The Twins Almanac for March 11–17
March 11, 1961
First Game in Twins History
1950 Winona graduate and 2x All-American Golden Gopher tailback Paul Giel starts the first game in Twins history, an exhibition against the Tigers at Tinker Field in Orlando. The Tigers won 4-1.
Pedro Ramos started the first regular season game in Twins history, pitching a three-hit shutout versus Berra, Mantle, Maris, and the gang at Yankee Stadium on April 11. Camilo Pascual started the Twins' first home game on April 21, a 5-3 loss to the new expansion Washington Senators.
March 12, 2006
Puckett Memorial Service
15,000 fans, family, and friends including Cal Ripken Jr., Dave Winfield, Kent Hrbek, Harmon Killebrew, Dan Gladden, Al Newman, Ron Gardenhire, Tom Kelly, and more pay tribute to Kirby Puckett in a moving memorial service at the Metrodome. Mudcat Grant sang “What a Wonderful World.”
Happy 39th Birthday, Johan Santana
It's the birthday of Twins all-time great Johan Santana, born in Tovar, Venezuela in 1979.
With the first pick in the 1999 Rule 5 draft, the Twins selected Cleveland pitcher Jared Camp. The Marlins selected 20-year-old Santana from the Astros with the second pick. In a prearranged deal, Twins GM Terry Ryan then traded Camp to the Marlins for Santana plus cash money.
Camp never made it to the majors. Santana, on the other hand, posted a 93-44 record over eight seasons with the Twins, winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2004 and 2006, the latter unanimously.
Santana was part of a remarkable stretch for Twins baseball, during which they won the Central Division four out of five seasons from 2002 to 2006 (and again in 2009 and ‘10, after Santana’s departure).
That great run of baseball, of course, was made possible by great pitching. From July 5 to 7, 2004, Brad Radke, Santana, and Kyle Lohse threw three consecutive shutouts versus the Royals at the Metrodome. The Twins outscored the Royals 25-0 over the three-game series.
Santana entered the record books three times on September 24, 2004, winning his 13th straight decision, breaking the team record set by Radke in 1997. He also became the first Venezuelan 20-game winner in major league history, and broke Bert Blyleven’s team single-season strikeout record. Bert K’ed 258 in 1973. Santana took a no-decision in his final start of the season, finishing with a league-leading 2.61 ERA, 0.921 WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched), and 265 strikeouts en route to winning his first Cy Young Award.
The Twins lost the 2004 Division Series 3-1 to the Yankees, but it certainly wasn’t Santana’s fault. He pitched seven shutouts innings in Game 1, as the Twins beat Mike Mussina and the Yankees 2-0. He gave up one run over fine innings in Game 4, leaving with the lead, but the Twins eventually lost 6-5 in 11 innings.
In 2005 Santana went 16-7 with a 2.87 ERA, led the league with a 0.971 WHIP, led the majors with 238 strikeouts, and finished third in Cy Young balloting to 21-game winner Bartolo Colón and Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. For the sabermetrically inclined, Santana’s WAR (wins above replacement) was 7.2, whereas Colón and Rivera’s were each 4.0 (per Baseball Reference).
In 2006 Santana led the majors with a 2.77 ERA, 0.997 WHIP, 245 strikeouts, and 19 wins (tied with Chien-Ming Wang), and won his second Cy Young Award, this time by unanimous decision. It was his third consecutive season leading the league (or majors) in strikeouts and WHIP.
Santana set a team record on August 19, 2007, striking out 17 Rangers in just eight innings on a Sunday afternoon at the Metrodome. He did not issue a walk or allow a run, and gave up only two hits, both to steroid-addled Sammy Sosa. Joe Nathan pitched the ninth as the Twins won 1-0 on a Michael Cuddyer home run leading off the second.
Twins GM Bill Smith did the prudent thing on February 2, 2008, trading Santana to the Mets, who promptly signed him to a six-year, $137.5 million extension. In return the Twins received Carlos Gomez, and pitchers Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Deolis Guerra. Gomez hit for the eighth cycle in Twins history on May 7, 2008, and scored one of the most exciting runs in team history in the bottom of the 12th of Game 163 on October 6, 2009. Humber pitched a perfect game for the White Sox on April 21, 2012.
After three very good seasons in New York, Santana missed all of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury.
He came back in 2012, and pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1 versus the Cardinals at home in Queens. He pitched his final major league game just over two months later on August 17 at age 33. Plenty of people, including Mets manager Terry Collins, have wondered if it was wise to let Santana complete his 134-pitch no-hitter. Santana, for his part, has no regrets.
On January 19, 2018, Twins president Dave St. Peter announced that Santana had been elected to the team Hall of Fame. He will be inducted on August 4.
He appeared on just 2.4% of Hall of Fame ballots in 2018, his first year of eligibility. Because failed to garner at least 5% of the vote, he will not appear on future ballots.
March 14, 1880
Birthdate of Lou Polchow
It's the birthdate of Lou Polchow, born 138 years ago in Mankato, MN. Polchow pitched one major league game for the Cleveland Bronchos on September 14, 1902 at age 22, giving up five runs on nine hits and four walks over eight innings in a 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Browns in the second game of a doubleheader. The Bronchos lost the first game 2-1.
Polchow pitched 10 seasons in the minors (1900–1904, 1906–1910). He passed away on August 15, 1912 in Good Thunder, MN. He was just 32 years old.
Happy 62nd Birthday, Butch Wynegar
It’s the birthday of 2x Twins All-Star catcher Butch Wynegar, born in York, PA in 1956.
He became the youngest Twin to appear in an All-Star game as a 20-year-old rookie in 1976, pinch-hitting for former Twins pitcher Luis Tiant. Wynegar drew a walk in the 7-1 American League loss.
Wynegar finished second to Detroit’s Mark Fidrych in 1976 AL Rookie of the Year balloting.
The Twins traded Wynegar and pitcher Roger Erickson to the Yankees for diddly squat on May 12, 1982, just one day after trading bona fide big leaguers Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong to the Angels for minor league pitcher Mike Walters, an unproven Tom Brunansky, and $400,000 cash. Though the Brunansky deal worked out very well in retrospect, both trades were seen at the time as cheap cost-cutting measures taken by Twins owner Calvin Griffith.
March 14, 1960
Birthdate of Kirby Puckett
It's the birthdate of Ten-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove winner Kirby Puckett, born 58 years ago in Chicago. He grew up in Robert Taylor Homes, the same Chicago public housing project as Mr. T.
Puckett was an All-American third baseman at Calumet City High School in Chicago.
After high school he got a good job at a local Ford plant, installing carpeting in Thunderbirds. After unexpectedly losing that job, however, he attended a free agent tryout in Chicago, and was offered a scholarship to play at Bradley University in Peoria, IL, where he was converted to an outfielder. Puckett's father passed away during his year at Bradley, and he transferred to Triton Junior College for the next season to be nearer to his widowed mother. Meanwhile, he played in a collegiate league that summer, where he caught the attention of Twins assistant farm director Jim Rantz, who was at a game watching his son playing for the other team.
The Twins selected the stocky, 5-foot-8 outfielder in the first round (3rd overall) of the January 1982 draft, but he did not sign. That spring he hit .472 with 16 home runs (including four in one game) in 69 games for Triton, en route to being named Region IV Junior College Player of the Year. His performance convinced the Twins to up their offer. He signed and reported to Elizabethton where he hit .382 and was named Appalachian League Player of the Year by Baseball America. Not a bad year!
In 1983 he played for the Single-A Visalia Oaks where he was named California League Player of the Year. He skipped Double-A and started the 1984 season with the Triple-A Toledo Mudhens.
He made his major league debut in Anaheim on May 8, 1984 at age 24, going 4-for-5 with a run scored as the Twins beat the first-place Angels 5-0. Frank Viola pitched a four-hit shutout. Puckett was the sixth player in American League history to debut with a four-hit performance. He went 16-for-33 (.485) with one walk over his first seven games.
Twins catcher Wilson Ramos also went 4-for-5 in his major league debut on May 2, 2010. He went 3-for-4 the next day, making him just the third player in major league history with seven hits in his first two games, and the first since the Cubs' Coaker Triplett in 1938.
Puckett led the Twins with 14 stolen bases, and tied for the lead with 5 triples his rookie season. In 1985 he led the team with 21 stolen bases and 13 triples.
On May 2–3, 1986, Puckett led off back-to-back games in Detroit by homering on Jack Morris and Walt Terrell's first pitch of the game.
He hit for the sixth cycle in Twins history in a 10-1 win versus Oakland at the Metrodome on August 1, 1986. Bert Blyleven had a decent day, too, pitching a two-hitter, tying a team record with 15 strikeouts (since broken), and becoming the tenth player in major league history to reach 3,000 strikeouts. The next Twins cycle wouldn't come until Carlos Gomez in 2008 (22 years later).
After not homering his rookie season, and hitting only four in 1985, Puckett hit a career-high 31 home runs in 1986. He would hit 83 from 1986 to 1988. According to Stew Thornley's SABR BioProject essay, Puckett was the first player in major league history to go homerless in a season (minimum 500 at-bats) and later hit 30.
On Opening Day 1987, Puckett went 3-for-5 with a home run, double, two RBI, two runs scored, and robbed Oakland's Mickey Tettleton of a home run in the top of the tenth of a 5-4 Twins win.
After being lectured by Tony Oliva to be more aggressive with his bat (per Stew Thornley's essay), Puckett had a weekend for the ages on August 29-30, 1987 in Milwaukee, going 10-for-11 with four home runs, two doubles, six RBI, and seven runs scored. He went 6-for-6 in the August 30 game, and robbed Robin Yount of a grand slam in the bottom of the fifth. He also collected six hits in an 11-inning game on May 23, 1991, becoming just the fourth player in major league history with two six-hit games, and the first since 1935.
After struggling in the 1987 ALCS, Puckett went 10-for-28 (.357) with two walks, one double, one triple, three RBI, and five runs scored in the World Series. He scored four runs in Game 6, tying a World Series record.
On September 16, 1988, Puckett doubled home Tommy frickin' Herr and Randy Bush to become the fourth player in major league history to reach 1,000 hits in his first five seasons.
He had eight four-hit games in 1988, tying the Twins record set by Rod Carew in 1977. Puckett finished the season with a career-high .356 batting average, the highest American League batting average for a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio hit .357 in 1941. Left-handed hitting Wade Boggs won the AL Batting Championship that year with a .366 average.
Puckett set a team record with four doubles on May 13, 1989. He set another team record with his 74th multi-hit game on the final day of the 1989 season, finishing with a major league-leading .339 average with 215 hits, making him one of eight players to lead their league in hits for three consecutive seasons (Tony Oliva led the AL in hits from 1964 to '66). 1989 was Puckett's third season with 215+ hits, making him the ninth of eleven players in major league history with three such seasons. That offseason the Twins signed Puckett to an epic new three-year, $9-million contract.
He went 9-for-21 (.429) with a walk, two home runs, five RBI, and four runs scored en route to being named the Most Valuable Player of the 1991 American League Championship Series.
He had one of the most memorable performances in baseball history in Game 6 of the World Series, going 3-for-4 with a stolen base, three RBI, and two runs scored in a dramatic 4-3, 11-inning win. He tripled home Chuck Knoblauch and scored on a Shane Mack single to give the Twins a 2-0 first-inning lead. He made one heckuva catch in the third inning, put the Twins up 3-2 with a sacrifice fly in the fifth, driving in Dan Gladden, and singled and stole in the eighth. He led off the bottom of the 11th with probably the most famous walk-off home run in baseball history off Charlie Leibrandt. "Touch 'em all, Kirby Puckett!"
He went a combined 7-for-8 with four RBI and six runs scored in World Series Game 6's. Overall, he hit .309 with five home runs in 24 postseason games.
He tied a team record with three grand slams in 1992, including two over a six-day span (May 29, and June 3). The other Twins to hit three grand slams in a season were Bob Allison (1961), Rod Carew (1976), Kent Hrbek (1985), and Torii Hunter (2007). Puckett finished the 1992 season with a 7.1 WAR (wins above replacement), second only to his 7.7 in 1988, and finished runner-up to Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley in AL MVP balloting. (Kent Hrbek finished runner-up to Detroit closer Willie Hernandez in 1984). Puckett tested the free agent market following the '92 season, but chose to resign with the Twins at a discount.
Puckett finished the 1992 season with a major league-leading 210 hits, becoming the 15th of 19 players in major league history with five or more 200-hit seasons.
Puckett started the 1994 season with a 15-game hitting streak, and hit safely in 24 of the first 25 games. He went 5-for-6 in the fourth game of the season (April 8) to join the 2,000 Hit Club.
His 1995 season was ended prematurely when he was struck in the face by a 2-0 Dennis Martinez fastball in the bottom of the first on September 28.
The 36-year-old superstar appeared poised for a big year in 1996, hitting .344 in Spring Training, when, on the last day of camp, he woke up unable to see out of his right eye. He was diagnosed with glaucoma and placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time in his career. Four surgeries did nothing to improve his vision, and he official announced his retirement on July 12.
At the time of his retirement his .318 career average was the highest for a right-handed batter since Joe DiMaggio. He is still the Twins' all-time hits (2,304) and doubles (414) leader.
The Twins named Puckett executive vice president of baseball on November 16, 1996.
Puckett was elected to the Hall of Fame along with 1969 St. Paul Central graduate, Golden Gophers all-time great, and former Twins teammate Dave Winfield on January 16, 2001, both on their first ballots. They were inducted in Cooperstown on August 5 alongside Veterans Committee selections Bill Mazeroski and Negro League pitcher Hilton Smith, who, following his legendary Kansas City Monarchs career, played semi-pro ball in Fulda, MN in 1949 and '50.
In early 2002 it was revealed that Tonya Puckett (who Kirby married following the 1986 season) was seeking a divorce, citing disturbing instances of abuse over the years.
In September 2002 a woman accused Puckett of dragging her into the men's room and groping her at a suburban Twin Cities restaurant. He was acquitted of felony charges in early 2003, but with all the ugly news piling up, his sterling reputation was irreparably tarnished.
Puckett, whose weight had reportedly ballooned to well over 300 pounds, suffered a massive stroke at the home he shared with his fiancé in Scottsdale, AZ on March 5, 2006. Old friend Ron Washington, in camp with the Athletics nearby, was one of the first at his bedside, while former teammates including Shane Mack and Kent Hrbek made their way to Arizona. After unsuccessful emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, Puckett passed away on March 6. Ken Griffey Jr. was reportedly at his bedside when he passed.
Kirby Puckett was just 45 years old, the second-youngest person to pass away after having already been elected to the Hall of Fame. Lou Gehrig, elected by a special vote following his final season, was just 37.
Happy 63rd Birthday, Mickey Hatcher
It’s the birthday of former Twins outfielder Mickey Hatcher, born in Cleveland, OH in 1955.
The Twins acquired Hatcher from the Dodgers along with a pair of minor leaguers for Ken Landreaux near the end of Spring Training on March 30, 1981.
Hatcher went 4-for-5 in a 10-1 Twins win over Oakland at the Metrodome on April 28, 1985. He had gone 5-for-5 the previous day, giving him nine consecutive hits, tying Tony Oliva’s team record established in 1967. Todd Walker matched the feat in 1998.
The Twins released fan-favorite Hatcher on March 31, 1987 to make room for Dan Gladden, who they had acquired in a trade with the Giants for two minor league pitchers and a player to be named later, who would turn out to be Bemidji native and 2x Gophers Dave Winfield Pitcher of the Year Bryan Hickerson. Hatcher was still owed $650,000 for 1987 and a $100,000 buyout clause for the ‘88 season. It was the most expensive contract the Twins had eaten up to that point.
Hatcher returned to Los Angeles where he played four more major league seasons.
Happy 74th Birthday, Rick Renick
It’s the birthday of former Twins player and coach Rick Renick, born in London, OH in 1944.
Renick was the first of six Twins to homer in their first major league at-bat, doing so off Detroit's Mickey Lolich at Met Stadium on July 11, 1968. The Twins won the game 5-4. The five Twins to homer in their first big league at-bats since Renick are Dave McKay, Gary Gaetti, Andre David, Luke Hughes, and Eddie Rosario, who homered on the first pitch.
Renick hit one of twelve pinch-hit grand slams in Twins history on June 30, 1970. It was the Twins' second pinch-hit grand slam of the season, the most in team history. Rich Reese hit the first one on June 7. Reese, in fact, hit 25% of the pinch-hit grand slams in team history, one each in 1969, 1970 and ‘72.
Rick Renick was the third base coach for the Twins' 1987 World Series champion team.
March 17, 1906
Birthdate of Hy Vandenberg
It’s the birthdate of Minneapolis Roosevelt and South alumnus Harold "Hy" Vandenberg, born 112 years ago in Abilene, KS. When Hy was four his father died from tuberculosis, and his mother the surviving members of the family to Minneapolis.
Vandenberg would appear in 90 major league games, going 15-10 with five saves during seven seasons spread out over an 11-year period with the Red Sox, Giants, and Cubs.
According to Bill Nowlin's SABR BioProject essay, the 6-foot-4 right-hander began his professional career with the Minneapolis Millers right out of high school, though he does not appear in the statistical record until pitching for the Bloomington, IL Cubs in 1930 at age 24. He bounced around the minors, going back and forth between Bloomington, Minneapolis, and elsewhere before ending up in Syracuse in 1935 where he caught the attention of the Boston Red Sox.
He made his major league debut with the Red Sox on June 8, 1935 at age 29. He gave up 12 runs in just 5 1/3 innings overall. Vandenberg didn't exactly think it was a fair audition, however, as those 5 1/3 innings came in three relief appearances spread out over a six-week period.
Vandenberg next appeared in the majors in 1937, making one start with the New York Giants, giving up seven runs over eight innings in a 7-4 loss to the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. He appeared in six games for the Giants in 1938, and two in 1939, spending most of his time with their Jersey City farm team.
He finally earned his first major league win on April 24, 1940 (almost five years after his MLB debut), allowing just two runs on five hits and three walks in a 5-2 Giants win in Philadelphia. The New York Times described the complete game victory as an "elegant mound triumph." He made three starts and ten relief appearances in total in 1940.
Vandenberg did not pitch in the major again until re-emerging with the Cubs in 1944, going 7-4 with two saves and a 3.63 ERA over 35 games (nine starts). He had only accumulated 25 appearances over his first five major league stints combined.
Vandenberg held out into the 1945 season, training at the University of Minnesota. Once he did report to the Cubs, however, he matched his success from the year before, going 7-3 with two saves and a 3.49 ERA over 30 games (seven starts). The Cubs made it to the World Series, losing to the Tigers in seven games. Vandenberg provided solid relief pitching in Games 4, 5 and 7, holding the Tigers scoreless on just one hit and three walks in six innings pitched.
Despite coming off his two most successful seasons, the Cubs released Vandenberg during Spring Training 1946. Possibly dispirited, he performed poorly in the minors with Oakland and Milwaukee. In 1947 his contract was purchased by Oklahoma City, but he chose instead to leave professional baseball and pitched for the Springfield, MN team in the amateur Western Minor League.
Following his playing career, Vandenberg worked as an engineering technician for the Hennepin County Highway Administration (per biographerBill Nowlin). Hy Vandenberg died from cancer at his home in Bloomington, MN on July 31, 1994. He was 88 years old.
Happy 41st Birthday, Robb Quinlan
It’s the birthday of 1995 Hill-Murray graduate and 3x Gophers MVP Robb Quinlan.
As a junior in high school, Quinlan set a state record by reaching base in 86 consecutive plate appearances, attracting national media attention.
Quinlan attended the University of Minnesota where he hit .325 as a freshman, .363 as a sophomore, .408 as a junior, and .413 as a senior. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and was named the Gophers’ Richard "Chief" Siebert Most Valuable Player in 1997, '98, and '99. His 92 total bases in 1998 is still a Big Ten record. He was the Big Ten player of the year as a senior in 1999, graduating as the conference's career hits leader. As of last check (March 2018), he was still the Gophers' career leader in at-bats, hits, home runs, doubles, triples (tied), total bases, RBI, and runs scored.
The summer after his junior year, Quinlan played for the St. Cloud River Bats of the Northwoods League, hitting .353 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI en route to being named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Quinlan was drafted by Angels in 10th round in 1999. He was a stud in 2002, his fourth professional season, being named the Angels’ Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .333 with 31 doubles, 13 triples, 20 home runs, and a league-leading 112 RBI for Triple-A Salt Lake. From May 29 to June 20 he went on a 21-game hitting streak during which he hit .440. On May 12, 2002 he went 5-for-5 with two home runs and eight RBI vs. Edmonton. On July 28 he went 5-for-6, hitting for the cycle with two home runs and eight RBI vs. Colorado Springs. The Angels won the World Series in 2002. Quinlan, however, would not make his major league debut until July 25, 2003 at age 26.
He played in 458 major league games over eight seasons (2003-2010), all with the Angels. Despite being a career .276 hitter, he never played in more than 86 games in a single season.
He went 9-for-41 (.220) with two walks in 20 career games versus the Twins. He hit his 25th and final major league home run off Francisco Liriano in a 6-3 Angels win in Anaheim on July 24, 2009.
Robb’s older brother Tom Quinlan was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 27th round out of Hill-Murray in 1986 (he was also drafted by the Calgary Flames in the fourth round). He went 9-for-58 (.155) with five walks and 26 strikeouts in 42 major league games spread out over a seven-year period with the Blue Jays (1990 and '92), Phillies (1994), and Twins (four games in 1996).
Joel Rippel wrote a great essay on Robb Quinlan for the SABR BioProject (click here).
March 17, 1992
Twins Trade for Smiley
Having lost 1991 World Series MVP Jack Morris to Toronto, the Twins trade former Golden Gopher Denny Neagle and Midre Cummings to Pittsburgh for 1991 All-Star John Smiley.
I was in third grade at the time and remember being pretty excited about the Twins picking up Smiley, whose 20 wins in 1991 matched Tom Glavine, Scott Erickson, and Marshall, MN-born Bill Gullickson for the major league lead. Smiley, who finished third in NL Cy Young balloting in '91, went 16-9 with a 3.21 ERA and a career-high 5.0 WAR (wins above replacement) for the Twins in 1992. But after just the one season he was off to Cincinnati where he would make a second All-Star team in 1995.
Denny Neagle, meanwhile, put together a respectable thirteen-year major league career, making All-Star teams in 1995 as a Pirate, and 1997 as a Brave. He led the National League with 20 wins in 1997, and finished third in Cy Young balloting to Pedro Martinez, and teammate Greg Maddux.
Midre Cummings spent parts of 11 seasons in the majors, including 77 games with the Twins in 2000.
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