Twins Talk, April 29 29 Apr 16

TWINS TALK

Memories with a Great Twins Writer!

Photos and Story by Gordy Jones

My love of baseball stems from my relationship with my dad. Some of my earliest memories are from when I was about 3: memories of my dad throwing pitches to me in the back yard. After several mighty swings and misses, I might finally connect and hit one over a very short fence, then run around the imaginary bases on my imaginary diamond, waving and tipping my cap to the neighbors watching from their porch.

As I grew up, my dad and I would watch many Twins games together — at Met Stadium, and the 50 that were televised every year on WTCN, Channel 11.

Every morning, he would get up at 4 a.m. to drink coffee and read the St. Paul Pioneer Press sports section before walking a short distance to his job at Whirlpool Corporation. I’d get up a little later during the summer and read the paper he left me. Then I had yardwork to do before going to a playground to get into a pickup baseball game.

My dad and I would get home around the same time and meet in the yard I had groomed as if it were Yankee Stadium. We’d play catch and discuss the previous night’s Twins game, and whatever we had read in the morning paper. Soon Mom had dinner ready, just as the evening St. Paul Dispatch was being delivered. We’d fight over the paper and read it until the ballgame came on.

Soon I was driving, working, and chasing girls. When I did get to see my dad, we’d continue to discuss the Twins, and what we read about them in the St. Paul paper. We began to notice a positive change in the writing style of the sports section. The stories had always had the facts; but only the facts, they were pretty sterile and generic. But now, there were some new names and bylines on the pages. The four that stood out to us were Charley Walters, Mike Augustin, Jim Wells, and Patrick Reusse; the new wave of sports writing. They helped you to feel the game or event as they put some personality and flavor into it. They wrote from the heart. Jim Wells wrote about boxing, which wasn’t my favorite sport, but his style made it interesting. He also wrote a lot about my best friend’s dad: Denny Nelson Jr. was my buddy, teammate, and lived across the alley from us, and his dad is the Hall of Fame boxing referee. It was fun to read about a guy that you knew. Walters was cool, too, a former Twin, but Reusse grew to be our favorite. He could make you see things other than the obvious, and notice things in a ballgame that the previous writers hadn’t. He wasn’t always reverent, which up to now had been the rule of thumb.

I had worked my tail off since I was ten: caddying, running rides at Como Park, running a small letterpress, delivering print jobs — anything I could do to make a buck. But now I was 19 and was proud to have just been hired by the Pioneer Press & Dispatch as a courier — my first real job. As part of my orientation, the company nurse informed me that I could cash my payroll check at a pub called Luigi’s, which was just across the street. She went on to say that you could get a good lunch there and run a tab if you were short on cash, but threatened that the paper would not tolerate hangover sick days. I couldn’t wait until payday! At this time, the legal drinking age was 18. After working late one payday, I ran some errands and then decided to check out Luigi’s kind of late and cash my check. Luigi’s was a treat! It seemed the entire newspaper staff was there. There was plastic on the floor in the pressmen’s section so that the ink wouldn’t get on the carpet. There were representatives of the mailroom, circulation, and editorial. People of every department were intermingling, betting on games, and having fun. Nowadays, newspaper people sometimes don’t even know who sits next to them…that’s if they even go into the office. I thought the bartender was psychic. He would make cocktails minutes before the customers arrived. I later found out that he had the night shift’s lunch schedule, and they didn’t want to waste any time waiting for a drink, they were on a deadline. The place was festive with laughter, music, and booze. I approached the bar, and on my left was Charley Walters. He was ordering a round of drinks. I think he had lost a bet. I introduced myself to him, told him I was a new hire, and that I was honored to meet him. He invited me to join him and his friends at the table. There at the table sat Jim Wells, Mike “Augie” Augustin, and a couple of other guys. I was in heaven. As we sat there, I just listened with my mouth shut. These guys had the greatest stories, so I just soaked it all in. Then suddenly, Luigi’s front door flung open and a big angry-looking man walked in. He looked familiar, but I just wasn’t sure who it was. It wasn’t until he got to the table that I could tell it was Patrick Reusse. His face matched the little cartoon that was sometimes in the paper. Charley “Shooter” Walters introduced me, and Patrick responded with a “Hi, grrr” — followed by another little growl and a roll of the eyes. I’m sure he’d had a rough day, but I didn’t care. I just sat and listened intensely to some “inside” Twins stories and some well-seasoned jokes. I laughed and drank beer all night. Several years later, I moved to California for a job at a small newspaper where I could further my career. But until I moved, I’d go to Luigi’s nearly every payday, and listen to those guys hold court.

Once I was settled in California, my dad would send me St. Paul newspaper clippings (pre-Internet), especially when Reusse would mention some of the Twins whom I’d gotten to know or admired, or my pal Dave Winfield (I was a volunteer for his charity), or my Mauer friends from school – years before Joe. After five years in California, I was offered a job back at the Pioneer Press. I returned home and was thrilled to see Reusse not only still writing, but now on the radio, too. I loved listening to him, and I still do. He can tell great stories, and he has an astonishing memory for details of games played decades ago. I caught up with Patrick at Twins spring training this past March. At the age of 70, he hasn’t slowed down; he was all over camp, chasing scoops, interviewing veterans and rookies, and just gathering material. He had some laughs with baseball people that he’s known more than 40 years, too.  

I asked Pat if baseball was always his number-one sport. He said: “Yes, thanks to my dad. My dad was an organizer of baseball back in Fulda, Minnesota. When I was a little kid, he brought in Hilton Smith and Earl Ashby. I give him credit for integrating Murray County. Hilton ended up in the Hall of Fame, and I met his family out there. They remember staying in an apartment in the back of a building that my dad owned. They had fond memories.”    

Pat has fond memories as well. He loved watching baseball with his dad, and playing it, too. His Little League coach was 1960 Olympic Gold Medal goalie Jack McCartan, who played ball for the Gophers, and also played third base on his dad’s Fulda team. Patrick enjoyed playing ball, but when I asked him if he had fantasies like most kids do of making it to the majors, he said, “Nah! Even then I was a realist!”

Reusse moved to Minneapolis and went to the U of M, and worked at the Star as a copy boy. After two weeks at the paper, Patrick knew that a sports writer is what he wanted to be. When I asked him about his early years at the paper, and how he got along with Sid Hartman, he said: “Sid says he hired me, but it was a guy named Ted. Sid probably had to sign off on it, though.”

“One of the things we had to do back then was find the little engravings – the photos – for his column. The column was called “The Round Up” back then. He’d get very upset if you couldn’t find the photo. You were more likely to get your rear end chewed out by Sid, rather than to be praised. He was writing six columns a week and running the department. He always had an amazing work ethic.”

After being a copy boy, Patrick went to work for the Duluth Tribune for $76.08 a week. He had a wife and kid, and couldn’t afford the rent when his buddy and future Pioneer Press colleague Mike Augustin offered him a higher-paying job in St. Cloud. He stayed there for two and a half years; then, In September of 1968, he landed a job in St. Paul. He did various jobs around the sports department until 1974, when he became the Twins beat writer. He laughs when he says that a few years later, he was the first St. Paul writer to go on the road equipped with a computer.

I praised Patrick for his memory and attention to detail. He waved it off and said he might get a snapshot in his mind of the event, but the greatest invention for the baseball writer is “Baseball Reference.” (baseball-reference.com) He remembers the event, but then Baseball Reference helps him to find the details. “We all find out that what we remember is not exactly what happened.” He then told an example about Bert Blyleven during a telecast, saying how he gave up five solo home runs, pitched 9 innings, and won a game. Reusse’s son looked up that particular game using Baseball Reference, only to find that in that game, Bert was pulled in the fourth inning, and the Twins lost, 13-5. 

In 1981, Patrick quit drinking and received treatment at St. Mary’s. He said, “I was divorced. I felt I was acting like a 25-year old kid when I was 35. But it worked! Plus I got to miss the Stanley Cup Finals. I didn’t like writing about hockey very much, anyways. It was a good decision.” Then he told me about going to the dog track soon after that when a man approached him and asked, “Don’t you remember me? My name’s Jack. I owned Luigi’s, and you made me very rich.”

Patrick joined the paper he read as a kid, the Star Tribune, in 1988. He continues to write about all sports…but he is the best when he writes about the Twins. And he’s great on radio, because his stories are mostly from personal experiences, and he’s a fantastic interviewer. I watched him at camp, and he’s one of the most respected writers around. From Carew to Dozier, from Billy Martin to Paul Molitor, Patrick can entertain you with Twins stories, old and new. And if you’re lucky, you might get a movie or a restaurant review, too.