1969 was memorable season for Killer, Twins
Led by AL MVP, Minnesota captured first-ever AL West flag
The 1969 season will always be best remembered for the miracle of the Amazin' Mets, who shocked the baseball world by seemingly coming out of nowhere to win the World Series in their eighth year of existence.While the Mets' remarkable championship and their sudden shedding of their reputation as hopeless losers, completed by their World Series win over an Orioles team that won 109 games, stick out in the memories of most fans, people in the Twin Cities spent that summer watching one of the most exciting teams in Twins history. Harmon Killebrew -- who on Friday announced he was entering hospice care, conceding that his battle with esophageal cancer is nearing an end -- won the American League Most Valuable Player Award that season with what was, perhaps, the best year of his brilliant 22-year career that culminated with induction into the Hall of Fame in 1984.
As a 33-year-old corner infielder that season, Killebrew blasted a Major League-high 49 home runs -- tied with his 1964 campaign for his career best -- and drove in 140 runs, also a league high. He drew a career-high 145 walks -- 20 of which were intentional -- while striking out only 84 times. He also posted an AL-high .427 on-base percentage and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.011.Killebrew wasn't the only future Hall of Famer on the Twins team that went 97-65 and won the AL West by nine games over Oakland. Rod Carew, then a 23-year-old second baseman in his third season, showed everyone what was to become an annual occurrence, batting a league-leading .332 -- the first of seven batting titles and the first of 15 consecutive seasons with an average better than .300. Killebrew's mate in the middle of the order was right fielder Tony Oliva, who was in the midst of his eight straight All-Star appearances. The 30-year-old was second on the team to Killebrew with 24 homers, while also smacking an AL-high 39 doubles and driving in 101 runs. Providing protection for Killebrew and Oliva in the fifth spot in the lineup was first baseman Rich Reese. Reese enjoyed a career year, batting .322 with 16 home runs and 69 RBIs. Although the Ohio native hit 10 home runs in each of the next two seasons, he was never able to recapture his 1969 magic, finishing his career following the 1973 season with a .253 average. While Killebrew, Carew, Oliva and Reese provided the bulk of the offense for the Twins in 1969, Minnesota boasted two 20-game winners. Right-hander Jim Perry, who won the AL Cy Young Award the following season, went 20-6 with a 2.82 ERA. The 33-year-old logged 261 2/3 innings, throwing 12 complete games. He finished third in the AL Cy Young Award balloting and ninth in the AL MVP Award race. Dave Boswell also won 20 games that year, going 20-12 with a 3.23 ERA. The 24-year-old right-hander threw 10 complete games in the final of four consecutive seasons with double-digit wins. Veteran left-hander Jim Kaat went 14-13 with a 3.49 ERA, tossing 10 complete games. Kaat, who would go on to to finish his 25-year career with 282 wins, also won the eighth of his 16 consecutive AL Gold Glove Awards. After starting 0-4, the Twins went on to win 19 of their next 24 games. On Aug. 25, Minnesota had a 1 1/2-game division lead, but won eight of their next nine to grab a 7 1/2-game advantage. The Twins' lead was never fewer than 6 1/2 for the rest of the season as they coasted to the division crown. After an easy final month of the season, the Twins and Orioles battled in an epic and first-ever American League Championship Series in which the first two games went into extra innings. But the O's won both, by scores of 4-3 and 1-0.
In the end, Baltimore's Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Davey Johnson outslugged Minnesota and Killebrew -- who only had one hit in eight at-bats -- as the Orioles swept the best-of-five series to end the Twins' bid at a magical season.