two years out of high school working and playing townball. He caught a break in 1934, receiving an invitation to a three-day baseball school at Nicollet Park in Minneapolis, and began his pro career the following season in Superior, WI. He was traded to Duluth for the ‘36 season where he went 11–19 with 232 strikeouts in 214 innings.
Donnelly’s minor league exploits, including a 19-K game and three no-hitters, are thoroughly laid out in Gregg Omoth’s essay in the Stew Thornley-edited Minnesotans in Baseball. Perhaps his best minor league season was 1941 when he went 28-6 with Class C Springfield, setting a Western Association record with 304 strikeouts. He also led the league in innings pitched, complete games, and wins despite being traded late in the season to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League, where he pitched another three games.
After nine minor league seasons, Donnelly made the Cardinals out of Spring Training in 1944. He came up big for the Cards in an all-St. Louis World Series, pitching perfect eighth and ninth innings in Game 1, and holding the Browns scoreless while striking out seven in the eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh innings of Game 2 to earn the win. The Cardinals won the Series in six games. Over 1,000 people crammed into the Olivia Armory to honor the World Series hero on October 24, 1944 at an event broadcast by WCCO’s Halsey Hall and Cedric Adams.
Donnelly went on to pitch eight seasons in the majors, including 14 appearances with the 1950 National League Champion Phillies. He passed away in 1976 at age 62.
January 21, 1922
Birthdate of Sam Mele
It’s the birthdate of Sam Mele, born in Astoria, NY in 1922. Mele played 10 major league seasons, including 1949–’52 with Calvin Griffith’s Washington Senators. In 1961, the Twins’ first season, Griffith made Mele the second manager in team history, succeeding Cookie Lavagetto. Mele led the Twins to the 1965 World Series, which they lost in a thrilling seven-game series vs. Sandy Koufax and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Overall the team went 524-436 under Mele before he was succeeded by Cal Ermer during the 1967 season.
Mele’s year of birth was listed as 1923 during his playing days, a trick that was suggested by his major league uncles Tony and Al Cuccinello. These days we associate fibbing about one’s age with Dominican players like Roberto Hernández (Fausto Carmona). Miguel Sanó’s true age was a huge source of controversy prior to the Twins signing him, as documented in Ballplayer: Pelotero (2011). But it’s hardly a new trick. Other than Sam Mele, Hall of Famers Rube Marquard, Phil Rizzuto, and Pee Wee Reese also lied about their age, as did 3x All-Star Hal McRae, who finally came clean in 1987 at age 41 (not 40).
Sam Mele passed away May 1, 2017. He was 95 years old.
Happy Birthday, Dick Stigman
It’s the birthday of 1954 Sebeka High School graduate and seven-year major leaguer Dick Stigman, born in Nimrod, MN in 1936.
Stigman signed with Cleveland out of high school. He was an All-Star during his 1960 rookie season. On April 2, 1962, the Twins acquired Stigman from Cleveland for Pedro Ramos in the first major trade in team history.
Pedro Ramos started the first regular season game in Twins history, pitching a complete-game three-hit shutout vs. Whitey Ford at Yankee Stadium on April 11, 1961.
Stigman won 27 games in his first two seasons with the Twins, including a three-hit shutout on April 18, 1963. His 15 complete games and 193 strikeouts that year were third in the AL. His teammate Camilo Pascual led the league in both categories. Stigman’s production declined by 1965, and he did not pitch in the seven-game World Series vs. Los Angeles.
The Twins traded Stigman to the Red Sox on April 6, 1966. It would be his final major league season.
Stigman spoke at the Halsey Hall SABR Fall Chapter Meeting on November 4, 2017. The Spring Chapter Meeting is scheduled for April 21 in Minneapolis.
January 24, 1881
Birthdate of Hank Gehring
It’s the birthdate of former professional spitballer Hank Gehring, born in St. Paul in 1881. His parents had immigrated from Switzerland with six children just a few years earlier. Hank was the second of three Gehring kids born in St. Paul. The family lived in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood.
Hank played 11 seasons of professional baseball. The spitball specialist was a pretty good hitter, too, often playing the outfield on days he wasnt pitching, and other times being used a pinch-hitter.
He got his start in pro ball with the St. Paul Saints in 1901. Pitching for the Duluth White Sox, he no-hit the Superior Longshoremen on June 21, 1904. Playing for the Wichita Jobbers in 1905, he led the Class C Western Association with 32 wins, 10 shutouts, and 264 strikeouts. At the plate he led the league with nine home runs. He played with the Minneapolis Millers in 1906, and began the 1907 season with the Des Moines champs before being called up to the Washington Senators, where the 26-year-old pitcher made his major league debut as a pinch-hitter on July 16. He pitched in 15 games for the Senators that season. He was there to witness the major league debut of a 19-year-old kid named Walter Johnson, who Senators scouts had discovered pitching in the semipro Southern Idaho League.
Gehrings numbers were respectable during his first big league season, but what really impressed people was his veteran-like composure. He earned a spot on the 1908 team, but after pitching just five innings over three games, he returned home to the St. Paul Saints where he remained through 1911.
Gehrig was set to pitch for the Kansas City Blues in 1912, but tragically died of kidney failure (uremia) on April 18. He was just 31 years old. Though his death was strongly felt throughout the midwest, newspaper coverage was scant on account of the Titanic having sunk in the North Atlantic just three days earlier. He was eulogized in Sporting Life, and the St. Paul Saints and Kansas City Blues held a benefit game on May 27, donating the entire Lexington Park gate proceeds to Gehrings widow and eight-year-old daughter. The game drew the largest weekday crowd of the season.
Gehring is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in St. Paul.
January 24, 1975
Royals Sign Killebrew
The Kansas City Royals sign free agent slugger Harmon Killebrew, eight days after he was released by Minnesota.
The Twins retired Harmon’s #3 when the Royals were in town on May 4, 1975. Harmon homered in the first inning of that game. On September 18 he took the Twins’ Eddie Bane deep for his 573rd and final career home run, fifth-most in major league history at the time. He hit 14 in a Royals uniform.
Happy 47th Birthday, Kerry Taylor
It’s the birthday of 1989 Roseau grad Kerry Taylor, born in Bemidji, MN in 1971. The Twins signed Taylor as a free agent out of high school. He was taken by San Diego in the 1992 Rule 5 Draft, and made his major league debut with the Padres on April 13, 1993 at age 22. He pitched 68 1/3 innings over 36 games that season, including seven starts, compiling an 0-5 record, 6.45 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, and averaging 5.9 strikeouts and 6.5 walks per nine innings. He made one start in the middle of the ‘94 season, giving up four runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings. At the plate, he went 0-for-14 with nine strikeouts.
Taylor continued to pitch in the Padres organization through the 1997 season, in the Tigers organization in ‘98, for independent Atlantic City in ‘99, and in the Blue Jays organization in 2000. He did manage to connect for seven hits over three seasons with Triple-A Las Vegas.
These days Taylor is a regional sales manager at Ziegler Caterpillar in Fergus Falls.
January 25, 1991
Twins Sign Pagliarulo
In a move that manager Tom Kelly had lobbied hard for, the Twins sign free agent third baseman Mike Pagliarulo. The signing was made possible by Gary Gaetti opting out of his contract on November 7, 1990. Gaetti’s production was on the decline, hitting .259 in 1989, and .229 in 1990. Gaetti stuck around the majors, however, hitting 35 home runs with Kansas City in 1995, and playing his final game in 2000 at age 41.
Pagliarulo started 112 games at third base for the ‘91 Twins, with Scott Leius starting most of the rest. Leius played in 109 regular season games total, entering many as a late-inning defensive replacement for Pagliarulo. Pags homered in the ‘91 ALCS, while Leius homered in the World Series.
January 25, 2013
Guardado and Mee Elected to Twins Hall of Fame
The Twins announce that “Everyday” Eddie Guardado and longtime public relations man Tom Mee have been elected to the team Hall of Fame.
Guardado pitched for the Twins from 1993-2003, and briefly in 2008 after being re-acquired from Texas in exchange for Mounds View grad and current St. Paul Saints pitcher Mark Hamburger. Guardado pitched in 648 games in a Twins uniform. That’s the most in team history, and it’s not even close. Rick Aguilera is next on the list, 158 games back. Guardado tied for the major league lead with 83 appearances in 1996. He led the American League with 45 saves in 2002.
Calvin Griffith hired St. Paul Saints PR man Tom Mee in 1960, before the team had even moved to Minnesota. Mee served as the Twins’ director of media relations for 30 years, retiring from that post on May 31, 1991, and succeeding current Star Tribune digital sports editor Howard Sinker as the Twins’ official scorer. Baseball historian Stew Thornley is the current official scorer.
January 26, 2012
Dave St. Peter announces that the Twins will retire Tom Kelly’s number 10.
January 27, 2012
Pascual Elected to Team Hall of Fame
Legendary Cuban pitcher Camilo Pascual is elected as the 24th member of the Twins Hall of Fame.
Pascual came up with the Washington Senators in 1954. He was sensational in the Twins’ first few seasons in Minnesota, leading the majors in shutouts in 1961 and ‘62, and leading the American League in complete games in 1962 and ‘63, and in strikeouts from 1961 to ‘63.
Pascual pitched back-to-back shutouts three separate times during the Twins’ inaugural 1961 season, and once again in 1962. Also in 1962, he became the first 20-game winner in Twins history. He won 21 games in 1963.
In 1965 he hit the only grand slam by a pitcher in Twins history. He had also hit a grand slam during the Senators’ final season in Washington.
Pascual was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame during a ceremony on July 14, 2012.
January 27, 2017
MacPhail and Cuddyer Elected to Twins Hall of Fame
Andy MacPhail and Michael Cuddyer are elected as the 29th and 30th members of the Twins Hall of Fame.
MacPhail began his career as a baseball executive in the Cubs organization in 1976. The Twins hired his as vice president of player development in 1984, and promoted him to general manager in 1985. He led the Twins to World Series championships in 1987 and 1991, and was named Executive of the Year by the Sporting News in 1991. Following the strike-shortened 1994 season, MacPhail became president and CEO of the Chicago Cubs, with whom he remained for 12 seasons. He succeeded Hall of Famer Pat Gillick as Phillies president following the 2015 season.
Andy’s dad and grandpa are both enshrined in Cooperstown. Larry was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978. Lee was inducted in 1978.
The Twins drafted Michael Cuddyer out of high school with the ninth overall pick in the first round of the 1997 draft. He made his major league debut as a September call-up in 2001.
Cuddyer was the tenth and most recent Twin to hit for the cycle, doing so on May 22, 2009. On August 23, 2009 he became the only player in Twins history to homer twice in the same inning.
Michael Cuddyer was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame on August 19, 2009. Andy MacPhail was inducted on August 20.
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