Sam Mele, who led the Minnesota Twins to their first American League pennant in 1965, died May 1 at the age of 95 in Quincy, Mass.
Mele became the Twins manager in their first season in the Twin Cities after the Washington Senators franchise moved from D.C. in 1961.
Following a 10-year playing career as a journeyman outfielder, Mele joined the Senators as a scout in 1958. He was promoted to the coaching staff a year later under manager Cookie Lavagetto. When Lavagetto was fired in June of 1961, Mele finished out the season.
He had the Twins as a pennant contender in 1962 and was the team’s manager until 1967, when he was fired after going 25-25 through the team’s first 50 games of the season. The Twins rallied under Cal Ermer to finish the year 91-71.
Mele had just one losing season as the Twins manager, going 79-83 in 1964. They won 102 games and the AL pennant the following season, but lost in seven games to the Dodgers in the 1965 World Series. Mele was named manager of the year by Sporting News in 1965.
Mele finished his managerial career with a record of 524-436.
Born in Astoria, N.Y. on Jan. 22, 1922, Mele was not named Samuel. The nickname, “Sam,” actually came from his initials as Sabath Anthony Mele.
Though he was the nephew of former MLB players Al and Tony Cuccinello, Mele didn’t play organized baseball until high school. His uncles pushed him to succeed, “chewing” him out if he ever got done after a bad game.
It didn’t take long for MLB scouts and college coaches to take notice.
He played college ball at New York University, but broke his leg sliding into third base in 1940. But he came back the following season to bat .405. He spent summer of 1941 playing in the Northern League and then hit .369 in 1942 and signed a five-year contract with the Red Sox.
His MLB career had to be put on hold, however, because of World War II. Mele joined the Marine Corps and was sent to the Pacific Theater, but he was playing baseball with the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto.
After the war and his discharge from the Marines, Mele joined the Red Sox minor league affiliate in Sarasota, Fla. in 1946 and joined the big club the following season.
Mele was dealt to the Senators in 1949 and spent time with four other MLB teams over the next seven seasons. He was a .267 hitter over 10 seasons, accumulating 916 hits with 80 home runs and 544 RBIs.
He hit .302 as a rookie, but when the Red Sox hired former Cubs and Yankees manager Joe McCarthy in 1948, the two got off to a rocky start. McCarthy forced Mele to change his wide batting stance and Mele’s average fell to .233 in 180 at-bats.
Following his managerial career, Mele rejoined the Red Sox in 1967 and served as a special assignments scout until his retirement in 1994.