Saturday, October 27, 2012

Blast From the Past: Memories of the 1965 World Series

I first became aware of Major League Baseball during the 1965 season at the age of 9.  I listened to a handful of Giants games on the radio and listened to a lot of conversation about the pennant race between the Giants and Dodgers.  There was also a lot of talk about the awesomeness of Sandy Koufax, how hard he threw, the arthritis in his elbow, his general unbeatableness.  Naturally I was disappointed that the Giants had lost out in the Pennant race and was intrigued by a team that seemed to have come out of nowhere, the Minnesota Twins.  I barely even knew that the state of Minnesota existed and first learned about the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Back in those days, the standard pitching rotation was just 4 deep and pitchers typically started every 4'th game and were expected to pitch complete games as long as they were winning.  That meant that in the World Series with it's travel days, teams could start their ace pitcher in games 1, 4 and 7 and still have him on his normal schedule of 3 days rest.  A team with a pitcher like Sandy Koufax seemed unbeatable in that scenario.

The Dodgers had Koufax and Drysdale and not a whole lot else.  Their offense basically consisted of Maury Wills getting on base, stealing a lot of bases and scoring a run or 2 per game on things like groundouts and sac flies.  The Twins were a more balanced team with young starters Jim "Mudcat" Grant and lefty Jim Kaat.  They also had a much more potent lineup with AL batting champ Tony Oliva, slugger Harmon Killebrew and AL MVP Zoilo Versalles who had hit 18 HR's as a SS but also committed 39 errors.  It seemed like nobody in our community had ever heard of these Twins players, though.  It was all Koufax and Drysdale and how the Dodgers had beaten the Giants in the pennant race.

I remember being pleasantly surprised when the Twins dominated the first two games in Minnesota and jumped out to a 2 games to 0 lead in the series.  I remember Koufax creating a stir when he refused to pitch the opener because it fell on Yom Kippur.  The Twins lineup battered Drysdale and Grant pitched well for an 8-2 Twins win in the opener.  Then came the real shocker!  In game 2, Jim Kaat outpitched Sandy Koufax and the Twins won game two 5-1.  Hmm... maybe the arthritis had finally gotten to Koufax?  Maybe the young Jim Kaat was the next Sandy Koufax!  Suddenly it was the Twins who were looking unbeatable.

The series moved to LA where Claude Osteen, the forgotten man in the Dodgers rotation was going to try to stave off a third Twins victory and an almost certain Dodgers series defeat.  Well, the forgotten guy went out and pitched a complete game shutout as the Dodgers won game three 4-0.  Grant and Drysdale squared off in game 4 for a redo of Game 1 and this time it was the Dodgers who won easily 7-2.  The series was now evened up.  Koufax and Kaat reprised game 2 with Koufax easily winning 7-0.  So far, the home team had won every game and the series went back to Minnesota for the final two games with the Twins needing to win both to win the series.

The now desperate Twins sent Mudcat Grant out on 2 days rest to face the guy who turned the series around for the Dodgers, Claude Osteen.  Bob Allison hit a 2 run HR early while Grant pitched great and the Twins easily won Game six 5-1 with Grant going all the way on the aforementioned 2 days rest.

For game 7, the Twins sent out Jim Kaat, again on just 2 days rest while the Dodgers countered with Koufax on 2 days rest.  Dodger manager Walter Alston announced his decision to go with Koufax during a tense pregame meeting.   Sweet Lou Johnson, a career minor leaguer who was filling in for the injured Tommy Davis told Koufax he would get him a lead and made good on it with a solo HR in the 4'th.  The Dodgers added another run in the same inning.  Kaat was pulled from the game and the Twins bullpen shut down the Dodgers the rest of the way.  Koufax, on the other hand, pitched a complete game 3 hit shutout while striking out 10 Twins for the second time in the series giving the Dodgers the 4 games to 3 World Series victory.

Of the 14 starts in the series, 4 pitchers, Grant, Kaat, Drysdale and Koufax started 11 of them.  3 of the starts came on 2 days rest.  All 7 winning pitchers threw complete games, the only time that has happened since something like 1913.  It will, obviously, likely never happen again.

This early experience in my baseball fandom taught me some important lessons about the World Series:

1.  Teams that get to the World Series are good and you can't ever count them out until one of them wins 4 games.

2.  Good pitching trumps good hitting.

3.  World Series leads do not mean much until a home team loses.

There have been way too many World Series since then to remember them all.  I'm pretty sure not many have actually played out like the 1965 World Series, but first impressions and experiences are hard to shake.


  1. Great accounts of what sounded like an entertaining World Series! I wasn't around back then but my dad was and he was a Dodger fan as a kid. I remember when he would tell me about Koufax and how he only needed one run to win a game. Maury would walk then steal second, get sacrificed over to third and then driven home with a sac fly. National League baseball at its finest!!

    My favorite World Series as a kid was 1991 when Kirby Puckett looked like the best player in the world to me. He put the Twins on his back like I had never seen before and became my favorite baseball player from then on.

    The way that Kirby stepped up for his team reminds me a lot of the way every single Giant is playing right now. The Cardinals definitely had that focus last year in their last 2 games at home and there have been other teams in the past that have reached this level but I don't think I have ever seen the Giants play like this for an entire playoff before. I never thought I could be as impressed with this team as I was in 2010 but I have to say that this year is even more amazing.

    The fact that the season could be over in 2 more games is actually kind of depressing!! We have a lifetime to look back at this time in Giants history but I want to soak it in as much as humanly possible right now before it is over.

    If by some minor miracle this series comes back to AT&T, I highly recommend that all of you drop whatever you had planned and spend whatever it takes to go to the game. Game 7 on Monday was the most incredible sporting experience I have ever witnessed in person. I got to see Rice break the TD record against the Raiders, the playoff win against the Packers with the Young to T.O. catch, Gretzky break the all time goal record, and Bonds's 500th against the Dodgers to name a few and none of them mean anything anymore after Game 7. I hope everyone appreciates what we are witnessing right now because soon there will only be sweet sweet memories that years from now will become legends.

    1. Very well put, Pato!

      My wife is from Sioux Falls, SD which is Twins country. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the Twins because of the 1965 World Series so I'm pretty happy to go along with my wife's enthusiasm for the Twins. I remember the '87? and '91 series wins for the Twins. Loved every minute of them. Speaking of putting a team on one's back, I still think Jack Morris' performance in Game 7 against the Braves is the greatest game I've ever seen pitched. That game could have gone 20 innings and he would have gone all the way and still not give up a run!

      Gotta admit to being just a tad jealous of my wife's favorite team until 2010 when the Giants finally won it all, though.

  2. P-duk, saying and saving the best for last just like the Giants.