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  • Right Fielders of the 70s: Bobby Darwin


    Theo Tollefson

    Following Tony Oliva’s full-time move to the designated hitter role for the Twins in 1973, he was succeeded in right field by three players to finish out the 1970s. All three of these men were African-American athletes that took on their roles as right fielders quite successfully following in the footsteps of a future hall of famer. 

     

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    Bobby Darwin was the first of these successors to Tony Oliva, having his breakout season with the Twins in 1972. Darwin was initially signed as a pitcher to start his professional career. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Darwin lucked out being born in 1943 as he was at the ripe age of 18 when the newly-formed Los Angeles Angels expansion team entered MLB in 1961. 

    Shortly after signing a contract with the Angels before the 1962 season, Darwin made his MLB debut on September 30, 1962, starting the game for the Halos. His first MLB start was not how Darwin likely wanted to break into the big leagues at 19 years old, only going 3 1/3 innings and giving up four runs on eight hits and four walks to Cleveland. 

    His pitching woes continued throughout the 1960s. He had some success and several struggles on the mound. Consistency was certainly an issue in the minor leagues. Darwin returned to the majors briefly in 1969, seven years after his debut, for six games.

    It went so well that in 1970 he became a full-time outfielder in the Dodgers system. He had always been a good hitter for a pitcher, so it was worth trying. In 86 games that year in the minor leagues, he hit .297 with 23 home runs and 70 RBI. In 91 games in 1971 in the minors, he hit .293/.342/.517 (.859) with 17 homers and 55 RBI. He returned to the big leagues for 11 more games. He went 5-for-20 (.250) a homer in 11 games.

    Darwin landed in Twins territory following that 1971 season in a trade with the Dodgers for center field prospect Paul Powell. The newfound success for Darwin in the minor leagues as an outfielder was enough for the Twins to give him a chance for his first entire MLB season in 1972. Darwin didn’t miss a beat on that opportunity. 

    Now 29, 1972 was Bobby Darwin’s breakout season. Twins manager Bill Rigney found a way to get Darwin in the lineup almost every day, leading the team in games played with 145 (out of 154 games).

    Darwin hit .267/.326/.442 (.769) with 20 doubles, 22 homers, and 80 RBI. He also struck out 145 times which remained the Twins single-season record until Brian Dozier struck out 148 times in his All-Star 2015 season. A year later, Miguel Sano struck out 178 times, and last season he topped that mark with 183 strikeouts. 

    In 1973, Darwin again played in 145 games. He hit .252/.309/.391 (.701) with 20 doubles, 18 homers, and 90 RBI. Despite 52 more plate appearances, Darwin struck out 137 times. 

    For the third straight season, Bobby Darwin led the Twins in strikeouts, this time with 127 strikeouts in 630 plate appearances. In 152 games in 1974, he hit .264/.322/.442 (.764) with 13 doubles, seven triples, 25 homers, and 94 RBI. Only Rod Carew played in more games than Darwin, and he played in 153 games.

    He began the 1975 season with the Twins. In 48 games, he hit .219/.307/.343 (650) with six doubles and five homers in 48 games. He was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in mid-June for outfielder Johnny Briggs.  

    The quick three-season peak of his career was entering its decline in those 48 games, but Darwin turned his season around with his chance in Milwaukee. Following the 1975 season, Darwin split time his final two seasons between the Brewers, Cubs, and Red Sox, retiring after the conclusion of the 1977 season. 

    Darwin was one of the fortunate Twins from 1970 to 1972 that had the chance to be teammates with five future Hall of Famers; Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Bert Blyleven, Tony Oliva, and Jim Kaat. Darwin found himself as the successor to Oliva and started a lineage that would see an African-American player starting in right field for the Twins almost every day from 1972-1980. 

    Those at Twins Daily would also like to wish Bobby Darwin a happy 79th birthday today!

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    Good stuff. I remember Darwin well.

    But I believe that the American League went from 154 games to 162 in 1961, when the league enlarged and 154 could not be made to come out even with a symmetric schedule. With 7 opponents, 7 x 22 = 154, but with 9 opponents, 9 x 18 = 162.

    So his 145 games is a slightly smaller, though still impressive, fraction of the total season.

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    Darwin was a good player and followed the opposite script of many players who went from hitters to pitchers--Nathan, DeGrom, Hoffman, Gore, and many others.   He did have a great arm.  I can remember how people made a big deal about his strikeouts, but as it turned out, he was just ahead of his time ;).  Your article  also made me think about Bill Rigney and how he liked to yank pitchers quickly.  He is another guy who would fit modern baseball with his propensity to pull starters after 5 or 6 innings.  When he was managing the Angels his team always led the league in fewest complete games--usually in the 20's as  I recall.  These days that would be a lot.

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    2 hours ago, PDX Twin said:

    Good stuff. I remember Darwin well.

    But I believe that the American League went from 154 games to 162 in 1961, when the league enlarged and 154 could not be made to come out even with a symmetric schedule. With 7 opponents, 7 x 22 = 154, but with 9 opponents, 9 x 18 = 162.

    So his 145 games is a slightly smaller, though still impressive, fraction of the total season.

    The 1972 baseball season was shortened by labor trouble (I think it was a lockout, a little deja vu here).  So the teams played about 154-155 games.  Any player who appeared in 140+ games really earned his salary.  Rigney started Darwin in centerfield, and that probably wasn’t the best idea, but Darwin’s hitting was the talk of the league for the first couple months of the season.  

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    The ball jumped off Bobby Darwin's bat with what seemed kind of a booming sound. He had a rather long swing but when he connected, you knew it. With father time catching up with Killebrew and Tony-o running around on one knee, Bobby Darwin's bat was key in the middle of the Twin's lineup 1972-74.

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