Zoilo Versalles: The Forgotten MVP

Zeke Fuhrman@@mellamoelzekeAnalyst IIIMarch 15, 2010

When you think of the all-time great Minnesota Twins, the same names pop up: Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett, and Kent Hrbek.

But there is one name that was missing from that list of the great Twins until only recently, Zoilo Versalles.

Versalles (pronounced ver-sī), was born in Havana, Cuba on December 18, 1939. He was drafted by the Washington Senators at the age of 18 in 1958, and was the starting shortstop for the Sens five months before his 20th birthday. Versalles would appear in only 44 games from 1959-60, collecting 15 hits, scoring six runs, knocking in five RBI, but hitting only .144.

Versalles moved with the Senators to Minnesota in 1961 and was named the starting shortstop, despite being a 21-year old rookie. Versalles had a decent rookie campaign, hitting .280 with 53 RBI and scoring 63 runs for a Twins team that went 70-907th in the AL standings.

Versalles would have a better season in 1962 as he hit for more power rather than average. His batting average dropped to .241, but he hit 17 home runs (he hit one in 1961) and drove in 67 runs.

From 1960-1965, Versalles led American League shortstops in home runs (73), led the league in triples from 1963-65, won two Gold Gloves, was elected to two All-Star games, and finished 21st in MVP voting in 1962.

But 1965 was Versalles' time to shine. Versalles exploded as the Twins' lead off hitter, leading the league in at-bats, plate appearances, runs, doubles, triples, and total bases. His Twins would put together the only 100-win season in Twins/Senators history. 

Versalles was unstoppable in the second half of that season. He batted .303 after the All-Star break, including .353 in August and .337 in September, as the Twins won their first AL Pennant while in Minnesotathe franchise's first in 33 years.

Versalles' numbers were good enough to make him a near-unanimous selection for AL MVP. He received 19 of 20 first place votes, with the other vote going to teammate Tony Oliva.

His .273 average is the third lowest by an AL MVP. He was hee first of three MLB players to win an MVP award after being relocated with a franchise, (Harmon Killebrew, MIN/WAS in 1969 and Jeff Burroughs, TEX/WAS in 1974) and was also the first Latin-born MVP.

The Twins would lose the 1965 World Series to the LA Dodgers in seven games. While many Twins were baffled by the pitching of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and company, Versalles hit .286 with three runs and four RBI while starting all seven games.

After 1965, Versalles' numbers began to decline as he was plagued by back problems. He was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers before the 1968 season.

From there, he spent time with the Cleveland Indians (1969), Washington Senators (1969), and Atlanta Braves (1971). He also spent one season playing in Mexico (1970) and one season in Japan for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp (1972).

After leaving the Twins, Versalles hit .208 with his other four MLB clubs, and quietly retired in 1973.

After retiring, Versalles returned to Minneapolis in search for work, which was almost impossible to find. He could not read or write English and could not do strenuous work due to his lingering back problems.

He began menial labor, and eventually lost his house to foreclosure. He was forced to sell his MVP trophy, All-Star rings, and his Gold Glove awards.

He continued to have health and financial problems as he had two heart attacks and stomach surgery. He lived off of disability payments and Social Security and was forced to live with the memories of a season that only came once.

Versalles, by far, had the worst career of anybody who has won the MVP award. But MVP awards are not given out to the best careers, but to the individual who has the best season. There have been many individuals who have won MVP awards who aren't in the Hall of Fame: Spud Chandler, Bobby Shantz, Roger Maris, Denny McLain, Boog Powell, Vida Blue to name a few.

On the Twins' all-time list, Versalles ranks fourth in triples (56), ninth in hits (1046), tenth in extra-base hits (330), tenth in total bases (1604), 11th in runs scored (564), 11th in doubles (188), 11th in stolen bases (84), 15th in RBI (401), and 16th in home runs (86).

Sadly, Zoilo Versalles passed away on June 9, 1995 from a health-related issue. He was 55 years old.

It wasn't until 2006 that he was elected into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame.

Although Versalles did not have a great career, he did have a lot of influence on the game. He was one of the first power hitting shortstops. Before Versalles, the shortstop position had been reserved for players with more speed than power.

Versalles had both, and would often stretch singles into doubles, and doubles into triples.


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