August 18, 2018

Touring The Bases With…John Castino

August 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

John Castino was selected co-rookie of the year (with Toronto’s Alfredo Griffin) in the American League for 1979 after batting .285 with eight triples. Due to the tie, the voting process (and point system) was changed in 1980. Castino hit .302 in 1980 and led the American League in triples in 1981, but back problems helped curtail his career. A third baseman, he was moved to second base in 1982. In 1983 he hit .277 with 11 home runs. He was only able to play in eight games in his last season, 1984. Altogether, Castino played 666 games in the majors, all with the Twins, hitting .278.

For a book I unsuccessfully tried to get published, I wrote to a number of players who had done something interesting in their careers (i.e. threw a no-hitter, led the league in homers, etc.), but weren’t Hall of Famers (see previous interviews with George Culver and Fritz Peterson). Castino responded to me via e-mail about sharing the award and also related some stories about owner Calvin Griffith.

My rookie year in 1979 was a very challenging, fun, exciting year. There is always some anxiety as a rookie not knowing perhaps if I was good enough to play at that level.

However, after a few weeks of playing, I was confident that I belonged. I had extra competition however, as Gene Mauch believed in platooning some of his players. So, I had to win the job outright from Mike Cubbage. Further, I only got to play against left-handers, so I did not get as much playing time as Mike until I clearly won the job from him after a month or two of battling for the position. [Note: Cubbage had been obtained from the Rangers during the 1976 season. He served as the team’s primary third baseman the rest of ’76 and in 1977 (126 games at third) and 1978 (115 games at third). Cubbage ended up playing in 94 games in 1979, 63 of at third base. Castino played in 143 games at third base- with 106 starts -  in ’79).

Receiving AL Rookie of the Year honors was indeed a great thrill. And I had no problem sharing it with Alfredo Griffin. I had a lot of respect for Alfredo from playing against him. I feel that if I DID HAVE a full season at third base, instead of two-thirds of the year [note: Castino had 393 AB and 445 PA.], I probably would have won the award outright. But, as I said, I am proud to have shared the honor with Mr. Griffin.

My back problems were directly responsible for me having to retire. I learned during my career that I was born with a deft in my spine which became worse the more I played hard i.e. diving for balls, sliding head first, collisions, etc. … I was just getting into my prime in hitting (age 29). I regret that I got injured, but I don’t regret having played hard (which some people claimed hastened my back injury).

I have one true story you might like …

During a banquet in Orlando in which I was being honored for receiving the AL Rookie of Year Award, Calvin Griffith came up to me afterward with many people around in a discussion circle and said loudly so that everyone could hear it, “Castino, award or no award, I’ve got you by the balls. You’d better sign that contract I sent you or you’ll be out of baseball.” Calvin was right. There was no arbitration.

Anyway, it gives some insight to Calvin’s boldness and lack of tact.

Having said that, however, I liked the man and respected him. You always knew where you stood with him.

A couple years later, Calvin blasted our team in the paper. We were playing terribly [note: The Twins had only one winning record during Castino’s tenure, and that was in his rookie year when the club went 82-80] and Jerry Koosman topped it off by winding up in Detroit with a man on first (who took second base).

I shot back in the press. Calvin then issued a statement to a reporter that quoted him as saying “If Castino is a man, he will come see me face to face, if not, he’s a mouse.”

Well, Calvin knew I’d come see him. When I got to his office he said, “Castino, you’re the most overrated third baseman in the American League.” I said, “Then trade me Calvin.” He replied, “I can’t trade you, you’re the best third baseman in the American League.” I just walked away and couldn’t figure out a way to debate his logic (or lack thereof).

Both 100 percent true stories. He was an interesting character.

Heller, an Orioles fan, is the author of “As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns” and has been contributing to Seamheads since June 2009, writing mostly about the Browns. He’s had numerous newspaper jobs, working as a writer, editor, or web producer for the Cincinnati Post, Bengal Report Magazine, Cincinnati Enquirer, Sportsline.com, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Philadelphia Daily News, and Detroit Free-Press.

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