Tuesday, March 06, 2012
A tribute to Don MincherPosted by Bruce Markusen
For this writer, Don Mincher will always hold an important place. Mincher, who died on Sunday at the age of 73, was the first player I interviewed for my first book, "A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s."
Not only was Mincher the first, but he might have been the best of the interviews I did. Keep in mind that I really didn’t know what I was doing; I had done interviews before, but never for a full-length book, and this was a book for which I had not yet formulated a theme.
But Don made it easy. He spoke naturally and freely in giving me keen insights to the inner workings of the A’s circa 1971-72. He told me about the strong personalities who did not always agree with each other. He gave me advice on whom I should interview next, and which A’s I should perhaps steer away from.
(Off the record, he even told me about one ballplayer who might ask for money in exchange for an interview. That was good to know, since I had budgeted no money for the research process of writing the book!)
Most importantly, Don was friendly and accommodating. I didn’t feel like I was bothering him. If anything, he made it sound like he was grateful that somebody was taking an interest in his career and life in baseball.
There was plenty of reason to take interest, given his accomplishments, first as a ballplayer and later as a minor-league executive. He was humble about his playing days, preferring to talk about others, but he put up rock-solid numbers during his career.
A left-handed hitter with brute strength, Mincher hit with power and patience, totaling 200 home runs for his career while walking nearly as often as he struck out. During the decade of the deadball sixties, he put up OPS totals better than .800 six times.
He was the only man to play for both incarnations of the Washington Senators, making him the answer to a popular trivia question back in the seventies. He was also the only All-Star representative in the brief history of the Seattle Pilots.
Mincher played for two exceptional teams, the 1965 pennant-winning Twins and the world championship A’s of 1972. In the 1972 World Series, he helped the A’s win Game Four against the Reds with a pinch-hit RBI single, which turned out to be the final at-bat of his career.
The A’s decided not to bring him back for 1973, even though the American League had just voted into existence the new designated hitter rule. Mincher would have made an ideal DH, platooning against right-handed pitching, but no one saw fit to make him a concrete offer.
Unlike some ballplayers who struggle to find life after baseball, Mincher made a smooth transition to the front office. He eventually became the general manager of the Double-A Huntsville Stars, his hometown team, essentially running the franchise for more than 15 years. He then agreed to become the interim president of the Southern League before taking over operation of the league on a fulltime basis.
Before he retired last fall, Mincher impressed people throughout the minor league game with his easy-going manner, his smarts, his work ethic, and perhaps most of all, his integrity. He became a legendary figure in Huntsville, where he was beloved for simply being a gentleman.
I never met Mincher face-to-face, but I felt like I had during our lengthy phone conversation. If there is a way to make a lasting impression over the phone, Mincher was able to turn the trick.
Even though I talked to him only that one time, I’ll miss Don. For those who really knew him, for those who talked to him on a regular basis, I can only imagine how much they’ll miss him. Don Mincher was one of the good ones.
For more on Don Mincher’s career, please see Chris Jaffe’s THT Live entry on his career highlights.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.