The Twins Almanac for February 4–10
Happy 37th Birthday, Ben Hendrickson
It's the birthday of 1999 Bloomington Jefferson grad and former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Ben Hendrickson, born in St. Cloud in 1981.
Milwaukee chose Hendrickson in the 10th round of the ’99 draft. He was the second of three Jefferson Jaguars drafted out of high school, and the first of those high school draftees to make it to the majors… so far. 2015 graduate Jake Irvin was drafted by the Twins in the 37th round, but opted to attend the University of Oklahoma. The 6’6” pitcher is currently a junior.
The Twins drafted Kent Mariska out of Jefferson in the 40th round of the 1974 draft. The speedster didn't advance past Appalachian League rookie ball, though.
Though not drafted out of high school, another Jefferson alumnus has made it to the majors. Steven Edlefsen was taken by the San Francisco Giants in the 16th round of the 2007 draft out of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Edlefsen made it to the majors with the Giants in 2011 and 2012, appearing in 27 games overall.
I always find people’s paths to the majors interesting. Despite being drafted out of high school, Hendrickson doesn’t exactly dominate the Bloomington Jefferson record books. He tied the school record with 17 strikeouts in a game vs. Eagan in 1998. His 71 strikeouts in 1998 and 65 in ’99 are third and fifth-best in school history. His 1998 ERA of 2.01 is eleventh-best in school history. There have been four no-hitters and 13 one-hitters in school history; none by Hendrickson. He did, however, pitch a two-hitter vs. Bloomington Kennedy in 1998. He also had two career shutouts: one vs. Eagan in 1997, and another vs. Wayzata in 1998.
Ben Hendrickson made his major league debut in Los Angeles on June 2, 2004 at age 23. He gave up four runs on seven hits over five innings, picking up the loss. He made nine starts and one relief appearance that season, finishing with a 1-8 record. His only major league win came in Milwaukee on September 4, 2004, when he held the Cincinnati Reds to two runs on seven hits over six innings.
Hendrickson spent the entire 2005 season at triple-A where he went 6-12.
He made it back to the majors in 2006, making three starts and one relief appearance. He made his final major league appearance on May 20, 2006 in Milwaukee vs. his hometown Minnesota Twins. After giving up a leadoff single to Lew Ford and walking Luis Castillo, he gave up consecutive RBI hits to Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, and Justin Morneau before he was pulled, having given up five runs without recording an out. A sixth run was charged to him before the inning was over.
Hendrickson hung around pro ball for three more seasons, spending time in the Royals and Rays organizations before being signed by the Twins on February 17, 2009. He made nine relief appearances for triple-A Rochester, giving up nine runs on 18 hits and nine walks over 10.1 innings before being released on June 19.
A few noteworthy things jumped out at me while perusing Hendrickson’s Baseball Reference page:
• With former Twin Todd Walker on base, Hendrickson gave up one of Sammy Sosa’s 609 career home runs on July 29, 2004.
• He held slugger Adam Dunn 0-for- 5 with a walk and three strikeouts. Dunn was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame this past November.
• Larry Walker was 1-for- 6 with a walk and a strikeout vs. Hendrickson. Walker appeared on 34.1% of Hall of Fame ballots in 2018, his eighth year of eligibility.
• Hendrickson got two major league hits, the first coming off the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano on July 29, 2004.
Happy 89th Birthday, Al Worthington
It's the birthday of former Twins stopper Al Worthington, born in Birmingham, AL in 1929.
The Twins purchased the 35-year-old pitcher's contract from the Reds on June 26, 1964, the same day that Twins pitcher Gerry Arrigo took a no-hitter vs. Chicago into the ninth at Met Stadium. Arrigo would complete a one-hit shutout of the Sox. Worthington, meanwhile, would appear in 41 of the Twins’ 81 remaining games, posting a 1.37 ERA.
Worthington was the first Twin to save 20+ games, going 10-5 with 21 saves and a 2.13 ERA during the team's 1965 American League championship season.
Worthington was the first Twin to lead the league in saves with 18 in 1968 at age 39. The others to do so were Ron Perranoski in 1969 and 1970, Mike Marshall in 1979, and Eddie Guardado in 2002. (Note: saves weren't an official stat until 1969)
With the Twins hosting the Senators on August 9, 1967, Worthington was involved in what must be one of the greatest relief pitcher duels in major league history. The Twins pieced together a 7-0 lead through six innings, but Washington tied it in the seventh with a two-out, seven-run rally.
Worthington and Senators reliever Darold Knowles both entered in the eighth. Worthington went 8.2 scoreless innings, allowing just two singles and two walks, at one point retiring 17 consecutive Senators. For the sabermetrically inclined, Worthington’s performance scored a WPA (Win Probability Added) of 1.176, the most valuable relief performance in Twins history (per Chris Jaffe's August 27, 2012 Hardball Times article).
Knowles, meanwhile, pitched 10 scoreless innings, allowing three singles and two walks while striking out 10. The walks came back-to-back with one out in the 11th to the pitcher Worthington and Zoilo Versalles, putting the winning run on second with César Tovar and Tony Oliva coming up. Knowles, however, got Tovar to fly out to center, and Oliva to pop out to the catcher. Knowles performance scored a WPA of 1.231, the most valuable relief performance in Senators/Rangers history.
Despite a combined 18.2 innings of relief work, neither pitcher factored in the decision. After the Senators scored two in the top of the 20th, Sandy Valdespino led off the bottom of the inning with a single. As remarkable of a game as this was, here’s my favorite part: with two out in the bottom of the 20th, pitcher Jim Kaat pinch-hit for shortstop Jackie Hernandez, representing the tying run! Kaat flew out to deep right to end the game, but still, when’s the last time you heard of a pitcher pinch-hitting in a situation like that?
Happy 31st Birthday, Mark Hamburger
It’s the birthday of 2005 Mounds View High School graduate and Mesabi Range Community and Technical College alumnus Mark Hamburger, born in St. Paul in 1987.
Hamburger was signed by the Twins as an amateur free agent on June 19, 2007, and was traded to Texas for “Everyday” Eddie Guardado on August 25, 2008. Guardado had previously pitched for the Twins from 1993 to 2003. Including the nine games in 2008, Guardado pitched in 648 games for the Twins, the most in team history by a mile. Rick Aguilera is next on the list, 158 games back. Guardado loves to say that he was “traded for Hamburger.”
Hamburger made his major league debut on August 31, 2011 at age 24, pitching a perfect ninth inning in a 4-1 loss vs. Tampa Bay. Overall, Hamburger pitched eight innings over five appearances with the Rangers, giving up four runs on five hits and three walks while striking out six.
He earned his only major league win in his final game, on September 26, 2011. Leading the Angels 1-0 in Los Angeles, Hamburger replaced C.J. Wilson to start the bottom of the third. After three scoreless innings, he gave up a one-out double to Torii Hunter in the sixth. After getting Vernon Wells to pop out for the second out, Hamburger was replaced by Darren Oliver. Mike Trout singled home Hunter, and Oliver walked Bobby Abreu with the bases loaded before getting out of the inning, with the Rangers still clinging to a 3-2 lead and Hamburger in line for the win. The Rangers went on to win 4-3 with Neftali Feliz earning the save.
After struggling at triple-A Round Rock in 2012, the Rangers put Hamburger on waivers. He was claimed by the Padres on June 25, 2012, but didn’t fare much better at triple-A Tucson, so was put on waivers again and claimed by the Astros on July 21. He was released by Houston the following winter.
Hamburger pitched for the St. Paul Saints in 2013, starting 21 games, going 6-8 with a 3.26 ERA and 1.403 WHIP. He averaged seven innings per start. The Twins signed him on September 4, 2013.
The Twins had previously signed Saints pitcher Caleb Thielbar following the 2011 season. The Twins probably felt particularly good about signing a Saints pitcher in September 2013, as Thielbar had been sensational for them that season, not allowing a run in his first 17 major league appearances, ultimately going 3-2 over 48 appearances (46 innings pitched), with a 1.76 ERA and 0.826 WHIP.
After two seasons at triple-A Rochester, however, the Twins granted Hamburger free agency on November 6, 2015.
Hamburger returned to the Saints, where he went 12-6 in 2016, and 13-6 in 2017. He is expected to pitch for the Saints again in 2018.
He also pitched for the Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League during the winter of 2016-’17, and 2017-’18. He has previously pitched in the Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, and Mexican Pacific Winter Leagues.
February 5, 1991
Twins Sign Morris
The Twins sign free agent pitcher Jack Morris to a one-year, $3.7 million contract, making the 1973 Highland Park grad the second-highest paid player, and highest paid pitcher in the American League. Morris had previously been the highest paid pitcher in the league in 1987 and ‘88, and would be again in 1993.
The uncharacteristic opening of the purse strings paid dividends for the Pohlads, as Morris won 18 regular season games, and four more in the postseason, including the legendary 10-inning shutout of Atlanta in Game 7 of the World Series.
1991 was his only season as a Twin. He signed with the Blue Jays on December 18.
Morris was elected to the Hall of Fame alongside former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell by the Veterans Committee on December 10, 2017. The Tigers drafted Trammell in ‘75, and Morris in ‘76. They both made their major league debuts in 1977.
Morris was the fourth Minnesotan elected to the Hall of Fame, and the third from St. Paul. The three St. Paul Hall of Famers all graduated from local high schools within six years of each other: Dave Winfield (St. Paul Central, 1969), Morris (Highland Park, 1973), and Paul Molitor (Cretin, 1974).
February 6, 1998
Twins Trade Chuck Knoblauch
The Twins trade All-Star second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to the New York Yankees for minor leaguers Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Brian Buchanan, Danny Mota and three million dollars of George Steinbrenner’s cold hard cash. There had been speculation for several years that the struggling Twins would deal hot commodity Knoblauch, and eventually he himself demanded to be traded to a contender.
Knoblauch was coming off a stretch of four sensational seasons in which he made three All-Star teams, hitting .318 and stealing 188 bases. His 127 OPS+ over that stretch was three points better than Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar.
The trade would ultimately go down as a win-win. Knoblauch was uneven as a Yankee. We all know about his struggles throwing the ball to first base. He continued to swing a solid stick, though, and the Yankees won the World Series in each of his first three seasons in New York.
Cristian Guzman, meanwhile, was the Twins’ starting shortstop for six seasons, leading the league in triples three times. He never realized his full potential, but Twins fans sure saw some sparks from the speedster.
Milton jumped straight into the starting rotation, giving the Twins five solid seasons, highlighted by a no-hitter on September 11, 1999. Another highlight came on April 15, 2001 when Milton struck out eight of the first 10 White Sox he faced.
Buchanan played 143 games with the Twins between 2000 and 2002. He hit one of the Twins' five home runs on Opening Day, April 1, 2002. The Twins are the most recent of five American League teams to hit five home runs on Opening Day. The previous four were the Yankees in 1932, Red Sox in 1965, Brewers in 1980, and Cleveland in 1995. The Mets set the major league record with six Opening Day home runs in 1988.
Mota made four relief appearances for the Twins late in the 2000 season, his only stint in the majors.
February 8, 1925
Birthdate of Milt Nielsen
It’s the birthdate of Milt Nielsen born 93 years ago in Tyler, MN (in Lincoln County, between Marhsall, MN and Brookings, SD).
He started three games in center for Cleveland in 1949, going 1-for-11 with one run scored. He played in 16 games for Cleveland in 1951, pinch-running ten times, and pinch-hitting six times, going 0-for-6. He didn’t play in the field at all.
Nielsen played a total of nine professional seasons from 1946 to 1954, all in the Cleveland organization.
He passed away in Mankato on August 1, 2005 at age 80, and was laid to rest at Resurrection Cemetery in St. Peter.
February 9, 1902
Birthdate of Julie Wera
It's the birthdate of 1927 Yankees bench player Julie Wera, born 116 years ago in Winona, MN.
Wera joined Winona’s top amateur baseball team, the Peerless Chains, sponsored by the Peerless Tire Chain Company, in July 1921, when he was just 16 years old. The 5-foot-7, 155-pound speedster was recruited to play semi-pro ball in Wausau, WI in 1924, where he caught the attention of the St. Paul Saints. On December 21, 1926, the Saints traded Wera to the New York Yankees for $40,000 and two players to be named later (per Baseball Reference).
Wera was the only rookie to make the Yankees out of camp in 1927. The 25-year-old made his major league debut on April 14, 1927, pinch-hitting for Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt versus Hall of Famer Lefty Grove. He grounded out.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of Wera’s career came on the Fourth of July in an auspicious doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. A crowd of 74,000—the largest crowd ever to attend a baseball game to that point—saw the Yanks demolish the second-place Senators, winning the first game 12-1 and the second 21-1. Wera replaced Joe Dugan at third base in the seventh inning of Game 2, and in the bottom of the inning he clouted a two-run homer off Nats lefty Bobby Burke, a rookie like Wera. It would be the only homer of Wera’s major league career.
The ‘27 Yankees are regarded by many as the greatest baseball team ever assembled. 32-year-old Babe Ruth swatted 60 home runs, while the team went 110-44 (.714), winning the American League pennant by a margin of 19 games. Wera, for his part, got into 38 games (19 starts), going 10-for-42 (.238) with a walk, eight RBI, and seven runs scored.
He suffered a gnarly knee injury in a late-season play at home, and was not a part of the World Series, in which the Yankees swept the Pirates. He did, however, receive the same $5,782 portion of the winners’ purse as Ruth, Gehrig, and the rest of the gang. Nice bonus, considering that Wera’s 1927 salary was $2,400.
Hampered by the knee injury, Wera was back in the minors with St. Paul in 1928. He did make it back to the Yankees for five games in 1929, going 5-for-12 (.417).
In total, Wera played 13 seasons of professional baseball, wrapping up his career in 1937 with the Crookston (MN) Pirates, a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate in the class-D Northern League.
Julie Wera died of a heart attack at his home in Rochester, MN on December 12, 1975. He was 73 years old.
Jerome Christenson wrote a great, succinct profile of Wera for the Winona Daily News on October 13, 2016 (click here).
For a more thorough picture, including a great anecdote about Lou Gehrig making a surprise visit to the Rochester Piggly Wiggly to see his old friend Wera, read J.G. Preston’s SABR BioProject essay (click here).
Happy 25th Birthday, Max Kepler
It's the birthday of Twins outfielder Max Kepler, born in Berlin, Germany in 1993.
Playing Cleveland at Target Field on August 1, 2016, Kepler became the fifth player in Twins history to hit three home runs in a game. The previous four were Bob Allison (1963), Harmon Killebrew (1963), Tony Oliva (1973), and Justin Morneau (2007).
Kepler’s three-home run game opened the floodgates. Brian Dozier joined the club on September 5, 2016, Eddie Rosario on June 13, 2017, and Byron Buxton on August 27, 2017. So while the first four three-home run games in Twins history came over a span of 8,875 games, the next four came over a span of just 188.
Kepler's three-home run game was the beginning of a historic three-game stretch for the team as a whole. Mired in the worst season in franchise history, the Twins hit a team record 19 extra-base hits over a two-game span.
They set a milestone in the third game of the series by putting up 10 runs in three straight games against the same team for the first time. The Twins had scored 10 runs in three straight games before, but never against the same team. They would lose the fourth game of the series 9-2.
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