Carew to Puckett to Hunter to Perkins
The Carew Era - When I was a young baseball fan
When I first tuned the radio to the Twins in the 70's it was Rod Carew. Rodney made a big impression. He was fast, smooth and graceful. He even made bunting cool. When he stepped into the box you expected something great to happen. When he got on base the fun escalated: he'd steal a base, pop up on his feet, steal another and maybe even steal home. Between the ages of nine and 15 I wanted my favorite player to do something spectacular and look cool doing it. Who better to imitate than Rodney?
After the '78 season the Twins traded Carew to the California Angels for Dave Engle, Paul Hartzell, Brad Havens and Ken Landreaux. That left a hole in the organizataion that would take years to fill.
The Puckett Era – I’m Ready for a Winner
After Carew was traded away the Twins actually increased their win total by nine games in 1979. But 82-80 is nothing to get real excited about. The next four years all ended with losing records. There was no longer that one player who could be the face of the franchise. Then six years after the Carew trade Kirby Puckett shows up. By this time (1984), I’m 21 and the Twins had not been in the playoffs since 1970. I was ready for a winner to lead the team.
At first Kirby did not look like the Hall of Famer he became. He looked like a guy who would play a good center field, hit close to 0.300 but not hit for much power. He was a nice piece to a team that could someday be good, teaming with other young guys like Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunanski. But Kirby did have something the other young Twins did not. He had a flair, a confidence, something that made you want to watch him. Then, in his third season (1986), he pops a home run in his seventh game. With the home run we saw that great bat flip, boy I miss that bat flip. He kept hitting more home runs, 31 in all that season after just four in 1327 plate appearances over the ’84 and ’85 seasons.
So it was 1986 when I figured out the Twins really had something with this guy. Here was the new face of the franchise. I had another “favorite Twin.” Looking back on that team, Kirby’s breakout in ’86 seemed to pull the rest of the team with him and that was the jumping off point that pushed the team forward. The rest as they say is history: Two World Series titles, a career cut short by an eye injury, and sadly, his premature death in 2006.
The Hunter Era - Back in contention
In the late 90's I finally got to a point in my life when I could afford to travel to Minneapolis to catch games at the Dome. At that time I didn't have TwinsDaily to keep me updated on the Twins' prospects so it was not until early in 1998 when I noticed Torii Hunter. He was immediately fun to watch, lots of speed, great plays in the outfield and you could see the developing power. In 2000 he had to go down to AAA Salt Lake City for 55 games but when he came back he was in center field to stay.
Hunter's emergence triggered a return to prominence for the Twins that was long overdue. From 1993 through 2000 we witnessed eight consecutive losing seasons. Puckett's retirement prior to the '96 season left another void in the Twins' leadership. It was fun to watch Paul Molitor finish his career with style. Chuck Knoblauch provided a great season in 1997 (117 runs and 62 stolen bases) but he was mostly auditioning for a free agent contract. Torii, led a group of Twins similar to Puckett's crew from the 80's. We all remember the names: Pierzynski, Mientkiewicz, Koskie, Jones, Lawton and Ortiz to name a few. But Hunter stood out.
There was a play in the first game of the 2002 AL Division Series against the A's that cemented Hunter as my new "favorite Twin." The A's had already scored three runs in the first on two hits and two Twins errors. The Twins got one back in the second to make it 3-1. In the bottom of the second, A's first baseman Scott Hatteberg (of Money Ball fame) hit a pop fly between the pitcher's mound and home plate. The Twins' infielders, along with catcher AJ Pierzynski and pitcher Brad Radke looked at each other and let the ball drop for a hit. That scored a run, then Miguel Tejada reached on a throwing error by Cory Koskie, a guy who I think should have won a Gold Glove. A single by Eric Chavez scored Hatteberg and the A's were up 5-1.
The TV cameras caught Hunter running in from center field screaming and yelling at his teammates. I can only guess what he said but you could tell he had everyone's attention. The Twins had a leader, Torii Hunter was not going to let his team lose. The Twins went on to win the game 7-5. Hunter did have one hit (a double) in the game, but the hitting stars were Pierzynski (four hits), Koskie (3-run HR) and Doug Mientkiewicz (solo HR). Radke went on to pitch five innings and get the win, help in relief was provided by Johan Santana, JC Romero and "Every Day" Eddie Guardado. Torii made his contribution by waking up his teammates.
The Twins went on to win the series 3-2. Thanks to one of my buddies from North Dakota (you know who you are) I got to see the games (one win and one loss) at the Metrodome. Hunter and the Twins could not defeat the California Angels in the American League Championship series, but the they did win 94 games, a division title and a playoff series. In the six seasons from 2002 through 2007 (Hunter's last with the team) the Twins won four division titles and had five winning seasons. There were three more successful seasons (2008-2010) after he left for free agency but in my humble opinion Torii Hunter was the catalyst in the run from 2001-2010.
So what now?
After Hunter left for California and then landed in Detroit I still follow his career and enjoyed seeing him do well, probably more so than any other former Twin with the exception of Carew. The obvious and simple thing to do after 2007 was to make Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau, or both, my "favorite Twins". How could I go wrong? They both had won MVP awards, they were both great role models as far as anyone could tell. Both will be in the Twins Hall of Fame, and up until this year I thought Mauer would make it to Cooperstown after his retirement. That is another story.
But by this time in my life I was looking for something more in a player. I was now a husband, father and approaching 50 years old. My priorities had changed, so had my appetite for sports. By this time I had gone from being a follower of pretty much every sport going to just focusing on the Twins and the Vikings, with the Vikings gradually losing my interest. My favorite player would have to be someone I could point out to my son and say, "That is the type of PERSON you should try to be." But wait a minute......... you don't get much better than Mauer and Morneau when it comes to quality people in sports, so what else is there?
That gets me to Glen Perkins. It took me till this year (2014) to appreciate what he means to the Twins. I should have picked up on it sooner. He's always been the other native Minnesotan on the team. But since he became the closer during the 2012 season he's been money in the bank. What sealed it for me was earlier this year when he went to the Twins and initiated talks for an extension to his contract. He could have waited for free agency and made more money. He could have even waited around until the last year of his contract and used leverage against the Twins. But he took the initiative to stay in Minnesota. Finally, an athlete showed that it is not all about the money.
After I learned about Perkins' contract extension I started reading articles about him. You have to love a guy who makes the statement "I would rather not play than play somewhere else." This from a Yahoo Sports article by Jeff Passan. As a Twins fan, what more can you ask for?
When you follow Perkins on Twitter you see lots stuff about the Gophers, Wild, Vikings and other Minnesota teams. You can also tell that he (like most Twins) gets out often and works in the community. He also has a good sense of humor, case in point this Tweet from June 3 comparing himself to Ron Davis after nearly blowing a save against the Brewers.
Another thing I learned, or was reminded of in this article by Aaron Gleeman on NBC Sports Hardball Talk, was that things were not always great for Perkins and the Twins. Following the 2009 season he filed a grievance against the club after it optioned him to AAA instead of keeping him on the major league disabled list. At this point it looked like he and the Twins might part ways.
A lot of people would look at this situation and see it as another over-paid athlete having sour grapes about his contract. The old, "he should be happy to play a game for a living" argument. I see it as a guy who thought his employer was treating him unfairly and taking advantage of him, so he stood up for himself and took action. Again, this is something I'd like to see my son do when he gets to an age where he's making a career.
Thankfully, Perkins stayed with the Twins, after struggling through 2010 with a 5.89 ERA in 13 games (all but one in relief). He bounced back in 2011, finding a role as a lefty specialist in the bullpen, appearing in 65 games and posting a 2.45 ERA. Midway through 2012 he took over the closer role and has been one of the best in the game to this day.
So in Perkins you have a guy who is now a perennial all-star, he fell on hard times, stood up for himself, came back from injury and some sub-par seasons and is now at the top of his game. I never pretend to know what kind of person a professional athlete is. I don't know these people personally. I can only judge by what I see in the media. By all accounts Glen Perkins is a stand up guy, charitable, puts himself out there for the fans and media alike and is a husband and father. I'd be very proud if my boy grew up to be like him. He's my current "favorite Twin."
More than forty years and four favorite Twins: Carew, Puckett, Hunter and Perkins. Who have been your favorite Twins over the years?
Originally posted at IowaTwinsFan.com