Sam Mele: Managed Twins to the World Series


Sam Mele

Sam Mele doubled off rookie Sandy Koufax in the Hall of Famer’s first start in 1955, and 10 years later his Twins lost the World Series to a veteran Koufax in the deciding seventh game. Mele, who played, coached and managed in the majors, and worked as a scout and instructor, died this week at 95. Mele, 33 and in the penultimate season of a 10-year career, wasn’t playing much in 1955 — he had just 62 at-bats for the Reds. Koufax, 19 and on the Brooklyn Dodgers — their only World Series winner — because of his contract, wasn’t pitching much. But Koufax took a one-hitter into the ninth on Aug. 27 when Mele, who once led the AL doubles, doubled and Koufax finished with a two-hitter and 14 strikeouts (Koufax started a week later and shut out the Pirates on five hits, but he didn’t pitch at all in the World Series and for just 41.2 innings all season). In 1965 Mele managed the Twins to 102 wins — still the most in franchise history — and three more in the Series, when Koufax pitched a three-hitter to win Game 7. It was as close as Mele came to winning a World Series. Though he played for six teams, he never played in one. Mele debuted — after attending NYU and Yale, interrupted by World War II — in 1947, the year after the Red Sox lost in 7 games in the Series to the Cardinals. He batted .302 and played mostly right field, alongside Dom DiMaggio and Ted Williams. According to the Quincy Sun, Mele sought Williams’ counsel on hitting but when it came to fielding, Williams told him: “Don’t talk to me about fielding – you go to that little guy in center field.” Mele was hurt in 1948 and batted .233 and traded in 1949 after hitting .196 in 18 games. His relationship — or lack thereof — with new manager Joe McCarthy didn’t help. Thus began his trip around MLB franchises — the Senators for three-plus years, one of which he led the AL with 36 doubles in 1951; the White Sox for two (he tripled, homered and drove in six runs in a 12-run inning for the 1952 White Sox against the A’s); the Orioles for a half; back to the Red Sox, with McCarthy long gone, for small parts of two; the Reds to face Koufax, the Indians in his final season and back to the minors. Mele’s playing time diminished as his career progressed, and he last played semi-regularly in 1954 (with the Red Sox for 42 games that year he hit .318 and slugged .523). Mele became a coach for the Senators and then the manager in 1961 after the franchise moved to Minnesota. The Twins won 91 games in 1962, Mele’s first full season, and 91 more in 1963, good for second and third place, respectively, behind the Yankees. They fell below .500 in ’64 but improved by 23 games in ’65, winning the pennant by seven games. They won the first two games of the World Series, but the Dodgers, with Hall of Famers Koufax and Don Drysdale winning three games and longtime minor-leaguer Lou Johnson homering in Game 7, won four of the last five. The Twins were second in 1966 (89-73) and Mele was fired after 50 games in ’67. He was succeeded by Cal Ermer, who got them within one game of the pennant, and it wasn’t until 1969 that Mele’s third-base coach, Billy Martin, became the Twins manager (not surprisingly Martin won the division and was fired after a year for brawling with his players). Mele never managed again, and spent much of the rest of his career working for the Red Sox (according to his bio at sabr.org, it ended badly when GM Dan Duquette accused Mele of telling another team how to pitch to the Red Sox). Career numbers: .267 average (in three of his 10 seasons, he batted .274), 916 hits, 80 homers, 544 RBIs, .328 on-base percentage, .408 slugging percentage, 97 OPS+, 130 grounded into double plays (led the AL with 22 in 1951), 67 outfield assists (14 in ’53 for the White Sox), 1.3 WAR (1.5 for the Red Sox in ’47), 524-436 as manager.

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