Twins Daily Roundtable: Hall of Fame Impact
Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY SportsJohn Bonnes
I've followed the Twins since 1972, and in my mind, there is no doubt that Kirby Puckett has had the biggest impact. It wasn't just the World Series championships or the postseason heroics. Indeed that was just a small fraction of what he brought, as was his performance on the field. His personality, specifically his childlike enthusiasm and joy, separated him from any other athlete I've witnessed.
He was also fortunate enough to have his career fall into the perfect media landscape: media was ubiquitous, but not chaotic and social. I wasn't able to witness first-hand the greatness on and off the field that Harmon Killebrew embodied, but I have trouble imagining that any player from the 60s could impact an organization and community the way Puckett did in the 80s and 90s.
For me personally, it’d have to be Kirby Puckett. He was easily the team’s biggest star while I was growing up, and had a major impact on my fledgling affinity for Twins baseball at the time.
However, given that Kirby’s playing career was relatively brief (by HoF standards) and his greatness somewhat overstated (*ducks*) I’ve gotta go with Harmon Killebrew. I didn’t have the privilege of watching him play, but the numbers speak for themselves: to still own essentially all the franchise’s power-hitting records 30-plus years after retiring is nothing short of incredible.
Plus, Killebrew stuck around as a fantastic ambassador for the organization many years after his playing career ended, whereas Kirby faded from the spotlight unceremoniously. Puckett’s legacy is ultimately a complicated and checkered one, but Killer’s is rock-solid through and through. He arrived along with the team from Washington in 1961, on the front end of a legendary run, and will forever be emblazoned in my mind as the eternal face of the franchise.
When looking at the organization, Tony Oliva, a player not in the Hall of Fame, might have had the greatest impact on the organization. He’s been a great ambassador for the game and an asset for the organization. However, other players elected to Cooperstown like Kirby Puckett, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, and Bert Blyleven have impacted the organization in different ways.
Puckett brought multiple titles to the Twin Cities. Killebrew was the heart and soul of the organization’s first pennant winning team. Carew and his Heart of 29 campaign have brought him back into the fold in Minnesota. Even Blyleven and his terrible announcing have left an impact on the organization.
If I am picking one player, it has to be Killebrew. His on and off the field impacts have touched every generation of Twins fans. Puckett was my idol growing up but his post career life was filled with various demons. Killebrew wasn’t perfect but his reach goes far beyond Twins Territory.
Just to point this out while I go into my why: this is a tough question for me (for reasons discussed below and others I won’t).
I grew up as a little kid loving baseball and my home/favorite team won two world series before I was ten years old. My views may be a little skewed because of that and the vivid memories I still have (one of those World Series was the first time I can remember my parents letting me stay up late).
Since I’ve grown up and sought to learn much more about the franchise’s history, I know the name Harmon Killebrew should top a lot of our writer’s lists. I don’t know if you could find a Hall of Famer anywhere that without a doubt could be called a better human being. Because of that, while I was in a vintage store this past weekend I was very tempted to drop far too much money on an okay-condition Killebrew baseball card from 1958, while still in a Senators jersey.
But as far as impact on the organization for me, the answer to this question will likely always be Kirby Puckett. He’s unquestionably the reason why you came to the Metrodome during his star-studded career, his joy playing the game was apparent every day with his smile, and his charisma was known throughout the major leagues. He also led his teams to those two World Series Championships, so he’s my pick.
Given my advanced age, it’s not surprising that I’m going to go with Harmon Killebrew. Many fans may not have an appreciation for just how sorry the Washington Senators franchise was at the time Calvin Griffith moved the team to Minnesota.
Washington won the AL pennant in 1933. From that point until the franchise landed in Minnesota, the Senators had three seasons in which they finished in the top half of the A.L. standings (two were during the talent-challenged World War II era). They finished dead last in the standings in four of their final six seasons in Washington.
That is the legacy that Calvin Griffith brought to Minnesota. Fortunately, he also brought Harmon Killebrew to Minnesota.
With Killebrew as the face of the franchise, the Twins quickly became one of most successful teams of the 1960s.They finished 6th in their debut season of 1961, but finished 2nd in 1962, 3rd in 1963 and won the franchise’s first A.L. pennant in 32 years in 1965. They were runners-up in 1966 and 1967 and then won the first two Western Division pennants of the Divisional era in 1969 and 1970.
Under Griffith’s frugal ownership, the Twins became an also-ran during the following decade and a half, until Griffith sold the team to Carl Pohlad. Killebrew was the virtual embodiment of “Minnesota Nice” off the field, while being a cold blooded “killer” when he stepped into the batter’s box.
If the Twins had continued their Senators legacy of being the league doormats, it’s not hard to imagine that Griffith would have been forced to sell his team much sooner than he did and who knows whether there would have been much local interest in even trying to keep the team in Minnesota.
Thanks to Killebrew and his friends, the Twins were still around when Kirby and his buddies won their Championships.
Now batting, number 34, Kirbyyyyyyyyyyyyy Puckett! In the history of the Minnesota Twins, there isn’t a single player who has had a greater impact on the organization than Kirby Puckett.
It would be easy to talk about him being the best player on both World Series winning teams, or reminisce on his brilliant preforming in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, but really it was how Kirby played the game that left the lasting impact on the organization.
As a Twins fan who isn’t old enough to remember Kirby Puckett before he retired, I think it speaks volumes to the fact that he is still my favorite baseball player of all time.
While Harmon was a man that has been gone from baseball for quite some time now, I think it's safe to say his impact has been felt over multiple generations. He was consistently a figurehead for the Twins organization even after his playing days, and his instruction towards young players is still disseminated today. He instilled a way in which to go about doing things that has been bought into by players like Torii Hunter, and consistently passed down as those guys give back to the organization today.
If you missed any of the most recent roundtable discussions, here are the links:
Baseball in 2028
Second Half Star
Sell, Sell, Sell?
Fixing the Offense
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