The first year of the Twins Zoilo Vesalles was the dominate Shortstop – 129 games. Jose Valivielso backed him up. Versalles was in 160 games in 1962, 159 – 1963, 160 – 1964, 160 in the World Series year of 1965 when he was the MVP of the league, he dropped to 135 with Cesar Tovar behind him in 1966, 159 in 1967. After developing a Hemotoma on his back, a lifelong condition, his average dropped and he was sent with Mudcat Grant to the Dodgers for an old Johnny Roseboro, Bob Miller, and Ron Perranoski. But Zoilo, nicknamed Zorro set the Twins standard.
Versalles played 9 of his 12 years with the club including two in DC before the move. .250/.296/.383/.679 14.7 WAR.
1968 was a scrum year. Lots of players trying to establish themselves at SS – Jackie Hernandez, Ron Clark, Rick Renick and Cesar Tovar. Even Frank Quilici and Rod Carew got in some games at SS. Then in 1969 we found the next infield anchor – Leo Cardenas who played there 160 games. Then he came back for 160 in 1970, and 153 in 1971. A five time all – star and slick fielder, he tied the American League record with 570 assists and his fielding percentage was the highest in AL history. Then Calvin traded him for relief pitcher Dave LaRoche. This allowed the Angels to then trade Jim Fregosi, their shortstop to the Mets for Nolan Ryan. Just think if we had skipped that intermediary step and sent Cardenas for Ryan!
In three years out of a 16 year career Cardenas hit .263/.325/.394/.719 with 11.1 WAR.
Danny Thompson took over at SS in 1972 and had the looks of a really good player, but of course, he died of Leukemia at the Mayo in Rochester at age 29. In 1973 he played in 95 games at short and Jerry Terrell 81. In 1974, the Leukemia weakening him he played 88 games at short, Luiz Gomez got in 74, Jerry Terrell 34, and Sergio Ferrer 20. Then in 195, the year before he died, he played 100 games at SS with the same three coming in late game or starting the other games. In 1976 Danny played in 34 games and then he was gone.
Danny Thompson’s line for six years .251/.289/.316/.605 with 2.4 WAR.
Next to grab hold of the position was Roy Smalley in 1976. We got Smalley in a trade along with Mike Cubbage and pitchers Jim Gideon and Bill Singer for Bert Blyleven and Danny Thompson. Why he would or could trade Thompson is another Calvin mystery. Why we traded Blyleven was a difficult thing to do, but a SS is important. Smalley was in 103 games under his uncle, manager Gene Mauch. He played in 150 games in 1977, 157 in 1978, 161 in 1979, and 125 in 1980 with Pete Mackinin, John Castino, and Lenny Faedo playing in the rest. In 1981 injuries limited him to 37 games and in 1982 he got in 4 games and was traded for Greg Gagne, and Pitchers Paul Boris and Ron Davis from the Yankees.
The rest of 1981 saw Chuck Baker, Pete Mackinin, Ron Washington, and Lenny Faedo at SS. In 1982 Ron Washington was our primary SS, Lenny Faedo the backup. In 1983 Washington remained number one, but there were multiple players getting time at short. Faedo was in 51 games, Houston Jiminez in 36, the newly acquired Gagne 10, and Gaetti 3.
Then in 1984 this streak of forgettables continued with Houston Jiminez and the number one, Washington number two then Faedo and Chris Speier. Finally, in 1985 Greg Gagne grabbed the position. With Roy Smalley back having been with the Yankees and the White Sox. He got in 49 games, Espinoza 31 and Ron Washington 31. The same four held the position in 1986 and Smalley took over DH with 114 games there.
In the championship season of 1987 Gagne was backed up by Al Newman and Smalley played there 4 games with the rest as DH or PH. This ended the Smalley era.
Roy Smalley in his two stints with the Twins played for us 10 years 262/.350/.401/.750 20.9 WAR
Gagne had no one looking over his shoulder in 1988 The others to play short were Al Newman – 28, Steve Lombardozzi – 11 and then Doug Baker, Gary Gaetti, and Tommy Herr. In 1989 the same top two with Baker the only other SS.
Starting the new decade – 1990 the top two stayed the same and Scott Leius became the third option. That stayed the same in 1991 with Knoblauch getting in 2 games at short. 1992 Gagne stayed at Short, but Al Newman was replaced by Jeff Reboulet and Donnie Hill. Gagne had been on both world series teams and hit a three run homer in game one of 1991, but in 1992 the Twins were only going to give out one big contract – Kirby Puckett and refused to give Gagne a raise. He left for KC.
Greg Gagne played 10 years for the Twins .249/.292/.385/.677 12.7 WAR.
Pat Meares was the next player that the Twins put at SS along with Reboulet, Hocking and Lieu in 1993. The same four were at the top of the list in 1994, 1995, 1996, and in 1997.1998 it was just Meares and Hocking. Meares left in FA to Pittsburgh.
Pat Meares was a 12th round draft choice and played six years with the Twins .265/.301/.381/.682 6.0 WAR
1999 became the year of Cristian Guzman with Denny Hocking the back up. The same two in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and in 2004 the back up was Nick Punto. Guzman had come from the Yankees in the Knoblauch trade. He led the league in triples three times and it was a pleasure to see him on the bases. The year he had 20 triples was the first time that number had been reached in 70 years. He left as a FA
Guzman played six years with the Twins .266/.303/.382/.685 WAR 7.5
In 2005 Juan Castro and Jason Bartlett split SS with Punto behind them. The same three in 2006, but Bartlett asserted himself as number one. Bartlett was SS in 138 games in 2007, with Punto and Casilla playing the rest.
In 2007 Bartlett lead the league in errors – 26 and then was part of the trade to get us Delmon Young!
Bartlett played 5 or his 10 years as a Twin 271/.340/.361/.702 8.9 WAR
2008 Nick Punto (the leader of the Piranhas) 61, Brendan Harris 55, Adam Everett 44, and Matt Tolber 14 split the SS position. 2009 saw Punto and Harris split the position with Orlando Cabrera. Then in 2010 we had a lead SS again – JJ Hardy with the other SS candidates sliding down the list.
2011 and Hardy is gone – that was quick, but we had Tsuyoshi Nishioki and he started 60 games, Trever Plouffe 45, Alexi Casilla 36 and Matt Tolber 31. Lots of maneuvering! With Nishioki gone, Hardy gone, we turned to our minor leagues and stared Brian Dozier at SS 83 games. Hard to remember or easy to forget. Others had innings and games at SS too in 2012. Pedro Florimon 43, Jamey Carroll (our oldest SS ever) 37, and Eduardo Escobar 6.
Lets call that a bad year too.
2013 Pedro Florimon takes the position 133 games, Escobar 38, and Doug Bernier 20. 2014 Escobar takes the position with Danny Santana playing in 34 games and Florimon 31 plus Eduardo Nunez 20. 2015 Escobar and Santana split the position with Nunez filling in and Polanco getting 4 games.
2016 Escobar gets the most games, but Nunez gets in 51 at short and Polanco 47. Polanco takes over in 2017, Adrianza is primary back up and Escobar gets only 16 because he is not primarily at third.
I just cannot choose the best out of the mess that is ten years of revolving door at SS and Polanco has a ways to go year.
Who is best – here are the candidates and my ranking – what do you think?
1. Cardenas 3 years .263/.325/.394/.719 with 11.1 WAR
2. Versalles 9 years 250/.296/.383/.679 14.7 WAR.
3. Roy Smalley 10 years 262/.350/.401/.750 20.9 WAR
4. Greg Gagne10 years .249/.292/.385/.677 12.7 WAR.
5. Bartlett 5 years 271/.340/.361/.702 8.9 WAR
6. Guzman 6 years.266/.303/.382/.685 WAR 7.5
7. Pat Meares 6 years.265/.301/.381/.682 6.0 WAR
8. Danny Thompson 6 years .251/.289/.316/.605 2.4 WAR.