Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The mark of Zoilo...

                         Three weeks ago, the Yankees brought up Zoilo Almonte, a 24 year old outfielder from the Dominican Republic.  Almonte has been a good addition to New York, batting .314 and playing solid defense for a Yankees team whose injuries have forced them to do a lot of things with smoke and mirrors.  A lot of people (especially baseball geeks like myself), have been focusing on his first name; mostly because in the 170 plus year history of Major league baseball, it has only appeared on a roster once before, and that was from 1959-1971.  Of course I am referring to the immortal Zoilo Versalles.

                   Nicknamed "Zorro" by his teammates, Versalles was a Cuban born player who made it to the bigs at the end of the '50s with the Washington Senators.  D.C. had been in the second division for many years when they started to finally put a roster together with up and coming, home grown talent such as Versalles, Harmon Killebrew, Ceasar Tovar, Jim Katt, Camillo Pascual, and Tony Oliva.  Unfortunately for Senator fans, this young, exiting team would move to Minnesota in 1961, leaving the nation's capital without a franchise, albeit briefly, as a second version of the Washington Senators would soon appear before the season started.  This "second" Senators team lasted for 12 years, becoming the Texas Rangers in 1972.  For 32 years, there was no baseball in D.C....until of course the Nationals replaced the Montreal Expos in the N.L. East. 

            ANYWAY, back to the Twins...By 1965, Minnesota had put together a pennant winner, with the starting pitching of Mudcat Grant and Kaat (I remember having Jim Kaat's baseball card in the '80s; there were so many years on it, you could barely read it), the hitting of Bob Allison, Don Mincher, Jimmy Hall, Oliva and Tovar, and especially the all around play of Versalles.  Zoilo was already a good player going into the '65 season, but Twins coach Billy Martin ( the same) wanted Zoilo to be more aggressive on the field, which in turn led the bespectacled Versalles to have a breakout season, as he led the A.L. with plate appearances, at bats, runs, doubles, triples, and total bases.  He also had 19 homers, 27 stolen bases and a Gold Glove, on his way to winning the 1965 American league MVP award.

                A few things were odd about his MVP season (I for one think he deserved it, while others say his teammate Oliva was more worthy, but anyway)... for one thing, he only batted .270, but I guess when you consider he was a Gold glove shortstop in an era where that position was not known for it's offense, then it's not that big of a deal. Another thing was that he won the Gold Glove despite leading the league with 39 errors.  Lastly, he wasn't the most patient hitter in the majors; leading the league with at bats usually means very little walks.  Never one to want to watch the ball go by him, Zoilo only had 41 BB's that year, and also led the league with 122 strikeouts, which would be the equivalent of about 160 today.

            Minnesota would lose the '65 World Series in a thrilling seven game series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  It would prove to be Versalles' last good year as a player, as his averages got lower and lower and his playing time diminished.  Eventually, he ended his career playing for the Dodgers and  (maybe fittingly) the "second" Washington Senators in their final year before moving to Arlington (the city, not the cemetery) in '71.  So now that there is another player with the same first name Zoilo, it's up to someone else to name their child an odd first name that's only been used once before...does anyone have Bombo Riveria's phone number...?

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