Don Mincher career highlights

The other day, the baseball world lost another one of its veterans, as Don Mincher passed away at age 73. The first baseman enjoyed a 13-year career mainly with the Twins, but he also played with the Angels, Pilots, Rangers and A’s, and he played with both Senators squads—he was on the clubs that moved out of Washington to both Minnesota and Texas.

After his playing days, he became general manager of the Huntsville (Ala.) Stars, the Double-A affiliate of first the A’s, then (and now) the Milwaukee Brewers. And he served as president of the Southern League from 2000 to last October..

When a player dies, it’s time to look back on his life and career. Others can do a better job looking at the man himself. Below are his career highlights. These include his personal highest and lowest moments, the greatest and most important games he participated in, and some of the oddities he was personally on hand for. Also, because he was a Pilot, we’ll also include one or two of the better Mincher-related anecdotes from Jim Bouton’s book, Ball Four.

Here they are, in order and divided by team he played for:

Twins (and Senators) tenure

April 18, 1960: Mincher makes his big league debut on the last Opening Day the original AL Senators ever have. He goes 0-for-4 with a GIDP, but draws a walk and scores a run as Washington trounces Boston, 10-1. The walk comes in his first career plate appearance and he scores on a Jim Lemon homer a few minutes later. In his first actual at bat, he grounds out to the pitcher to end the third inning.

April 21, 1961: The American League comes to Minnesota—and Mincher is there. In fact, he hits the first homer for the home team in their home stadium, but they lose to the expansion Senators, 5-3.

April 28, 1962: Mincher has one of the best games of his career. Though he doesn’t start, the Twins ask him to enter as a pinch-hitter in the third inning, and he responds with the first of 10 career pinch-hit home runs. Four innings later, he outdoes that by smashing the first of ten career grand slams. Despite his pair of dingers and five RBIs, Minnesota loses, 8-7 to Cleveland. It’s also the first of 16 multi-home run games for Mincher. His five RBIs are a mark he’ll tie, but never better.

Sept. 10, 1962: Dean Chance nearly no-hits the Twins in California’s 5-0 win. Only a Zoilo Versalles eighth inning single ruins it. Mincher comes up as a pinch hitter in the fifth and strikes out looking—one of nine Ks Chance had on the day.

July 24, 1963: The longest hitting streak of Mincher’s career peaks at 10 games. That may not sound like much for a career-longest hitting streak, but Mincher frequently served as a pinch-hitter, played during a low-average era, and much of his value came from power and walks. In these 10 games, he’s gone 19-for-39 with a double and eight homers. So yeah, that’s pretty good. His line in that time: .487/.535/1.128 for a 1663 OPS.

As it happens, Mincher’s hitting streak ends in the second game of a doubleheader on that day, but that’s OK. Though Mincher is 0-for-3 with a pair of Ks on the day, he’s not needed: Starting pitcher Jim Kaat throws a complete game shutout and bops a three-run homer as the Twins defeat Cleveland 5-0. All of Minnesota’s runs score in the top of the ninth. The Twins won the first game in a shutout, too, 9-0.

Aug. 28, 1963: According to the schedule, today the Twins are supposed to play in Washington against the Senators. But the game has to be postponed for an unusual reason—today is the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. There will be a doubleheader the next day instead.

May 12, 1964: Mincher sets a personal best with four hits. He’s 4-for-5 with a solo homer as the Twins destroy the White Sox, 11-1. Mincher will enjoy another four-hit game on June 4, 1971 but that comes over nine at bats in a 21-inning game.

June 17, 1964: This time the Twins lose a game when a pitcher combines a shutout with a homer. Cleveland’s Pedro Ramos does it, in a 5-0 Indians win. Mincher is 1-for-4 on the day.

July 25, 1964: The Twins exhaust nearly their entire roster in a 6-5 13-inning loss to the White. They use nine pitchers—10 if you count Mudcat Grant, who is used solely as a pinch runner. In all, 23 Twins see action, including Mincher, who enters the game to play first base in the 13th inning. (Harmon Killebrew got the start at first, and he’s the guy Grant pinch ran for, opening the door for Mincher to appear).

Sept. 6, 1964: Four days ago, Zoilo Versalles got the only hit for the Twins in a game. Today he again has their only hit—but the team still wins, 2-1 over Boston. Versalles hits a home run right after Rich Rollins reaches on error. Mincher is 0-for-2 with a walk.

May 31, 1965: In the 375th game of his career, Mincher is asked to do something unprecedented for him—play a position other than first base. In the second game of a doubleheader, he starts in left. Sandy Valdespino, the left fielder in the first game, went 3-for-4 and is fine, but Minnesota wants to rest him now. The arrangement lasts only half the game and Valdespino is back in left by the fifth inning. Mincher will play four innings in right field for the Angels, but the rest of his career is at first base. This will be his only start outside of first base.

June 29, 1965: Mincher draws two intentional walks against the White Sox. That helps him get a season total of 15, which is enough to lead the league. It’s the only time Mincher ever leads the league in anything.

Oct. 5, 1965: World Series Game One: Mincher’s first postseason at bat turns out to be his best postseason at bat. With two away and none on in the second and Minnesota trailing LA, 1-0, he belts a Don Drysdale offering for a home run to even the game. Minnesota scores six times in the next inning and cruises to an 8-2 win.

Oct. 10, 1965: World Series Game Four: Mincher has done OK so far this World Series, picking up a hit in each of the first three games. Today, it all falls apart on him as Drysdale gets his revenge for the Game One homer. Mincher goes 0-for-4 with three Ks, his worst postseason performance. He won’t get another hit in the rest of the Series, going 0-for-13 with six Ks in the last four games, as the Dodgers win the world title in seven games.

June 11, 1966: For the second consecutive game, Mincher draws a bases-loaded walk for an RBI. Three days from now, it’ll happen again when Kansas City’s Chuck Dobson walks Mincher with the bases loaded. It happens only 13 times in Mincher’s entire career.

July 9, 1966: Mincher is part of a bit of baseball history when the Twins belt five home runs in one inning. In fact, it happens in just six plate appearances against the Kansas City A’s. First Rich Rollins goes deep, and then Zoilo Versalles does likewise. KC pulls starting pitcher Catfish Hunter for reliever Paul Linblad, and he coaxes a groundout from Sandy Valdespino. Then Tony Oliva, Mincher, and Harmon Killebrew hit consecutive homers. Ending the streak is Jimmie Hall, who belts a double off the outfield wall—so it’s very nearly six homers in seven PA.

Angels tenure

May 12, 1967: Mincher bops three doubles for the only time in his career. He’s 3-for-4 but never scores or drives in a run as the White Sox top the Angels, 1-0. His teammates are 2-for-26 as Mincher makes it to third base only once all day.

May 22, 1967: It’s milestone time. Mincher goes deep against Kansas City’s Chuck Dobson for his 100th career home run. It’s a solo in the bottom of the second.

July 5, 1967: Mincher’s 105th career homer is more importantly his first career walk-off shot. He hits a two-run dinger with no outs in the bottom of the ninth against Boston’s Jose Santiago for a 4-3 Angels win. It won’t be his last walk-off. His WPA for the blast is 0.707, his most ever for one swing. His WPA for the entire game is 0.720, his best ever one-game performance.

July 11, 1967: In his first All-Star selection, Mincher gets in the game and makes the most of his opportunity. Leading off the bottom of the eighth of a game tied 1-1, he swats a pinch-hit single. However, he’ll never score, and the NL will win, 2-1 in 15 frames.

Aug. 18, 1967: At first base, Mincher has a clear view of one of the most ghastly injuries in baseball history. In the fourth inning, Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton‘s fastball goes too far inside. It slams into the eye socket of young Red Sox star Tony Conigliaro. He will never fully recover from this injury.

Sept. 11, 1967: Mincher is on hand to see a bit of baseball history. He’s at first base in the second inning when a young Kansas City A’s outfielder named Reggie Jackson belts the first home run of his big league career.

May 15, 1968: For the first time in 67 years, an American League game takes place in Milwaukee, as the White Sox host the Angels there. Mincher is held hitless but California wins, 4-2.

Pilots tenure

April 8, 1969: The Seattle Pilots make their big league debut, defeating Mincher’s old team, the Angels, 4-3. Mincher is 0-for-3 but scores a run off a HBP.

April 11, 1969: It’s the first ever major league game in Seattle—and Mincher is there. More than that, he belts the first homer in Seattle, as the Pilots top the White Sox, 7-0. Mincher will later play for the Rangers in their first season in Texas, but doesn’t play in their first game (and thus missing his chance to be the first home team player to homer in three different towns).

April 14, 1969: In the top of the first inning, Mincher steals a base, his first one since June 21, 1966. He’ll end the year with 10 steals and 11 caught steals. Prior to this year, he was 4-for-16 in stolen base attempts. Clearly, manager Joe Schulz wants him to run more. Mincher has only 24 steals (in 56 attempts) over his entire career, though.

May 11, 1969: In the bottom of the ninth of a game tied 5-5, Mincher belts a home run, his second career walk-off home run. Seattle wins, 6-5.

May 31, 1969: Only one thing prevents the Pilots from being no-hit today, and that one thing is Don Mincher. His hit is the only one allowed by Tiger starter Joe Sparma. It’s the only time Mincher will have the sole hit in a complete game one-hitter.

June 10, 1969: From the files of Ball Four .. . . While talking with his teammates, veteran first baseman Don Mincher figures that most major leaguers take greenies. He figures all the Orioles do, most the Tigers do, and most of the Pilots do.

July 6, 1969: This might be the best game of Don Mincher’s career as he sets a personal best for total bases (10) while tying his highs for extra base hits (three) and homers (two) in one contest. He’s 3-for-4 with four RBIs and two runs score in Seattle’s 9-3 beat-down of the Royals.

July 23, 1969: Today, Don Mincher becomes the answer to a trivia question: Who is the only Seattle Pilot to ever appear in an All-Star game? Mincher does on this day, pinch-hitting for Denny McLain with two outs and runners on the corners in the bottom of the ninth. Bob Gibson fans him to end the inning. The NL is up 9-3 at the time, and that will also be the final score.

July 27, 1969: According to WPA, this is the worst game of Mincher’s career. In a 20-inning game, he goes 1-for-9 with four strikeouts as the Red Sox (eventually) top Seattle, 5-3. All his strikeouts come in extra innings. The four Ks tie Mincher’s personal high. Also, four strikeouts in the extra frames of a contest have to at least approach a major league record.

Aug. 2, 1969: Here’s maybe the best Don Mincher anecdote in Ball Four: The Pilots have given the players a questionnaire to fill out. Mincher sees a question asking what’s the most difficult thing about being a big league ballplayer and quips that it’s explaining to the wife why she needs to get a penicillin shot for your kidney infection.

First A’s tenure

Aug. 2, 1970: It’s been a great pitcher’s duel, with the Senators and A’s tied 0-0 entering the bottom of the ninth. That’s when Mincher provides the game’s only offense, with a walk-off home run against Washington reliever Horacio Pina. As it happens, Oakland’s starting pitcher (who left the game earlier and got a no-decision) is a young, pre-mustache Rollie Fingers.

Aug. 9, 1970: Mincher hits two homers and collects four RBIs. It’s the last of his 16 multi-home run games.

Sept. 21, 1970: With Mincher manning first base, Oakland A’s phenom Vida Blue no-hits the Minnesota Twins. A walk to Harmon Killebrew is the only base runner on the day for the Twins. Mincher is 2-for-3 with a HBP and run – and he also records the final out when he catches Cesar Tovar’s foul pop up in the ninth.

Senators/Rangers tenure

May 15, 1971: This has to be one of the most satisfying home runs in Mincher’s career. He comes to the plate in the bottom of the 15th in a game against the Tigers tied 3-3 and belts a walk-off, pinch-hit home run. It caps a nice comeback for Washington, who scored once in the bottom of the eighth and twice in the bottom of the ninth to force the game into extra innings.

Aug. 31, 1971: Mincher makes a bit of trivia history by becoming the last Washington Senator to belt a grand slam when he goes deep in the top of the sixth against New York’s Roger Hambright. It’s his seventh and final slam, and his only pinch-hit grand slam. It’s also his final pinch-hit homer.

Sept. 14, 1971: The Indians pitching staff has a rough time of it in the marathon second game of a doubleheader. In a 20-inning contest that the Indians ultimately lose 6-5 to Washington, the Cleveland staff issues 19 free passes. Two of those walks are to Mincher, who is otherwise 0-for-9 on the day. Mincher also drew one of four walks in the first game, as well as hitting a homer in a 3-1 Washington win.

July 10, 1972: Mincher belts another home run, No. 200 for his career. It turns out to be his last one, leaving with a round number to end his career.

July 14, 1972: It might be the greatest pitching performance anyone ever has a game Mincher plays in: Indians ace Gaylord Perry goes 13 innings without allowing a single run. He fans nine while allowing three walks and nine hits. He gets the win as the Indians triumph 2-0 in 14 frames. Mincher is 1-for-6 with a scratch single against Perry on the day.

Final A’s tenure

July 21, 1972: Mincher’s first game in the last stop of his career ends in an unfortunate manner, as the A’s lose 5-4 in 14 innings on a walk-off error by right fielder Bill Voss. With a man on first he lets a ground ball by Carl Yastrzemski get away from him, and the result is a Boston win.

Sept. 12, 1972: His career is winding down and Mincher is basically just a pinch-hitter at this point, but on this day he cracks a pinch-hit single for career hit No. 1,000. He’ll end with 1,003 in his career.

Sept. 19, 1972: In a 15-inning contest, the A’s and White Sox combine to use a record 51 players. Mincher has the distinction of being the first bench player to enter the game, as he comes up as a pinch hitter in the second inning (and strikes out). He’s the first of 14 pinch hitters on the day. Chicago wins the wild one, 8-7.

Oct. 4, 1972: In the last regular season game of his final year, Don Mincher is asked to pinch hit against Angels ace Nolan Ryan—and he responds with an RBI single. It proves to be the difference in a 2-1 Oakland win.

Oct. 10, 1972: ALCS Game Three: Mincher appears in his first postseason game since 1965. He steps to the plate as a pinch hitter in the top of the fourth against Detroit’s Joe Coleman with Gene Tenace on first and one out. The results are less than ideal, as Mincher whiffs on an apparent hit-and-run call for a strike out-throw out double play. It’s Mincher’s only appearance in the ALCS, which Oakland wins in five games.

Oct. 19, 1972: World Series Game Four: Mincher’s last at-bat is a great one to end a career on. He comes to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with Oakland trailing 2-1 and runners on first and second. Mincher belts an RBI-single to tie the game, and send the winning run to third base. That runner scores a few minutes later on a pinch-hit by teammate Angel Mangual. Oakland now leads the Series three games to one. While it’s a great last at bat for Mincher, it’s not his last appearance, as we’ll see in a second.

Oct. 20, 1972: World Series Game Five: Mincher worked so well as a pinch-hitter last time that manager Dick Williams calls on him again here in the bottom of the eighth of a game tied 4-4 and the possible winning run on first. However, as soon as Mincher comes out to pinch hit, Reds manager Sparky Anderson dives to his bullpen, calling on Ross Grimsley to pitch in relief, neutralizing Mincher’s platoon advantage. Well, Dick Williams won’t be out-managed, and so calls on Angel Mangual to pinch-hit for pinch-hitter Mincher. Thus Mincher never gets his chance. Cincinnati wins, extending the Series.

Oct. 21, 1972: World Series Game Six: Would you believe it happens again? With the Reds up 3-1 in the seventh, Williams again calls on Mincher to pinch-hit, only to see Anderson switch pitchers, and for the second straight game Williams yanks Mincher for a replacement pinch-hitter (Dave Duncan, in this case). These turn out to be the final two games Mincher ever “appears” in.

Ah well, at least Oakland won it all in seven games. And Mincher could say his last at bat was a big World Series hit. So even if his final moment on the diamond wasn’t the stuff of storybooks, it came closer to it than the way most careers end.

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Comments

  1. Marc Schneider said...

    Fine article and I enjoyed reading the quotes from Ball Four.  But the last quote illustrates why I have always had some reservation about the book.  I guarantee that Mincher would not have said something like that if he thought it would be in a book.  We all say lots of things (seriously or otherwise)that we would not want published and that you wouldn’t expect a friend/teammate to reveal.  Bouton has always claimed that he didn’t disclose anything really bad—e.g., not naming names of players that were cheating on their wives—but a lot of the quotes are embarrassing, at least they would be to me.  Ball Four is a great book but that aspect of it has always bothered me a bit.

  2. Steve Treder said...

    Love it, Chris.  I was a big fan of Mincher, not only in real life but also in Strat-o-Matic.  The dude could really, really hit.

  3. robert said...

    “May 11, 1969: In the bottom of the ninth of a game tied 5-5, Mincher belts a home run, his second career walk-off home run. Seattle wins, 6-5.”

    That was the first MLB game I attended; Frank Howard hit two massive home runs for the Senators. It was also bat day – I still have my Jerry McNertney model bat somewhere. Can you imagine teams given out bats today?

  4. Bruce Markusen said...

    Well done, Chris.

    Marc, as I recall, Bouton made no secret about the fact that he was keeping a diary and writing a book. But it’s certainly possible that Mincher and other players let down their guards at times and said things jokingly without reminding themselves that the words could make it into print.

  5. glenn-troy ny said...

    have to include April 11,1968…Sam McDowell plunks Don in the head with a fastball in the 2nd game of the season..Don would have a below par year & many blame this event as the reason..very scary photo of the event appears on page 41 of the 1969 TSN Baseball Guide…Don is on the ground with a trainer attending to him

  6. danny medlen said...

    met mr mincher when i was around 10 yo. he was a friend of my mom and dads from high school. i remember looking up,up and up some more. seemed like a giant to a kid that age went top school with his kids. always kind and personable. a real assest to the huntsville area over the years. great article.

  7. scott said...

    The Pilots were always one of my fave teams so Don Mincher has always been one of my fave players and it’s good to see him get some props here (along with the Greg Goossen article several years ago).  I’m also surprised that the 4/11/68 beaning was not included – if this doesn’t happen the Angels probably don’t leave him exposed in the expansion draft that fall.

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