Don Mincher did many great things in baseball.
Among those, 55 years ago today, he hit a home run off Don Drysdale in his first World Series at-bat. So it’s appropriate for me to retell this highlight moment of a man I was honored to consider one of the closest friends I made in this business of typing about baseball – a guy I’ve missed daily since his death in 2012. Here, excerpted from “Never a Bad Game.”
Mincher was selected for two All-Stars Games. He played 12 years in the big leagues. He got his first major league hit off Whitey Ford and his last off Nolan Ryan.
More than that, he did many things in baseball in a great way. As he said one afternoon over a platter of chicken fingers, “I’m proud of my career, but I’d like to be recognized not only for what I did as a player, but doing other things in the game.”
Mincher helped launch a minor league team in his hometown of Huntsville, then assured it’d remain afloat. He took over a league that needed a baseball man in charge, and got it on an even keel. He served as Southern League president from the spring of 2000 until October 2011, when he was named president-emeritus. By that point, he was battling poor health that eventually took his life on March 4, 2012.
He made his major league debut on April 8, 1960 and played for the Senators, Twins, Pilots, Angels, Rangers and A’s alongside a half-dozen Hall of Famers, among them Harmon Killebrew, one of his closest friends. Still hanging in the office wife Pat keeps in their home is the jersey Mincher was wearing during the Twins’ pennant clinching celebration that Killebrew grabbed and, not knowing his own strength, tore nearly in two.
On Oct. 6, 1965, Don and Pat met his parents George and Lillian for breakfast near their hotel in Bloomington, Minn. The first pitch of the World Series was only hours away. The entire breakfast, Don “never said one word,” Pat said.
In the bottom of the second, Minnesota trailing 1-0 and with two out, Mincher came to bat for the first time in a World Series. Mincher took a sinker down and away for a ball, then Drysdale delivered a fastball on the inside half of the plate, straight as a Baptist deacon. Mincher swung and immediately knew it was a home run. “You get that feeling,” he said.
Mincher coolly circled the bases, then reached the Twins dugout and “I started shaking. All of a sudden it hit me what I had done, in front of possibly everybody I knew looking on. … That one defining three minutes, it’s just forever in my mind.”
In the postgame interview, a snarky Drysdale said, “My sister could have hit that pitch.” Mincher didn’t take the bait. “You’ve still got to hit it when a Hall of Famer throws it.”
After the locker rooms emptied, Mincher found his father in a waiting room down in the clammy, dim basement of the stadium. They embraced. When the hug ended, the son looked at the father. Tears were rolling down that narrow, weather-beaten, ruddy face. “It was the first time I ever saw my father cry,” Mincher said, retelling the story one afternoon at Joe Davis Stadium, his own eyes misting at the memory.
“Besides him breathing a sigh of relief for me getting out of high school, that was the proudest moment of our lifetime,” Mincher laughed.
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