"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Lenny Green helped launch Minnesota Twins

I wrote a song not long ago called "Michigan, We Need You to Win Again." It recalled the heyday of carmaking in this state by the Great Lakes. It promoted nostalgia, never mind that the scheming carmakers got away with planned obsolescence. Norman Rockwell images can make us teary-eyed. But we'd never want to step back into those times.
Lenny Green came from a family that was invested in the old car-making heyday. Gene Green worked at the Ford Motor Company stamping plant in suburban Dearborn. Anna ran a flower shop. Their son Lenny was destined for baseball. He was one of the many players of color who played for Calvin Griffith when Griffith brought the Washington Senators to Minnesota to become the Twins.
No racial issues here like in - heaven forbid - Philadelphia. No quota of non-white players to hold them back like in Boston. Griffith wanted the best players to help his team win. To the extent racism existed in Minnesota, it was below the surface. Many critics said this wasn't a whole lot preferable to overt racism. Nevertheless, black and Cuban players seemed quite at home in Griffith's tent. Fans my age cared not at all.
Gary Rose who was two years older than me, coveted a Lenny Green baseball card. You're probably familiar with Gary today, as he's the most reliable window washer around town. As a kid he got swept up in Twins enthusiasm like the rest of us. We'd run downhill from East Elementary School to Stark's Grocery, there to spend whatever disposable money we had on baseball cards and comic books, along with snacks like chips and ice cream sandwiches.
The school building is gone now. It was called East Elementary to differentiate it from the west side Longfellow School.
Gary Rose, according to Morris legend - OK, according to my friend Del Sarlette - traded some valuable baseball cards to get the one Lenny Green card which was apparently hard to come by. And then what happened? Green was promptly traded! I would still have coveted that Lenny Green card.
Green would be warmly remembered as an early Twin. He spent over three seasons with our fledgling franchise out in Bloomington. He had a steady and reliable manner - no drama with his personality or lifestyle. Ne was known for his defensive abilities in the outfield. His baserunning was superlative. He was with the Senators when they made their historic move to Minnesota.
Green reflects most happily on his time with Minnesota. He was parked in centerfield for the Twins' inaugural season of 1961. He played in between Jim Lemon in left and Bob Allison in right. His bat had pop as he batted .285 in an even 600 at-bats. He led the Twins in hits with 171. His power was limited - nine home runs - as was his RBI total, 50, considering he was an everyday player.
Most notable was Green's 24-game hitting streak which covered the month of May. The streak remained the Twins' standard until Ken Landreaux strung together a better one in 1980. The Twins made a managerial change during that first season. Out was Cookie Lavagetto. In came Sam Mele who would get established in our minds as the Twins' true first manager. The change was made in mid-June.
The Twins were interesting but not real competitive in that first season. Everyone could see we had a most promising nucleus of players. Lest there be any doubt, we blossomed in the very next season - 1962 - to the extent of actually challenging the dynastic Yankees for the pennant.
Just think: two years earlier all we had here in the "frozen tundra" of Minnesota - term promoted by Steve Cannon - was the Triple-A Minneapolis Millers.
In '62 there was an important new piece in our arsenal: the unforgettable Vic Power. Harmon Killebrew moved to left field. I wonder how many wins Harmon cost us because of his limited mobility in the field. Anyway, his power bat put fannies in the seats, to be sure. Our Twins finished second behind the Yankees, just five games back. Green batted .271 but his power lagged behind his fellow outfielders Killebrew and Allison. Killebrew led the league in homers and RBIs. Green did hit a career-high 14 home runs and accumulated 63 RBIs.
Here's a historical nugget to cherish: fog caused a delay in the action one night. A fan reminisced as follows: the crowd roared when Lenny Green ran to centerfield with a miner's hat with the light on atop the helmet! The game did eventually resume.
Fortunes slid for both the Twins and Green in 1963. Green found his playing time threatened by Jimmie Hall's arrival. Hall quickly became a fan favorite with his power bat. Hall homered a then-rookie record 33 times in '63. Green still managed to play in 145 games but his at-bat total was just 280. The highlight in this twilight time with the Twins was on May 29. The Twins were in Cleveland. Green hit a two-out, two-run homer in the top of the ninth to beat the Indians 7-6.
Green built his bond with Minnesota's young fans by taking part in off-season promotional events. He was one of four Twins players named to an in-house committee to study the problem of planning for racially integrated housing arrangements at their Orlando spring training locale.
Green hit well in the 1964 pre-season. But with Jimmie Hall taking over in centerfield and with Tony Oliva now in the fold, Green could think about packing his bags. On June 11, he was packaged in a three-team, five-player trade, going to the Angels with Vic Power.
Baltimore was where Green launched his big league career in 1957-59. He joined Griffith's Senators in the 1959 season. His Twins tenure seems to have defined him. He was blessed as an inaugural Twin, thus his baseball card was so prized. His post-Twins career seemed anticlimactic. Stints with Boston (1965-66) and Detroit (1967-68) marked the end of his career. We remember that he batted and threw lefthanded.
Lenny's career began in the Orioles' farm system in 1955 after serving in the Army. He was traded to the Senators in May of 1959 for the 1958 American League Rookie of the Year Albie Pearson, about whom I have blogged thoroughly (and written a song). Green was with his hometown Tigers in 1968, the year they won the World Series, but was not part of the post-season show, as he was unconditionally released in July.
Green retired with a lifetime average of.267 over 12 seasons. His homer total was 47. We cherish the memories of Green and what he meant to our early Minnesota Twins baseball team. I wonder if Gary Rose still has that Lenny Green card.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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