Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Larry Blackwell

Sent: 6/11/11
Received: 6/27/11
Time: 16 Days
Address: Home
Item Sent: 1988 Cal League Cards Visalia Oaks, 1989 Best Orlando Twins, 1989 ProCards Orlando Twins
Item Received: 1988 Cal League Cards Visalia Oaks, 1989 Best Orlando Twins, 1989 ProCards Orlando Twins.  All signed in black ballpoint.

I have written many entries on this blog discussing amazing letters from former minor league players.  So many of these players take the time to answer questions and tell remarkable stories from their careers.  It's something I rarely see from the guys who made it to the majors.  Just a few days after an amazing interaction with Jason Klonoski, I received this reply from former Twins outfield prospect Larry Blackwell.

I'm finding it interesting that many players from the early to mid 1980s, especially guys from the 1983 Visalia team set that I have been working on, have terrific memories and wonderful things to say about the Twins organization.  By the late '80s and early '90s - when the big club had their greatest success - some of the minor league players have seen a different face.  While Mr. Klonoski admitted last week to questioning why the Twins would give up so quickly on someone with his successful track record, Mr. Blackwell flat out accuses them of mishandling his health and preventing him from being able to catch on with another club.

Blackwell was the Twins' fourth round pick in the 1985 draft.  While his hitting never did come around (he had a .245 career average in just over 2,000 minor league plate appearances), he could flat out fly.  After struggling mightily in his first AA stint at Orlando in 1987, he spent all of 1988 at high-A Visalia, and had his finest year.  He hit a career-best .268.  More impressively, he drew 71 walks - good for an outstanding .379 on-base percentage.  He also stole 33 bases.  His average regressed again at Orlando in 1989, but he maintained his fine walk rate to finish with a solid .366 OBP and stole 29 more bases in just 96 games.  That's the end of his career stat line, though.

I asked Mr. Blackwell about the abrupt end to his career and his responses were as candid as any I have received since starting this hobby.  He writes, "I was slated for the big leagues.  I had talked to Tom Kelly, and he had discussed putting me in center and moving Kirby (Puckett) to right.  Why?  I was faster than Kirby and could throw just as hard."

He adds, "It may have been possible for me to leave with the team out of spring training.  But fate would have it; I hurt my shoulder towards the end of camp."

He goes on to mention that only one of his six minor league seasons was injury free.  I assume that was his fine 1988 season, as that was the only one where he got into more than 100 games (118 to be exact).  I assume the possible call-up he speaks of would have been after that season, too.

It is at this point in his letter that Mr. Blackwell doesn't hold back.  "Writing this letter brings tears to my eyes.  Why?  When I was released by the Twins organization, they black balled me.  They put in my file that I was un-coachable... I was and am still well known by coaches and scouts from my area.  Once they read that about me, and told me what they had read, I could not believe it... I could not get a position on (another) team.  If I had known about defamation of character back then, I would have attempted to sue." 

He alleges that the training staff ignored and misdiagnosed injuries, and that they refused to give him an x-ray when he tore his rotator cuff.  Granted, this is only his side of the story, but it's a heartbreaking one.  It does have a happy ending, though.

Mr. Blackwell writes that after baseball he worked as a correctional officer before earning his college degree in criminal justice.  He then served as a supervisor in a youth prison before becoming a social worker.

He finishes the two-page letter by writing, "Thank you for sending this letter.  I will keep this letter as a testament to the good I did as a baseball player.  I love you and may God bless you.  Sincerely, Larry Blackwell."

Thank you, Larry.  Thank you for signing the cards despite the pain you still feel from the way you claim the Twins treated you.  Thank you for the insightful and candid letter.  I certainly wish you nothing but the best.

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