The Twins Worst Trades: Tom Brunansky
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsMinnesota was at the top of the baseball world in 1987 as the team had just secured their first World Series title. One of the key members of that team was right fielder, Tom Brunansky. Only three position players finished with a higher WAR than him that season and he seemed to be part of a young core that would continue winning in Minnesota. However, the front office had other plans.
Early in the 1988 season, general manager Andy MacPhail dealt Brunansky to the St. Louis Cardinals for infielder Tommy Herr. Brunansky had become a fan favorite in Minnesota and this trade certainly left fans scratching their heads. Herr was a second baseman and the Twins already had Steve Lombardozzi on the roster. Brunansky was off to a slow start and Lombardozzi was hitting under .100 at the time.
For Brunansky, the trade came as a shock. “They told me I had been traded and I had three days to report (to St. Louis). It was like bam, right in the gut. Then I walked back to my locker, and the guys knew something had happened. They said my face was white.”
Herr was equally shocked as he wanted to be a Cardinal for life. Said Herr, “Sure, I’m shocked. I’ve loved my years as a Cardinal and it’s hard to say goodbye.” After arriving in the Twin Cities, he told the Star Tribune, “I tried to take the trade like a man, but when the plane left St. Louis, I cried like a baby for a half hour.”
Herr was supposed to add to Minnesota’s infield depth and give them something extra at the top of the batting order. However, Herr wasn’t interested in being part of the Twins as his batting average and slugging percentage dropped lower than his career totals. Also, he became a distraction in the clubhouse as he was very open about his religious beliefs including convincing some members of the team that an apocalyptic event would occur on September 13, 1988. Needless to say, Herr didn’t last long in Minnesota.
From the Cardinal’s perspective, their top run producer Jack Clark had left in free agency and their Opening Day right fielder, Jim Lindeman, was on the disabled list. Brunansky was amid a stretch of six straight seasons where he hit 20 or more home runs. Herr was also in his final year of a four-year contract, so the Cardinals didn’t want to lose another player in free agency.
The trade had a chance to been much worse for the Twins when considering the Cardinals original asking price. Third baseman Gary Gaetti and outfielder Kirby Puckett were inquired about by St. Louis. MacPhail said, “I told [the Cardinals GM] I wouldn’t trade Gaetti and that my house would be burned to the ground if I traded Puckett.”
Herr didn’t want to play in Minnesota, and it was clear to all involved. Patrick Reusse wrote, Herr “came to Minnesota with a chance to play an important role on a team trying to defend a championship. Herr brought with him the enthusiasm normally associated with being called to an IRS audit.”
Over parts of three seasons in St. Louis, Brunansky hit .238/.327/.411 (.738) with 20 or more home runs in each full season he played with the club. He would be traded in May 1990 to the Red Sox for future Hall of Famer Lee Smith. He would resign with Boston that winter as a free agent and his last two full seasons came in a Red Sox uniform.
TV play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer shares an interesting story about the trade’s aftermath in his book Game Used. Bremer was sharing a cab with MacPhail in Seattle after the trade had occurred and the driver started asking the passengers about the deal.
Bremer wrote, “Oblivious to who his passengers were, [the driver] asked who the hell was running the show in Minnesota and why in the world they would trade a young slugger like Brunansky for a washed-up second baseman like Tom Herr.” To lighten the mood in the cab, Bremer told the driver, “You have to remember that the general manager in Minnesota was just an inexperienced kid who got lucky in winning the World Series the year before.”
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