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Updated: April 26th, 2014 9:07am
P.J.R.: Darwin, Alyea were predecessors to Colabello

P.J.R.: Darwin, Alyea were predecessors to Colabello

by Patrick Reusse
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There are two comparables to Chris Colabello's out-of-nowhere, phenomenal start with the Twins. Those occurred within two years: Brant Alyea in 1970 and Bobby Darwin in 1972. 

Alyea was more similar in length of Colabello's early run, and the case could be made that Darwin was more similar in obscure background. 

Colabello entered Saturday with 22 games played and 88 at-bats. He was batting .318 with nine doubles, three home runs and was tied with Miami's Giancarlo Stanton for the major league lead in RBIs with 27.

I was engaged in some Twitter byplay on Friday night in which an ardent follower of the Twins wanted to make a wager that Colabello was not going to "keep this up.'' I had to agree that Colabello was not going to finish with the 208 RBIs that his early pace dictated. 

That was top-of-the-head, rough math during Friday's 10-6 loss. I did the real math on Saturday morning. Colabello's actual pace was 199 RBIs. I think my Twitter guy is right; he's not going to get to that number, either. 

Colabello was age 30 at the start of this season. It's only his third year in what's been referred to traditionally as "organized baseball.'' Before being signed by the Twins on Feb. 2, 2012, Colabello had spent seven years playing for the Worcester Tornadoes or the Nashua Pride in the independent Can-Am League.

Bobby Darwin was age 29 at the start of the 1972 season, his first with the Twins. It was only his third season since making the switch from being a pitcher to an outfielder. He had hit a total of 40 home runs in Class A (1970) and Class AAA (1971) before being acquired by the Twins in a "Brophy deal" on Oct. 22, 1971.

George Brophy was both Calvin Griffith's farm director and chief finder of bargains -- starting with the death of Calvin's brother and farm director, Sherry Robertson in October 1970, until the sale of the team in 1984.

Brophy was intrigued by Darwin's power and traded Paul Ray Powell, a failed outfield prospect, for him. Darwin started the pre-DH, 1972 season in center field. He would start 84 games there, as well as 46 in right field and one in left.

The season did not open until April 15 because of the first-ever players strike, lasting from April 1 through 13. The 13-day layoff didn't bother Darwin. In his first dozen games, through May 3, Darwin batted .432 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 44 at-bats.

Shockingly, Darwin did not maintain that pace. In a season that was shortened to 154 games (by the strike), Darwin finished at .267 with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs. He also led the American League with 145 strikeouts in 513 at-bats.

He didn't get any Rookie of the Year votes, because the baseball writers' ballot for the rookie award then called for only one player, and Boston catcher Carlton Fisk received the 24 votes.

Guaranteed, the Twins would sign up for those Darwin numbers - .267, 22 and 80 - for Colabello right now.

The hot start of Garrabrant Ryerson Alyea is somewhat better remembered by long-time Twins fans than Darwin's, probably because of the manner in which it was ignited.

The Twins opened the 1970 season with a 12-0 victory in Comiskey Park. Alyea went 4 for 4 and drove in seven runs. He hit a three-run home run off Tommy John, and a three-run home run off reliever Danny Murphy.

(Note: It's now official that baseball occupies too much of the limited space in my brain. I looked up the boxscore from that game, saw the name Danny Murphy and said to myself, "I think he was both a pitcher and an outfielder in the big leagues.'' And I was right.)

Alyea had more of a traditional background than either Colabello or Darwin before making his splash with the Twins. He was with the expansion Washington Senators briefly as a 24-year-old in 1965, then came back for a combined 157 games - with 17 home runs and 63 RBIs - in 1968 and 1969.

Bob Allison was pretty much cooked as a 35-year-old entering 1970 (his last season) and the Twins were looking for some additional right-handed power in the outfield.

Late in spring training, they traded two pitchers - lefthander Joe Grzenda and righthander Charley Walters (yup, the one and same) - for Alyea. He was quite a character, as demonstrated that he went to work running part of the gambling operation at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City after his career was over.

The 29-year-old Alyea's numbers over his first 17 games and 53 at-bats were five home runs, 23 RBIs and a .415 average. He wound up with 16 home runs, 61 RBIs and a .291 average - in only 258 at-bats.

I talked to Brant on the phone this morning. He's still upset that manager Bill Rigney decided to make him largely a platoon player after that sizzling start to the season.


Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Patrick | @1500ESPN_reusse | The Ride with Reusse