Twins Talk May 20 20 May 16

Twins Talk

In the Summer of ‘69

Photos and Story by Gordy Jones

 

Last week as I sat with Pioneer Press columnist Charley Walters before the Mancini’s Hall of Fame banquet, I glanced at the TV and noticed that the Twins had already given up eight runs in the first inning. Plagued by frustration and despair from the 2016 Twins, I decided to dwell on happier times. You see, I was sitting with Charley Walters — a pitcher for the 1969 Twins team that went 97-65. Although he was part of the major league scene for only a little more than a month, he had a seven-year professional career with 20 years of stories. Charley later wrote a column describing his major league stint, which was headlined “40 Days and 40 Nights”.  

“I played ball all of my life,” Charley told me. “I played for (Minneapolis) Edison High School, then signed with the Twins when I was 18 years old.” I asked him how he was discovered, and he replied, “Twins tryout camp…1965…and that’s when I signed. In 1969, I went to major league camp with manager Billy Martin. I was throwing really hard, and he liked me and took me north as one of the 25 guys on the 25-man roster…probably the last guy.” I asked him how fast he threw. “I could probably throw about 94 to 95 miles-per-hour. I don’t know…we didn’t have radar guns back then.” He continued: “That was a great ball club, though. A lot of people will argue that was as great a ball club as they’ve ever had. You had two Hall of Famers: Rod Carew and Harmon (Killebrew). You had a guy who should be in the Hall of Fame: Tony Oliva. We had two Cy Young Award winners: Jim Perry and Dean Chance. Leo Cardenas played short, Graig Nettles played third, Rodney at second, Harmon at first with Rich Reese, who was also a great ballplayer. My roomie, Ted Uhlaender, was in center. We had Cesar Tovar, and Bob Allison, who was Rookie of the Year in 1959. Ron Perranoski was in the bullpen. We had John Roseboro, who had caught Koufax and Drysdale…and now” – he chuckles – “he’s my catcher while I’m here for a month and a half. Then it was back to journalism school.” But Charley did have a couple of more years bouncing around the minors until an injury ended his career.  

Charley told me about his last game in the majors: “I was pitching against the Baltimore Orioles at Met Stadium. The first guy up was Frank Robinson. He comes up and hits a line drive off the left field fence. Next, Brooks Robinson, another Hall of Famer, hits a line drive off the right field fence. Boog Powell gets up, and bounces one off the center field fence. Billy comes out and says, ‘Give me the ball!’ I said, ‘Billy, I’m not tired.’  And Billy said, ‘Yeah, but our outfielders are tired.’”

As Charley was walking off the mound, he heard Billy Martin asking catcher Johnny Roseboro what he had been throwing out there. Roseboro replied: “I don’t know. I haven’t caught one yet.”  

One day, after Charley pitched well, outfielder Bob Allison approached Walters to congratulate him and said: “You’re the big shooter.” That name stuck. After that, Charley has been known as the “Big Shooter,” or Shooter, for short.

One of Charley’s favorite teammates was Hall of Famer Rod Carew. He told the story of being in Kansas City during opening weekend of 1969: Rodney did not like the only tie Charley had, so he accompanied young Walters to a men’s fashion store, and bought him a new tie. They still laugh about that today.  

Besides being a nice guy and a true gentleman, Shooter has used his inside understanding of how an athlete might feel in certain situations to win over some of sports greatest legends. And while he does so, most folks don’t know of his baseball background…which says a lot for his character. People confide in Charley, and if someone is going to announce something big, they often do it through Walters and his column, which appears each Sunday in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He has broken many stories, and has had many scoops. He has many informants out there feeding him information. “A little birdie told me…” he often writes.

Charley is a lucky guy. He has gotten to do his two favorite things professionally: play ball and write. He laughed and told me: “It’s been a lot of fun. I’m a proud alumnus of the Minnesota Twins. Sometimes when I go to the ball park, I wear my old Twins socks with the logo on them. I showed them to Dave St. Peter (Twins President) the other day. Ha! I’m just thrilled to have been a part of this, but I usually don’t tell anyone that I played. It was a great part of my life, but now I’m a newspaper guy.”

Later on, Charley admitted with a grin that he slightly embellished his story about his last major league game. I suddenly realized that we were only a couple days past the 47th anniversary of that game.

I asked him what his greatest baseball thrills were, and he told me about his first major league game at spring training against the World Champion Detroit Tigers, when he struck out Hall of Famer Al Kaline. Later at camp, they played the Pirates and he struck out Hall of Famer Willie Stargell. But his biggest thrill of all was coming home to the Twin Cities after making the major league team, walking off the plane with Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew at his sides, and seeing his proud parents waiting and watching for him.

A couple of weeks ago, I told you that Patrick Reusse is my favorite baseball writer. Well, Shooter is my other favorite. He was one of my first friends when I joined the Pioneer Press. At the age of 70, Charley writes only on Sunday, and someday when he fully retires, that paper will never be the same.