This week Mehring Monday continues to look at past players from Appleton Baseball history, their transactions, and various other facts about their careers after they left town. Now, this week's episode...
He was 19 years old and in his second season of professional baseball when he first played in Appleton. He would go on to become the first Latin American player to win a Most Valuable Player award and help the Minnesota Twins to the World Series in 1965. Zoilo Versalles played for the Fox Cities Foxes in 1959 as an early step in his career.
He began his professional career after signing with the Washington Senators as an amateur free agent out of Cuba. After one year with Class D Elmira in the New York-Penn League, Versalles came to Appleton to play for Jack McKeon's Fox Cities Foxes in the Class B Three I League.
The shortstop hit .278 with nine homers and played slick defense. He was good enough that season -- on a Foxes team that finished below .500 -- to be called up to the Senators. Versalles made his major league debut on August 1, 1959 as the leadoff hitter and shortstop for the Senators in a game against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park. Versalles went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and committed an error in seven chances. Not a great start for the future Gold Glove winner, but it was a start. He played in 29 games for the lowly Senators in '59. In 1960, he spent most of his time with AAA Charleston of the American Association. He did appear in 15 games for the Senators that season.
Versalles stuck in the big leagues starting in 1961, the year the Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. His first full year in "The Show" was okay. His second was better, and in 1963, Versalles was an All-Star and would win his first Gold Glove Award. The 1964 season was a bit of a drop off, but in 1965 Versalles grabbed the attention of American League managers, players, and writers.
Versalles led the league in doubles (45), triples (13), total bases (308), at bats (666), and plate appearances (728). He played in 160 of 162 games that season and the Twins won the American League pennant by seven games over the White Sox. According to this page (which promotes the book Cool of the Evening, there were arguments for a teammate having a better season, but there is support for a Versalles for MVP candidacy.
Versalles led the league in total bases, doubles and runs scored. He won a Gold Glove. He was third in the league in stolen bases. But he struck out more than 100 times and some argued the numbers of teammate Tony Oliva, among others, were more impressive. Detractors have cited that Versalles' "Total Player Ranking" from reference book Total Baseball and his "adjusted OPS" were not among the top five in the league, and that his career Win Shares are the lowest of any MVP.
But as the season had progressed, opposing managers and players began to mention Versalles was having an MVP season.
Researching an era or epoch to see how it was, reading what people of the era did and said at the time, rather than cast a revisionist layer over it, is an approach to studying history that was introduced around 1800. Applying this research to baseball is preferable to creating designer metrics in an attempt to ascertain how it was.
Some fans have done that in regard to Versalles, and printed their conclusions in books and on Web sites, stating Versalles was undeserving.
Facts suggest otherwise.
A thorough review of Versalles' season -- what he did during games, what managers and other players said at the time, not years later, shows that becoming an MVP is more than just piling numbers high. By August of '65, Versalles' play had created MVP buzz within the game. This buzz occurred despite Oliva's powerful second-half offensive performance.
If players on championship teams are given stronger consideration for the award, and if MVP really means the player who had the most impact on his team, then Versalles remains the easy choice[.]
Versalles played with the Twins through the 1967 season and this is where he really started to bounce around the baseball map. In November of 1967, he was traded (along with Jim "Mudcat" Grant) to the Dodgers for Johnny Roseboro, Stan Perranoski, and Bob Miller. After a season in LA, Versalles was picked up by the San Diego Padres in the 1968 expansion draft. But, he never played for the Padres. San Diego picked him up on October 14 and traded him to Cleveland on December 2. Technically, Versalles wasn't traded. He was the player to be named later in a trade that happened between the clubs on October 21.
He played 72 games for the Indians before the Washington Senators -- a different Senators team, this version would become the Texas Rangers -- purchased him on July 26, 1969. Versalles wrapped up the season with Washington and would be released by them in April of 1970. He spent some time in the Mexican League with Gomez Palacio before going to finish his career with the Atlanta Braves during the 1971 season.
The Braves let him go after that year and he retired after that.
That picture of Versalles that accompanies this column is from the Appleton Baseball Hall of Fame page. He was inducted in 1999. He is also a member of the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame, being inducted in 2006.
Unfortunately, Versalles never got the opportunity to enjoy these honors. He had suffered from debilitating back problems beginning in 1966 and would have to stop working at the age of 43. He would pass away in 1995 at the age of 56.
Versalles was the MVP in 1965 and had a very good major league career. And he is one of ours.
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