Wayne Terwilliger

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Featured in the Star Tribune, Minneapolis 6/27/05

Birthday puts Twig into special territory

FORT WORTH, TEXAS -- Wayne Terwilliger was getting ready to throw batting practice, not really paying much attention to the fact that the temperature in Fort Worth is about 100 degrees, and not really paying much attention to the fact that a lot of guys his age are out on the golf course -- or playing dominoes in the retirement home.

As the former coach of the Twins and St. Paul Saints laced up his spikes, one of his players on his Fort Worth Cats team walked into his office and asked Twig (his longtime nickname) if he had seen the picture in the paper. That morning, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram had a publicity shot of Twig as a Washington Senators infielder in the 1950s, jumping high and splitting his legs as he drops his glove low.

"Sure I saw it," Terwilliger said. "And I can still do that."

The Fort Worth Cats manager moved to the middle of his office, jumped a bit and dropped his left hand between his outstretched knees. Not as high as it was 50-some years ago, but pretty impressive for a guy turning 80 today.

Terwilliger becomes the first minor league baseball manager to coach as an octogenarian, and only the second man to do it in pro baseball history. The legendary Connie Mack did it about 60 years ago when he managed the Philadelphia A's into his 80s.

"I get a chuckle out of all this attention," Terwilliger said. "It really makes me laugh. Connie Mack was God Almighty, a true legend in baseball. I'm really proud of staying in the game, because it is what I do. It keeps me young. I never think about how long I've been doing this. I let other people do that."

For the past three years, Terwilliger has been managing the Cats in the Central Baseball League, an independent league team that is similar to the St. Paul Saints. In all, Terwilliger has been in pro baseball for 57 seasons, much of that time spent in the Twin Cities.

He was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1948 and made his major league debut at Wrigley Field in 1949. He bounced around with five major league teams until 1960, getting sent to the minors about every other year. Terwilliger played for the St. Paul Saints in 1952, and from 1955 to '57 he played for the Minneapolis Millers.

But it was his coaching that gave Twig a name in the Twin Cities. After years of managing in the minors and coaching in the majors (including a stint as a coach with Ted Williams when the baseball great managed the Senators), Terwilliger coached for the Twins from 1986 to '94. When he was let go by the Twins, he moved over to the Saints, where he coached from 1995 to 2002.

Terwilliger didn't want to leave the Twins, and he was there for the World Series championships in 1987 and 1991. But in 1993, he was approached by Twins President Andy MacPhail and was told he might be replaced. The Twins had current hitting coach Scott Ullger managing in the minors and thought he might be signed by another team.

"Andy MacPhail said they were afraid they were going to lose [Ullger] and that he was a future managerial candidate," Terwilliger said. "So after the 1993 season, they told me I'd have to wait during the offseason to see if they'd lose him or not. I spent the entire offseason not knowing if I was working for them or not."

Ullger never got taken by another team, and Terwilliger came back for the 1994 season. But it was mutually agreed that 1994 would be his last year, with Ullger moving to the staff in 1995.

"I didn't agree with their decision, because I had always done a good job for them," Terwilliger said. "But in baseball, teams are always looking to groom new candidates, and I know how that works. But let's just say I got into some spirited discussions with MacPhail about this."

Highly respected

Twins radio broadcaster Dan Gladden said Terwilliger was his favorite coach in his big league career. They were card-playing partners on the team, and the two won the team "casino championship" for several years.

"He's such a smart baseball man and competitor that I would have enjoyed playing with him in his era or mine," Gladden said. "Twig has more knowledge in his baseball book than almost anyone. From a player's standpoint, you could always pick his brain. Twig is not a hanger-on. That's the value he brings to the team; he's great with rookies or veterans."

Terwilliger's current team is in first place. Bryon Smith, a second baseman for the Fort Worth Cats, said the desire to play for Twig is the reason he's in his third season with the Cats.

"In this league, you have guys who can play pretty well, but in order to win you need to do the little things," Smith said. "That's what he is about."

Terwilliger came down to Fort Worth to manage in 2003 because it seemed a natural fit. His wife, Lin, was from the Fort Worth area, and her father was sick. Terwilliger was also anxious to get back into managing.

"I always liked managing in the minors and hadn't done it in a while," he said. "My wife and I had lived in Minnesota for such a long time. But because of family issues, and the chance of getting back to managing, I threw my hat in the ring."

To see Terwilliger now, age doesn't appear a factor. He pitches batting practice and hits fungoes to the infield, and he is respected by players who are young enough to be his grandchildren. He is not sure how long he will be managing but insists he is not just doing it so his team gets attention.

"One thing people should know about me," he said. "If I thought I was still working in baseball because someone thought my age was a factor, you know, getting publicity, I would quit immediately. I know for a fact I am not cheating anyone out of a job right now."

So the baseball lifer continues. He fought at Iwo Jima in World War II, was on the bench for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 when the Giants' Robby Thomson hit his famous home run, played on some bad Washington Senators teams and even made some quirky fame in literary circles. In 1987, noted author Annie Dillard published a memoir called "An American Childhood," in which Dillard's mother becomes obsessed with a radio play-by-play man shouting "Terwilliger bunts one."

In Garrison Keillor's book, "Lake Wobegon Summer 1956," the "steady" Wayne Terwilliger makes another literary appearance on a baseball broadcast and is called out on strikes. "Un-believable! Un-believable, folks!" the announcer yells. "That pitch to Twig was in the dirt, ladies and gentlemen! How can a man be expected to hit a pitch like that? In the dirt!"

Terwilliger is getting into the arts himself. His wife is an acrylic painter, and the baseball man is trying it himself now. He also says he's thinking about getting his ear pierced.

"Maybe I should send him an easel and a French beret for his birthday," said Gladden, laughing. "Next time I talk to him, I'm going to call him Pierre Terwilliger."