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  1. If you look at any ranking of the best Minnesota Twins players of all time, you’re going to find Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett firmly locked into the top five of that list. Both Carew and Puckett were legends whose names will be remembered forever. Today, we will dive into their careers and determine, once and for all, who had the better career. The Case for Rod The case for Rod Carew having a better overall career than Kirby Puckett starts with his numbers at the plate. Over the course of his career, Carew posted a higher batting average (.328 vs .318) and on-base percentage (.393 vs. .360) than Puckett. Carew’s career batting average ranks 30th all-time, and his seven career batting titles are tied for the fourth most in MLB history. Carew amassed over 3,000 hits in his MLB career, ranking 26th in MLB history. Even when accounting for era, Carew was still the better batter as evidenced by his career OPS+ of 131 compared to Puckett’s 124. On the bases, Carew also has the edge. Over his 19 year career, Carew amassed 353 stolen bases, nearly triple the number of career steals as Puckett. Another area where Carew bests Puckett is his longevity. While Puckett’s career was cut short (through no fault of his own), Carew was able to play at an extremely high level for 19 seasons in the Big Leagues. Additionally, Carew reached a higher individual peak than Puckett ever did, marked by the MVP award that he won in 1977 as a member of the Minnesota Twins. In this season, Carew led all of baseball with a .388 batting average, .449 on-base percentage, and 1.029 OPS. Carew led the majors that season in hits (239), runs (128), and triples (178). Carew was the standard of consistency during his Major League Baseball career. Carew was an all-star in 18 consecutive seasons, eclipsed a .300 batting average in 15 consecutive seasons, won four consecutive batting titles, and played in at least 140 games in eight consecutive seasons. Carew played for two different franchises, earning all-star appearances and MVP votes with each team. The Case for Kirby While Rod Carew bests Kirby Puckett at the plate, Kirby more than held his own on offense. Puckett led the Majors in batting average in 1989 and led baseball in hits on four different occasions and total bases on two occasions. Puckett didn’t break any home run records, but consistently put the ball in play and drove in runs, leading the Majors in RBI in his penultimate season in 1994. A huge mark in Kirby’s favor over Carew comes in the field where Puckett was a wizard with his glove at one of the most important defensive positions in baseball, centerfield. Over his 10-year career, Puckett earned the Gold Glove award for best center fielder in baseball six times, including four consecutive from 1986-1989. While Carew wasn’t a butcher in the field, he certainly wasn’t dominant and played a position in second base that just doesn’t bring the importance of center field. Where Kirby absolutely set himself apart from Rod Carew came in his performance in the absolute biggest of moments. Starting off with just clutch performance, Kirby was about as clutch as they come. In high leverage situations over the course of his career, Puckett posted a career OPS of .863 in 1,400 plate appearances compared to Carew’s .823 OPS in 2,095 plate appearances. Moving into the postseason numbers, the difference between the two becomes even more stark. Puckett played in four postseason series in his career, winning all four series en route to two World Series titles. In those four playoff series, Puckett amassed a .897 OPS, highlighted by a ridiculous .913 OPS across his world series appearances in 1987 and 1991. Compare that to Carew who was 0-4 in the four playoff series of his career where he hit just .220 with four extra-base hits. The moment that all Twins fans will remember from Kirby Puckett, and the absolute highlight of a Hall of Fame career was his performance in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series that single-handedly kept the Twins’ playoff hopes alive and sent them to Game 7 where they would eventually win their second title. In this game, Puckett hit a triple in the first inning, robbed Ron Gant of extra-bases in front of the Plexiglass wall in the third inning, and then won the game in the bottom of the 11th inning when he launched a game-winning, walk-off home run in front of the Twins’ faithful. The Verdict Kirby Puckett revitalized an entire generation of Minnesota Twins fans through his "clutchness" and late-game heroics. Puckett’s joy for the game was contagious and his leadership mindset and impact in the community made him a fan favorite for many. Rod Carew, however, had a better career than Kirby. As previously mentioned, Rod Carew beats out Kirby Puckett in just about every offensive category. Carew similarly has the edge over Puckett in terms of value-added. Over his 19-year career, Carew contributed 72.3 fWAR, 3.81 per season compared to Puckett providing 44.9 fWAR over his 12-year career, 3.74 per season. Carew accumulated more individual hardware with his all-star games, MVP awards, and batting titles. Whether fair or not, Puckett is hurt by his career being cut short. Only playing in 12 seasons, Puckett just didn’t have the runway to collect the number of accolades that Carew did. It’s entirely possible that if Puckett didn’t contract glaucoma, he would have gone on to have a 20-year career and rack up MVP awards and all-star game appearances, but with only 12 years, he just didn’t do enough to beat out Carew for the better career. Who do you think had the better overall career between Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett, leave a comment below and join the conversation!
  2. As a 1997 baby I never had the chance to watch Kirby Puckett play in person. Yet his 1991 game six catch and walk off homer are by far the most watched pieces of baseball content that will ever grace my life. Thirty years doesn't diminish the goosebumps that prevail when watching two of the most prolific moments in Twins (and baseball) history. Those moments present Kirby not as a player, but an essence of glory and an overarching sense of a legend that is cemented in history. But as a player, he was pretty damn good too. One can point to any spot on Puckett's 12 year MLB career stat line and find talking points that are pretty impressive. The tip of the iceberg is Puck's .318 career batting average and 51.2 WAR coupled with six gold gloves, a batting title, and two shiny rings. Not to mention, the man made the All-star game in ten of his 12 seasons and was named the MVP of the '93 Mid-summer Classic. That's all great, but the tip of an iceberg fails to share the entire story of the mass. Puck was an impact player right out the gate. His 1984 rookie season consisted of a .296 batting average, 165 hits (he would go on to lead the league in this category four times), and only 69 strikeouts in 583 plate appearances. The man knew how to get on base! Kirby finished the season third in the vote tally for American League Rookie of the Year behind the Seattle duo of Alvin Davis and Mark Langston (Puckett's career turned out to be a bit more fruitful). It didn't take long for Puckett's name to enter the MVP conversation. He first received votes in 1985 and would go on to receive them in eight of his remaining ten seasons. Funny enough, he never actually won the award. Yet it isn't MVP votes that win titles. That comes from consistency, availability, and drive. Those three things were arguably Kirby's biggest contributions to the Twins. Need a break from you in-laws over the holidays? Spend 30 minutes on Puckett's Baseball Reference page to brighten the mood. The consistency is unbelievable. Puck never had a season with a batting average that dipped below .280. His lowest was a .288 average in that 1985 season, still knocking 199 hits in a league-leading 691 at-bats. Puck could perform because he was practically always available. Seldom was it that Kirby played in under 150 games in a season. His lowest was 108 in 1994 due to the MLB lockout. And while all that is great, Twins fans will remember Puckett for being the heart and soul of the organization in some of it's brightest days. The Twins were graced with some incredible players like Hrbek, Viola, Aguilera, and Gladden, but it's safe to say that Kirby was the backbone of the Twins' glory days. Puckett's heroics in game six of the 1991 World Series must be associated with his leadership and words of inspiration before the game. With their backs against the wall after losing three in a row (including an absolute whooping in game five) Kirby encouraged his team to 'jump on his back.' Something must have worked. Kirby delivered, the Twins won, and the 1991 World Series will forever be one of the greatest championships ever played in sport. And on a personal level, the legacy of Puck has always been special to me. As a chubby kid with little self-confidence, my mother would read me his children's book before tough days at school, sporting events, and difficult situations. Kirby Puckett: Be the Best You Can Be; it still sits on my television stand as a small reminder of self-love and inspiration. Kirby wasn't perfect, none of us are. Yet the impact that he had and still has on baseball and the Minnesota Twins organization is unprecedented. There are few organizations in sports that have what Kirby Puckett and the Minnesota Twins have/had. Everyone has their favorite Puck memory. Take some time to think of yours. Hopefully it brings a smile to your face on this Christmas Day. Read Previous "12 Days of TwinsMas" articles here: #12 - Torii Hunter #11 - Chuck Knoblauch #10 - Jim Kaat #9 - Frank Viola #8 - Kent Hrbek #7 - Tony Oliva #6 - Johan Santana #5 - Bert Blyleven #4 - Joe Mauer #3 - Harmon Killebrew #2 - Rod Carew #1 - Kirby Puckett
  3. A Minnesota Twins Christmas Carol - Part 1 Jim Pohlad enters one of his many estates, muttering to himself about the nerve of his employees trying to ‘extort’ him for pitching. He hands Rudy his fur coat and takes the elevator up to his bedroom. “125 million dollars for a pitcher… not in this lifetime,” Pohlad says as Rudy helps him into his silk pajamas. “What do they expect me to do? Sell my Porsche dealership? One of my many houses,” Pohlad asks while Rudy silently nods in agreement. Pohlad puts on his nightcap and tucks himself into the covers. Pohlad falls asleep but is quickly awoken by the sound of cleats on the marble floor in his bedroom. He grabs his smartphone to turn on the lights, but before he can find the app his room is aglow with a backlit figure standing in the doorway. “Rudy? Is that you?,” Pohlad asks. “No, Jim, I am not Rudy,” the figure replies as Pohlad squints to adjust his eyes to the glowing figure in his cavernous bedroom. “I am the Ghost of Twins’ Christmas Past.” Then it becomes clear who is standing at the foot of the bed. It is, unbelievably, Kirby Puckett. “Kirby! It can’t be! I thought you were….well….,” Pohlad stutters. “Dead? Remember Jim, there's heroes and there's legends: Heroes get remembered, but legends never die,” Puckett said. “I am here to show you the error of your ways.” Puckett and Pohlad suddenly appear on Chicago Avenue during the Twins 1991 World Championship parade. Chili Davis and Jack Morris roll by in floats while the fans celebrate and cheer. “You see, Jim, this town LOVED the Twins and all it took was a few big free agents to complete the puzzle,” Puckett said. “You could have OWNED this state if you could have kept the momentum. But you stopped spending.” Suddenly a montage plays out in front of Puckett and Pohlad. Disappointing seasons in ’92 and ’93. The 1994 strike and Kent Hrbek’s retirement. Puckett’s glaucoma. The awful, awful seasons from ’95-2000. Puckett reaches out and takes Pohlad by the hand. Suddenly, the room begins to spin and spin until they find themselves inside the Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome. It is 2001. On the field, the Twins are playing against the White Sox. It is an exciting young Twins team featuring up-and-coming players like Torii Hunter and Corey Koskie. Although the crowd is sparse, it is far better than even three seasons ago. Fans seem to be getting interested in the team again after a dark decade of losing. Puckett and Pohlad find themselves in the offices in the bowels of the stadium. “Is that my dad?” Pohlad nervously asks. “Who is that man he is sitting with?” Puckett laughs and gives Pohlad a dumbfounded look. “You know who that is, the Commissioner of baseball Bud Selig,” Puckett says incredulously. Selig and Carl Pohlad are looking over some documents while lawyers observe from the background. Suddenly, Selig smiles and begins to speak. “There we have it, Carl, your team will officially be contracted before next season. The owners will buy out your stake and there will no longer be Major League Baseball in Minnesota,” Selig said. A single tear fell from Puckett’s eye as he watched Carl Pohlad sign the contract. Jim Pohlad instantly became defensive. “You don’t understand, the state wouldn’t buy us a new stadium! Our family simply couldn’t afford to pay for our own ballpark, we needed the charity of the citizens of Minnesota,” Jim Pohlad said. “Ah, so you admit, you NEED the fans,” Puckett asked. “Is that what you are trying to say?” “No, we need the fans’ MONEY. We don’t care what the fans actually think about the team as long as they are giving us their MONEY…. can’t you understand that?” Jim Pohlad seethed. Suddenly, after climbing about 6,000 stairs, Puckett and Pohlad are in the Twins clubhouse. Players are hearing the news of contraction and calling their families confused and scared about what the future may hold. Employees are being encouraged to find employment elsewhere in case there is no team in 2002. “That’s IT. I’ve seen enough of this and I DEMAND to go back home,” Pohlad yelled. “As you wish,” Puckett said, and suddenly Jim Pohlad was back in his California king-sized bed. Part 3 is coming soon! A Minnesota Twins Christmas Carol - Part 1
  4. When it comes to the rankings below, there are many factors to consider. Should the rankings be based on the team’s best players of all time? Should the rankings be associated with players found later in the draft that provided tremendous value? In the end, it’s likely a combination of multiple ranking methods. 5. Kent Hrbek, 1B Twins WAR: 38.6 There were 431 players taken ahead of Hrbek in the 1978 MLB Draft, but he made a life-long impact on the Twins franchise. His hometown team drafted him in the 17th round, and he went on to be a fixture on the team’s 1987 and 1991 World Series titles. His 293 home runs rank second in team history behind only Harmon Killebrew. At 34-years old, he retired earlier than some, so his career numbers may have looked even better if he continued playing. 4. Brad Radke, RHP Twins WAR: 45.3 Fans might not realize how good Radke was during his 12-year career because he was part of some terrible Twins teams. Only one pitcher in team history has accumulated a higher WAR (see below). The Twins selected Radke with their 8th round pick (206th overall) in 1991. He averaged over 200 innings pitched during his career with a 1.26 WHIP and a 113 ERA+. Some of his other numbers aren’t as impressive because he was one of the team’s original pitch-to-contact arms. He provided durability and consistency for the Twins rotation as the team came back to prominence in the early 2000s. 3. Bert Blyleven, RHP Twins WAR: 48.9 Blyleven was MLB.com’s pick for the best draft pick in team history, and he has an argument for the top spot. Both of the players listed below were taken in the first round of their drafts, which can come with high expectations. Blyleven was a third-round pick, and 54 other players were taken ahead of him in 1969. His 22-year career saw him play for five franchises, but he accumulated more WAR during his Twins tenure than any other pitcher in team history. He was a great pitcher and a steal in the third round, but the players below should be ranked higher than him. 2. Joe Mauer, C Twins WAR: 55.2 It’s hard to fathom the amount of pressure Joe Mauer had to feel when he was taken with the first overall pick by his hometown team. Not only did he live up to the hype, but he also went on to have a career that has him in the Hall of Fame conversation. According to Baseball-Reference, only two players in Twins history have accumulated more WAR in a Twins uniform, Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew. Both of these players are in Cooperstown, and Mauer hopes to join them in the years ahead. 1. Kirby Puckett, CF Twins WAR: 51.2 Puckett’s path to the Twins was a unique one as the team drafted him third overall in the 1982 MLB January Draft. This now-defunct draft is different from the regular draft used to select all the other players on this list. That being said, it’s hard to ignore what Puckett did in a Twins uniform. Minnesota’s assistant farm director Jim Rantz stumbled across Puckett while watching his son play, and the rest is history. Puckett was a critical piece to both of the franchise’s World Series titles, and he was a first-ballot Hall of Fame player. How would you rank these players? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  5. I explained my process of how I chose these players in the first part of this trilogy, so if you didn’t read that, I recommend reading this so this article will make more sense. Taking all of the position player seasons over 4 WAR, I found salary data for 86 players. Using these 86 players, I compared their equivalent 2021 salaries with their season WAR’s and constructed the graph below. The names highlighted in yellow are the players who made the starting lineup As was the case in part 1, the bottom right of the graph is where you want to have your players be, signifying a lot of WAR for not a lot of 2021 money. There were some very tough decisions in constructing this lineup, but these are the position players I decided would make the best team in Twins history. Catcher: 2009 Joe Mauer - $15.69M translated salary, 7.8 WAR Because of his lackluster production despite a large contract in the latter part of his career, some Twins fans see Joe Mauer as a bust and not as one of the best players in Twins history. In reality, over the course of his career, Mauer vastly outproduced his contracts. Adding in 2018 to these totals, Mauer made just over $218M in his career but according to FanGraphs, he was worth over $307M. Mauer was so phenomenal early in his career that he completely outperformed his rookie contract and arbitration deals. It makes you wonder what he would’ve done if not for his concussion problems later in his career. Mauer’s best year was 2009. He slashed .365/.444/.587 for the second highest single-season OPS in Twins history of 1.031. Mauer also hit a career high 28 home runs, had a wRC+ of 170, walked more than he struck out, and was an above average defensive catcher in his MVP campaign. In 2009, Mauer had a salary of $10.5 million. This translates to over $15 million in 2021, meaning his contract efficiency number was 0.497. Mauer outperformed his contract not just in 2009, but over the duration of his entire career and he should be inducted in the hall of fame. First Base: 1977 Rod Carew - $10.93M translated salary, 9.7 WAR In 2021, Rod Carew would not be your stereotypical first baseman. Today, first basemen are power-hitters who strike out quite a bit, hit home runs, and don’t steal a lot of bases (see Sano, Miguel). Carew was the greatest player in Twins history and in 1977, he had the greatest season in Twins history. In Carew’s historic 1977 season, he stole 23 bases, slashed .388/.449/.570 for an OPS of 1.019, and had a 135 wRC+. He had a Twins franchise record 239 hits, his .388 average was a franchise record, and he won the MVP award. In 1977, Carew had a salary of $180,000. This translates to just shy of $11 million in 2021 for a contract efficiency number of 0.888. Carew was an outstanding player, will bring some defensive quickness to first base, and would be an outstanding leadoff hitter for this dream-team. Second Base: 1995 Chuck Knoblauch - $13.44M translated salary, 6.7 WAR Even though Chuck Knoblauch isn’t Keith Olbermann's favorite player, he still had an outstanding tenure as a Twin. Knoblauch was a four-time all-star with the Twins before contract disputes led to him becoming a Yankee. In 1995, Knoblauch batted .333, had a .911 OPS, stole 46 bases, and won the American League Silver Slugger at second base. Although Knoblauch’s best season may have been a year later in 1996, he still accumulated nearly 7 WAR in 1995 on a cheaper contract. In 1995, Knoblauch had a salary of nearly $3 million. This translates to $13.4 million in 2021 for a contract efficiency number of 0.499. Knoblauch was a great all-around player for the Twins and is the greatest second baseman in Twins history, so it is only right to put him here. Third Base: 2001 Corey Koskie - $606K translated salary, 6.3 WAR One player who was always undervalued for the Twins was Corey Koskie. In the early 2000’s, you could tell Koskie was a very solid player for the Twins but if you look at him in a more advanced scope, you can see that Koskie was a great player for the Twins and they did not have to pay much for him. In 2001, Koskie slashed .276/.362/.488 for an OPS of .850 and a wRC+ of 119. He led the team in slugging percentage, walks (68), RBI (103), and WAR (6.3). He was an outstanding defender at third base, racking up 1.9 defensive WAR which ranked 4th among third basemen in MLB. Combining above average offense with a stellar glove at third base makes Koskie an easy choice to be our third baseman. In 2001, Koskie had a salary of only $300K. This translates to only $606K in 2021 for a contract efficiency number of 10.39, which was the highest contract efficiency number out of all of the top 100 WAR seasons in Twins history. Getting a 6 WAR player for nearly league minimum does not happen very often so we can save a lot of money while getting a lot of value out of Koskie at 3B. Plus, the man is a townball star Shortstop: 1965 Zoilo Versalles - $7.63M translated salary, 7.2 WAR When building this team of superstars, Zoilo Versalles was the most confusing player I researched. He only had 12 career WAR, and over half of it came in this MVP 1965 campaign. Versalles was the Baha Men of 1965, a one-hit wonder. Digging deeper into his MVP season, he only had a wRC+ of 116 and led the American League in strikeouts. The reason Versalles was so good in 1965 was that he was the best defensive shortstop in the league. He led all MLB shortstops with 3 defensive WAR, also the best mark for any shortstop in Twins history. Versalles’ defensive prowess coupled with his above average offensive abilities (led AL in runs, doubles, and triples) made him the best player in the AL in 1965 and the best shortstop in Twins history. In 1965, Versalles had a salary of $28K, which translates to $7.63 million in 2021. His contract efficiency number (0.944) was very good. Cristian Guzman was also in contention for this spot with an extremely cheap contract, but Versalles accumulated 2.4 more WAR than Guzman so I thought it was a worthwhile trade-off. Left Field: 1992 Shane Mack - $5.44M translated salary, 6.5 WAR One of the most overlooked Twins of all-time is World Series Champion outfielder Shane Mack. After being the Twins Rule 5 draft pick in 1989, he had a great five-year stretch with the Twins. In those five years, he slashed .309/.375/.479 (.854) while hitting 119 doubles, 67 home runs, and stealing 71 bases. His best year of that stretch was 1992, having a wRC+ of 142, hitting 31 doubles, 16 home runs, and stealing 26 bases. He also led the American League with 15 hit by pitches. In 1992, Mack had a salary of $1.075 million, which translates to $5.44 million in 2021. He posted a WAR of 6.5, so his contract efficiency number was very good at 1.195. Mack is one of the most underrated players in Twins history and was frankly one of the best outfielders in Twins history. Center Field: 1992 Kirby Puckett - $6M translated salary, 7.2 WAR Undoubtedly the most beloved figure in Twins history, Kirby Puckett is also the best outfielder in team history and delivered some unforgettable moments, like his walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Kirby joins fellow ‘92 outfielder Shane Mack on the team. One of Kirby’s best seasons was 1992. He hit .329/.374/.490 (.864) while leading MLB in hits (210). He had 110 RBI, a wRC+ of 136, hit 38 doubles, 19 home runs, and had a defensive WAR of 1 while manning center field for the reigning World Champs and being a clubhouse leader. In 1992, Puck had a salary of $2.97 million, which is about $6 million today. He had a 7.1 WAR so his contract efficiency was about 1.184. Puck would be the heart and soul of this team and bring some much needed energy and leadership to the team. Right Field: 1964 Tony Oliva - $2.12M translated salary, 6.8 WAR Recent Hall of Fame inductee Tony Oliva joins the squad with his phenomenal rookie season of 1964. Oliva is one of the greatest hitters in Twins history and a Twins great, hitting .304/.353/.476 (.830) over his 15-year career with the Twins. Oliva was phenomenal in his rookie season, winning rookie of the year and finishing fourth in AL MVP voting. He had a wRC+ of 148, led the AL with a .323 batting average, 109 runs, 43 doubles, and 217 hits while posting a .916 OPS and clubbing 32 home runs. In 1964, Oliva had a salary of $7,500, which translates to $2.12 million in 2021. He accumulated 6.8 WAR, so his contract efficiency was 0.73. Oliva has always been an excellent representative of the Twins organization both on and off the field, so he is a great addition to the team. Designated Hitter: 1963 Bob Allison - $8.75M translated salary, 7.4 WAR The last hitter we have in the lineup is Bob Allison. Allison was ahead of his time. He was more of a three true outcomes hitter than most people in his time. Allison was one of the original Twins, coming from the Washington Senators. He is one of the more underrated players in Twins history and he was one of the leaders on the 1965 World Series team. Allison was a star in 1963, hitting .271/.378/.533 (.911). He led the American League in WAR (7.4), OPS, and wRC+ (150). He hit 35 home runs and was solid defensively, posting a defensive WAR of 1.1 as a right fielder. Somehow, he finished 15th in MVP voting despite leading the league in all of these categories. If they could revote today knowing what actually makes a player valuable, he would most definitely finish in the top 3. In 1963, Allison had a salary of $29,250, translating to a $8.75 million salary today. His contract efficiency was 0.846 so he would be a great bopper in a lineup full of them. Harmon Killebrew was also considered for this position but Allison edged him out in WAR and was slightly cheaper. Summary Overall, the Twins lineup would bolster some heavy hitters and some very high on-base guys, creating a high-powered offense that would wreck the league. These hitters accumulated 65.6 WAR and would be worth $70.6 million translated to 2021 salaries. Part 3 will cover the bullpen and bench, so stay tuned for that. Thanks for reading, and Go Twins!
  6. As a quick preface, each of these cards won’t make fans rich and they can all be attained fairly easily on the secondary market. This makes it even more fun for those getting into the hobby for the first time. 1985 Topps Kirby Puckett Rookie Card MLB.com named the Puckett rookie as the most iconic card in team history for a variety of reasons. First, he is quite possibly the most popular player in franchise history. It also helps that his playing career corresponds with a trading card boom unlike any other. Puckett was the face of the franchise as the team ran to two World Series titles. Kids across the upper Midwest idolized the team’s star player and his rookie card made fans feel like they were even more invested in his career. Recently, this card has sold for under $5 if fans are fine with it having some imperfections. 1993 Topps Kirby Puckett Big Bat Card I loved this card as a kid growing up in the late 80’s and early 90s. Puckett’s personality was larger than life and that is depicted on this card with the giant bat. The same photo graced the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine in April 1992. The Twins were coming off a dramatic World Series win, and Puckett was the face of the franchise. This card can be acquired for $2 or less, because of how many were produced at the time. 2002 Topps Joe Mauer Draft Picks Card He was the first overall pick, and he was drafted by his hometown team, so the story doesn’t get much better than that. Now, he seems destined for Cooperstown to join other St. Paul legends like Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, and Jack Morris. Over the last couple years, the card collecting hobby has really picked up and so has the value of Mauer’s first Topps card. For those interested, the time might be right to invest now before Cooperstown comes calling. https://twitter.com/NoDakTwinsFan/status/1380163376056258561?s=20 1968 Topps Rod Carew All-Star Rookie Card Carew’s actually rookie card was in the Topps 1967 series, but he was featured along with fellow rookie, Hank Allen of the Washington Senators. His 1968 card is his first card where he is featured solo, and it is just a beautiful looking piece of cardboard. The All-Star Rookie trophy on the front helps to accentuate the look of the entire card. Depending on the condition, fans can pick one up for under $20. 1986 Fleer Mickey Hatcher Big Glove Card Hatcher isn’t exactly a Twins’ legend, but this card certainly is one that fans remember across the collecting world. In the card, Hatcher was caught wearing a very oversized glove that looks like it was used either by a team’s mascot or for some type of fan contest between innings. Either way, collectors can get this card for a couple dollars. What’s your favorite card in Twins’ history? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  7. Minnesota was at the top of the baseball world in 1987 as the team had just secured their first World Series title. One of the key members of that team was right fielder, Tom Brunansky. Only three position players finished with a higher WAR than him that season and he seemed to be part of a young core that would continue winning in Minnesota. However, the front office had other plans. Early in the 1988 season, general manager Andy MacPhail dealt Brunansky to the St. Louis Cardinals for infielder Tommy Herr. Brunansky had become a fan favorite in Minnesota and this trade certainly left fans scratching their heads. Herr was a second baseman and the Twins already had Steve Lombardozzi on the roster. Brunansky was off to a slow start and Lombardozzi was hitting under .100 at the time. For Brunansky, the trade came as a shock. “They told me I had been traded and I had three days to report (to St. Louis). It was like bam, right in the gut. Then I walked back to my locker, and the guys knew something had happened. They said my face was white.” Herr was equally shocked as he wanted to be a Cardinal for life. Said Herr, “Sure, I’m shocked. I’ve loved my years as a Cardinal and it’s hard to say goodbye.” After arriving in the Twin Cities, he told the Star Tribune, “I tried to take the trade like a man, but when the plane left St. Louis, I cried like a baby for a half hour.” Herr was supposed to add to Minnesota’s infield depth and give them something extra at the top of the batting order. However, Herr wasn’t interested in being part of the Twins as his batting average and slugging percentage dropped lower than his career totals. Also, he became a distraction in the clubhouse as he was very open about his religious beliefs including convincing some members of the team that an apocalyptic event would occur on September 13, 1988. Needless to say, Herr didn’t last long in Minnesota. From the Cardinal’s perspective, their top run producer Jack Clark had left in free agency and their Opening Day right fielder, Jim Lindeman, was on the disabled list. Brunansky was amid a stretch of six straight seasons where he hit 20 or more home runs. Herr was also in his final year of a four-year contract, so the Cardinals didn’t want to lose another player in free agency. The trade had a chance to been much worse for the Twins when considering the Cardinals original asking price. Third baseman Gary Gaetti and outfielder Kirby Puckett were inquired about by St. Louis. MacPhail said, “I told [the Cardinals GM] I wouldn’t trade Gaetti and that my house would be burned to the ground if I traded Puckett.” Herr didn’t want to play in Minnesota, and it was clear to all involved. Patrick Reusse wrote, Herr “came to Minnesota with a chance to play an important role on a team trying to defend a championship. Herr brought with him the enthusiasm normally associated with being called to an IRS audit.” Over parts of three seasons in St. Louis, Brunansky hit .238/.327/.411 (.738) with 20 or more home runs in each full season he played with the club. He would be traded in May 1990 to the Red Sox for future Hall of Famer Lee Smith. He would resign with Boston that winter as a free agent and his last two full seasons came in a Red Sox uniform. TV play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer shares an interesting story about the trade’s aftermath in his book Game Used. Bremer was sharing a cab with MacPhail in Seattle after the trade had occurred and the driver started asking the passengers about the deal. Bremer wrote, “Oblivious to who his passengers were, [the driver] asked who the hell was running the show in Minnesota and why in the world they would trade a young slugger like Brunansky for a washed-up second baseman like Tom Herr.” To lighten the mood in the cab, Bremer told the driver, “You have to remember that the general manager in Minnesota was just an inexperienced kid who got lucky in winning the World Series the year before.” What are your thoughts after looking back at this trade? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  8. Case for Induction Santana isn’t the only player who had his career cut short due to injury and there are multiple examples of players like this in the Hall of Fame. Twins fans are well aware of the eye injury that ended Kirby Puckett’s career. Sandy Koufax retired at the age of 30 because of elbow problems and arthritis. Both players were first ballot Hall of Famers. Santana’s peak puts him near the same level as Koufax, who is considered one of the best pitchers all-time. According to JAWS, Santana ranks nearly a full point higher than Koufax. He also had more top five finishes in Cy Young voting and more top-5 finishes in player WAR. Santana finished with a higher ERA+, strikeout to walk ratio, and fewer walks per nine innings. https://twitter.com/NoDakTwinsFan/status/937720911200968704?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E937720911200968704%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Ftwinsdaily.com%2F_%2Fminnesota-twins-news%2Fjohan-santanae28099s-cooperstown-case-the-koufax-argument-r6250 While Koufax pitched in an era of pitching dominance, Santana’s era was known for offensive dominance. Since the expansion era (post-1993), Santana’s 136 ERA+ ranks sixth among starting pitchers. Take a look at the names ahead of him: Clayton Kershaw, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Brandon Webb, and Chris Sale. Martinez is already in the Hall. Kershaw and Sale look well on their way. ERA+ has Santana ranked higher than Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux, two previous Hall of Fame inductees. Case Against Induction Much like with Tony Oliva, Santana didn’t have the longevity to accumulate many of the important cumulative stat totals that are associated with being elected to the Hall of Fame. He couldn’t pitch over 3,000 innings or strikeout 2,000 batter or accumulate a larger career WAR total. Even though he is ahead of Koufax according to JAWS, he is behind players like Chuck Finely and Kevin Appier who don’t exactly feel like they should be in Cooperstown. One of the biggest reasons Santana might have been overlooked is the controversial 2005 Cy Young Award. The Athletic wrote about it earlier this week and I have previously discussed the topic here at Twins Daily. During the 2005 season, he led the AL in WHIP, strikeouts, most strikeouts per nine and fewest hits per nine. He won the 2004 and 2006 Cy Young, so a three-peat would have put him in rare company with only 11 three-time Cy Young winners. Prediction Fans have been able to see how starting pitching has changed in recent years. Gone are the days of pitchers going deep into games and seeing a line-up for a third time. Hall of Fame voters might also have to change their expectations when evaluating who gets into Cooperstown. Now, Santana must wait until he appears on the Veterans Committee ballot. It’s going to take time, but Santana is a Hall of Famer in my book. Did Santana deserve to stay on the ballot for more than one season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  9. To tell the story of Matt Walbeck, it goes back to his early days as a baseball fan in northern California. He was able to watch and learn from two really good major-league teams, the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants. As he said, “I liked both. I would go to the Giants and the A’s games with my dad. I was one of those fans that pulled for both of them.” He wasn’t the biggest kid, but he had a lot of support and kept working, and growing. “I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player ever since I was five. I had to fight for everything that I had. I was never the biggest or strongest kid on the team. My dad was my coach and used to practice with me a lot. By the time I got to high school, I was still considered too small to catch. So freshman and sophomore years, I played other positions like second or third base.” An opportunity arose during his junior year. “The catcher in front of me didn’t get good grades, so I took over the spot. I started to lift weights and got bigger and stronger. I always knew I was going to play in the Major Leagues, but it wasn’t until that point that I realized I had a chance to get drafted. The scouts were coming and looking at one of my teammates, Wayne Weinheimer, who played in the minor leagues with the Cubs.” He became a very good, highly-touted high school player in Sacramento and became the eighth round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1987. “I was going to sign no matter what out of high school because I always wanted to get to the big leagues, and I figured there was no better way than to learn how to play professional baseball as a youngster. I was 17.” As a high school draft pick, he gradually made the move up the minor leagues, though there was some extended missed time. “When I was 19, I blew my knee out. I had a career-threatening ACL/MCL injury.” The injury cost him part of the 1989 season and most of the 1990 season. But you could say that he made the most of the time off, adding another aspect to his game. He said, “During the time it took me to rehab my knee, I taught myself to switch-hit. So I came back as a switch-hitter.” He spent the entire 1992 season at Double-A Charlotte. He had hit .301/.358/.418 (.776) with 22 doubles and seven homers. He went to spring training with the Cubs in 1993. Ryne Sandberg broke his arm and started the season on the Disabled List. That opened up a roster spot. Just days before the season was set to begin, GM Larry Himes and manager Jim Lefebvre called him over during batting practice. “I walked over. I thought they were going to send me down, but they said, ‘Hey, Congratulations! You made the team.’ So, that was pretty exciting.” I’d say so. He played in 11 games for the Cubs at the start of the season and hit .200. However, he had two doubles and a home run (off of Jose DeLeon) among his six hits. He spent the rest of that season in Triple-A. Following that 1993 season, the Twins traded right-hander Willie Banks to the Cubs for Walbeck and right-hander Dave Stevens. The Twins hoped they had their catcher and closer for the next several years. “It was really exciting. Baseball is a business, and I understood that deals had to be made. It opened up a spot for me to really learn from Tom Kelly, and play alongside Kirby Puckett. To learn to play the game like that, having watched the Twins as a minor leaguer, watching them win the World Series in 1987 and again in 1991. I knew quite a bit about their organization and the importance they placed on the fundamentals of the game, to always play hard and get the most out of what you had.” Of course, he was a young player who played for Tom Kelly, who was very well known for not being real patient with rookies.. “My Tom Kelly experience was... I learned a great deal from him. He was very difficult on younger players, and I had it coming. Sometimes I spoke more than I listened. I was young, inexperienced. I didn’t really understand what it was like to play in the Major Leagues. At the same time, even as a young player, you have to be very confident. Sometimes you walk the line of being overly confident. He was very hard on me. I think he respected me. I respected him.” Walbeck continued, “It was a tough time for him, trying to rebuild. And, trying to fill the shoes of Brian Harper isn’t an easy task. He was an amazing player. It was very difficult to fill those shoes. The city welcomed me. The teammates were great. TK was great, but sometimes he had very little patience, and understandably so.” Minnesota Twins The Twins had the two World Series titles, but things went downhill fairly quickly after the 1992 season. “It was a tough time for the Twins and for baseball in general. “Our teams weren’t very good. Our winning percentage wasn’t very good. It was tough losing more than winning, and rebuilding. There were a lot of great moments, but certainly a lot of not great moments.” Across the league, things were changing as well. “We went on strike in 1994, and we came back later in 1995. So the game was somewhat going through some growing pains. We broke it apart for a little bit. Owners and players alike. It became a challenge from that point too. The game had changed. They did some re-alignment. They added a division, the Central. I can remember Hrbek saying he was disappointed because we didn’t play the A’s in the same division anymore because they were rivals.” He made the Opening Day roster in 1994 and spent three seasons with the Twins. In 275 games played, Walbeck hit .230 with 40 doubles and eight homers. Walbeck said, “(TK) stuck with me, and he gave me more chances than I probably deserved, to be honest. The whole organization did. I was so fortunate to have that opportunity, and looking back on it, getting to play with Kirby Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch, and to catch Scott Erickson and Rick Aguilera.” He added, “I mean, I remember hitting behind Dave Winfield. That was just surreal. Kent Hrbek. All those guys.” He was there for Dave Winfield’s 3000th hit, “Molitor too. I was there for Paul Molitor’s 3000th hit.” But his favorite memory? “ My biggest memory, my happiest moment playing for the Twins, was catching Scott Erickson’s no-hitter. By far. That was my career highlight.” He really grew to love the Twin Cities too. “The city itself is just a wonderful city. I really learned to fish there, and get into the great outdoors. Man, what a great experience!” His playing time lessened in 1996, and after that season he was traded to the Detroit Tigers. He spent a season with the Tigers before spending three seasons with the Angels. “Playing in Anaheim was great because it was closer to home. It was my first multi-year contract. That was awesome. I got to play for Mike Scioscia, Terry Collins and even Joe Maddon a little bit.” He spent the 2001 season in the Phillies organization. “I was in Philadelphia for a long time. That was when 9/11 hit. I didn’t have an at bat for three weeks or so. My wife was getting ready to give birth, so I had to leave pretty soon too. We were making a playoff run, and I didn't have any at bats. It came down to the point where I had to literally beg Larry Bowa to get me in there. It was in Florida, on the road, game was out of hand, and he was somewhat hesitant but then finally gave in. I realized that at-bat was going to be my only at-bat for the entire year. Reflecting on my baseball card, with my stats, this was it. I didn’t know if I was ever going to play again. I was fortunate enough to get a hit in that at bat, so I batted 1.000 that year. Oh man, talk about a career highlight. It really doesn’t mean a lot but to me it was pretty special.” He ended his career with two more seasons in Detroit. “2002 was a rough season. Then 2003 was really rough. We went 43-119 which was … we almost broke the record for the all-time losingest season.” Upon retirement, Walbeck went into the world of coaching. He had a ton of success, winning a couple of league championships, as a minor league manager in the Tigers organization. He spent a season coaching for the Texas Rangers in 2008. Then he went back to managing. After 11 seasons, “that was enough.” “I look back on it very fondly. At the end of the day, I’ve worked for ten of 30 major-league teams as either a player, coach or a manager. That’s over 25 years of professional experience in organized baseball. I”m only 50, but I still look back on it and think, ‘Wow! I’ve accomplished a lot.’ Half my life I was in pro baseball. Pretty cool.” --------------------------------------------------------- He went back home to Sacramento. He did some lessons, but he was able to be a dad and a husband, helping his wife as their three children were growing up. Walbeck’s son is now 21 and just got his first ‘real’ job. He’s got a daughter who just finished high school and is headed to college soon. He’s also got a daughter in eighth grade. In 2011, his lessons developed into a business, the Walbeck Baseball Academy. Walbeck offers training classes. Players come into his facilities and warm up. They choose classes like hitting, pitching, or the catcher position. They have memberships or training plans. They would enroll and come in to train. Well, that was before COVID. Walbeck had to let some staff go since students can’t come into the facilities for indoor training.. Now Walbeck is at the office nearly every day handling online training. He offers Zoom classes, three to five classes a day, up to five days a week. He has up to 15 players in each class. He says over the past, he’s done 250 Zoom classes and reached about 1,400 students. “It’s pretty amazing to see the improvements the kids are making, and the different areas they work around their house, such as the garage or the living room, or kids will go to the park. We do drills, and I focus on each kid, and I help them with their technique and their concentration and their confidence.” Walbeck lives in a suburb of Sacramento, and his facility is in Rancho Cordero, California. Most of the players who have attended the facilities are from within a 50-mile radius. However, with the online training and camps on Zoom, you can sign up and participate from anywhere around the country. For more information, be sure to bookmark Walbeck Baseball Academy. Check out the training opportunities and the camps. Check out the schedule of training coming up. Hey, there are even training sessions for adults. --------------------------------------- One more fun story from Walbeck. We talked a bit about how the Catcher position has evolved since he was a big league catcher. “That position has changed dramatically over the years. When I was trained to play professionally, your job was to block pitches and be in a position to throw guys out, as well as receive the pitch. But you also had umpires back in those days that would come down on you if you tried to frame pitches.” “In fact, Paul Runge was my first umpire in a spring training game, and he literally told me he would have my (butt) if I ever tried to frame another pitch for the rest of my career.” “I couldn’t believe it. I went to Tom Trebelhorn and said, ‘Hey get a load of this…I’m not supposed to frame pitches.’ “He said, ‘Hey, you get back out there and tell him you’re paid to do this.’ OK. This guy is a veteran ump in the major leagues, so I had to deal with that.” “The umpire catcher relationship was very strong. You had to have their trust. You didn’t want to try to steal anything from them. Nowadays, you’re literally trying to steal pitches from them. Yeah, you’d try to steal pitches, but you didn’t want to embarrass yourself by pulling pitches too far. Now there’s so much emphasis on trying to pull pitches.” ---------------------------------------------------------- I’ve got to say, this was a fun phone call for me. I think the interview portion was about 15-18 minutes, and then we just talked baseball for another 20-25 minutes. It was fantastic, and you can just hear and feel Matt Walbeck’s joy and passion for the game of baseball. If you get a chance, please take a look at the Walbeck Baseball Academy website, and consider signing up for one of his training sessions.
  10. The Rabbit Ball Season (1987) During the 1987 season, 79 players hit 20 home runs, a new record at the time. In the five seasons prior to the Rabbit Ball Season, the most players with 20+ homers in a season was 1986 when 60 players topping that mark. Four out of the top six home run totals all came in the 1987 season including Andre Dawson (49), Mark McGwire (49), George Bell (47) and Dale Murphy (44). Minnesota’s 1987 season is remembered for the team’s first championship, but the club also took advantage of the Rabbit Ball Season. Four Twins hit more than 20 home runs: Kent Hrbek (34), Tom Brunansky (32), Gary Gaetti (31) and Kirby Puckett (28). For Hrbek, it would be the only time he would cross the 30-homer threshold while Brunansky tied his career high. The Twins actually had five players in 1986 that hit 20 or more home runs but moving beyond the Rabbit Ball Season clearly put the Twins in a different light. The Aftermath (1988 and Beyond) MLB’s 1988 season saw a sharp decline when it came to home runs with only one player, Jose Canseco, topping the 40-home run mark. Overall, teams hit 3180 home runs compared to the 4458 home runs knocked out the year before. After a record- breaking 79 players had 20+ home runs, that total wouldn’t crack 50 again until 1991. Batters also saw their average OPS drop from .747 in 1987 to .696 in 1988. Offensively, the Twins looked a little different in 1988. Three players (Gaetti, Hrbek, and Puckett) had more than 20 home runs, but only six players were able to hit 13 or more home runs. Puckett might have been the brightest spot on the team as he hit .356/.375/.545 (.920) and led the league in a variety of offensive categories (at-bats, hits, singles, and total bases). He lost the batting title to Wade Boggs who hit .366 and no other hitters were higher than .325. In 1989, Kent Hrbek was the lone player on the team to hit more than 25 home runs. Gary Gaetti came close with 19 and Puckett dropped down to single digits in homers (9). In fact, the 1991 season was next season that saw anyone other than Hrbek hit more than 20 home runs. Chili Davis joined Hrbek in the 20-home run club and the club went on to their second World Series title in the last five seasons. No one knows if the baseballs will be similar or different for the 2020 season. Looking back at the aftermath of the Rabbit Ball Season, there’s a good chance home run rates will decrease this year. Maybe the Bomba Squad will have enough power to overcome it. Do you think the baseball will be different whenever MLB action is seen again? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  11. The 1960s presented Minnesota baseball fans with a new team, the Twins, and those teams provided some really good baseball for most of the decade. There were so many great players. The 1970s presented Minnesota Twins fans with a lot of mediocrity. Rod Carew and Bert Blyleven put up Hall of Fame caliber numbers, but other than that, there were some strong single seasons, and a few players had two or three quality seasons. The 1980s Twins teams began really bad. Really bad. However, a young core of players were developing into a team that brought the first World Series title to Minnesota... and then a second four years later. There were several Twins Hall of Famers, and one MLB Hall of Famer in that group. The Twins of the second half of the decade could certainly hit. Below you'll find my choices for a Twins All-Decade lineup. A couple of the choices were difficult and will likely cause some discussion. Some were quite easy. Enjoy! C - Tim Laudner (1981-1989) 734 games, .225/.292/.391 (.682) with 97 doubles, 77 homers, 263 RBI. Laudner went to high school at Park Center, in Brooklyn Park (MN), and went to the University of Missouri. In 1979, the Twins made him their third-round pick. In 1981 he hit 42 homers at Double-A Orlando before the Twins called him up late in the year and he added two more. While he never hit, he was the team’s regular catcher for most of the decade. In the 1987 postseason, he was referred to as “Buck-Ninety” because he hit just .191 on the season. He hit .318 with a double and a homer in the World Series. He then was named an All-Star in 1988. 1B - Kent Hrbek (1981-1989) 1,156 games, .290/.368/.496 (.864) with 224 doubles, 201 homers, 724 RBI. The Twins made Hrbek their 17th-round pick in 1978 out of Bloomington (MN) Kennedy High School. He made his debut in August 1981. In 1982, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting (to some Ripken guy who played in Baltimore). As a 22-year-old, he also played in his first (and only, by choice) All-Star Game. In 1984, he hit .311/.383/.522 (.906) with 27 homers and finished second in MVP voting. He hit over 20 homers in seven seasons in the ‘80s. In 1987, he hit a career-high 34 home runs. He added a home run in both the ALCS and the World Series in 1987. 2B - John Castino (1980-1984) 518 games, .277/.329/.398 (.727) with 73 doubles, 36 homers, 197 RBI. Castino’s career was cut short by major back issues. He debuted and was the co-Rookie of the Year in 1979. However, he played most days for the first four seasons of the 1980s. His best season was 1980 when he hit .302 with 17 doubles, seven triples and 13 home runs. He had another strong season in 1983, hitting .277 with 30 doubles and 11 homers. However, after just eight games in 1984, his career was done. 3B - Gary Gaetti (1981-1989) 1,207 games, .259/.311/.445 (.757) with 225 doubles, 185 homers, 673 RBI. Does anyone else feel that Gary Gaetti is a little underrated in Twins history? He is overshadowed, to some degree, by Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett. Gaetti debuted late in the 1981 season and became the team’s regular third baseman the following year. He was an All-Star in both 1988 and 1989, and was better in 1986 (34 homers, 108 RBI) and 1987 (31 homers, 109 RBI). He hit 19 or more homers in seven of the eight seasons in the 1980s. In addition to hit offensive prowess, Gaetti won four straight Gold Glove Awards between 1986 and 1989. SS - Greg Gagne (1983-1989) 717 games, .250/.294/.396 (.689) with 115 doubles, 47 homers, 216 RBI. Early in the 1982 season, the Twins traded their shortstop Roy Smalley to the New York Yankees. One of the players who came to the Twins in the deal was their shortstop for most of the rest of the decade, Greg Gagne. Gagne played 12 total games for the Twins between 1983 and 1984, but in 1985 he became the team’s regular shortstop. With Gagne, there wasn’t a lot of offense. However, in 1987, he hit .265/.310/.430 (.740) with 28 doubles, seven triples and ten homers. While not a great base stealer, Gagne had great speed. He also was a very good defensive shortstop. LF - Gary Ward (1980-1983) 407 games, .284/.332/.463 (.795) with 80 doubles, 51 homers, 218 RBI. Ward originally signed with the Twins in August of 1972. It was a slow process up the ladder. He spent 1975 and 1976 in Double-A. He spent 1977-1980 in Triple-A. He played a combined 23 big league games between 1979 and 1980. In 1981, he became an everyday player and remained with the team until a trade to Texas following the 1983 season. In 1982, he hit .289 with 33 doubles, seven triples and had career-highs with 28 homers and 91 RBI. In 1983, he played in his first All-Star Game and hit a career-high 34 doubles. He continued to play through the 1990 season. CF - Kirby Puckett (1984-1989) 924 games, .323/.357/.469 (.826) with 197 doubles, 96 homers, 506 RBI. Puckett was the third overall pick in the January phase of the draft. Two years later, he was in the big leagues. He came up as a speedy centerfielder and grew into one of the game’s most feared overall hitters and a first-ballot Hall of Famer after his 12- year career. In the 1980s, he had 199 or more hits in every season but his rookie year (when he had 165 hits in 128 games). In 1986, his power emerged with a career-high 31 homers. He was an All-Star each season starting in 1986. He won four Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers in the decade (and more in the 1990s). In the ‘80s, he led the league in hits three times and in batting average in 1989 at .339. He had hit .356 in 1988 and finished runner up. He finished in the Top 6 in MVP voting four straight years from 1986 through 1989. RF - Tom Brunansky (1982-1988) 916 games, .250/.330/.452 (.782) with 154 doubles, 163 homers, 469 RBI. “Bruno” had been the 14th overall pick in the 1978 draft by the California Angels. In May 1982, he came to the Twins in a trade involving Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong. He immediately became the Twins primary right fielder and a leading source of power for the team. He was really quite consistent. He hit between .240 and .260 most years. He hit 21-30 doubles each year. He hit between 20 and 32 homers each year (32 in both 1984 and 1987). He represented the Twins in the 1985 All-Star Game at the Metrodome. Traded to the Cardinals after just 14 games in 1988. DH - Roy Smalley (1980-1982, 1985-1987) 575 games, .263/.354/.416 (.770) with 88 doubles, 59 homers, 221 RBI. Smalley began the 1980s as the Twins shortstop, coming off of his 1979 All-Star season. Between 1980 and 1981, he hit .274/.364/.415 (.779). As mentioned above, he was traded to the Yankees just four games into the 1982 season. He returned to the Twins before the 1985 season and was the team’s primary DH all three seasons, averaging 127 games played. Over those three seasons, he hit a combined .258/.350/.419 (.768) and willingly took on a lesser role late in the 1987 season as the Twins made their way toward their first World Series title. Let the discussion begin... Twins All-Decade Team, the '60s (The Hitters) Twins All-Decade Team, the '60s (The Pitchers) Episode 15: Get t o Know the 1960s Twins (with Dave Mona) Twins All-Decade Team, the '70s (The Hitters) Twins All-Decade Team, the '70s (The Pitchers) Episode 16: Get to Know the 1970s Twins (with Patrick Reusse) Twins All-Decade Team: the '80s (The Hitters) Twins All-Decade Team: the '80s (The Pitchers) Episode 17: Get to know the 1980s Twins (with TBD)
  12. Torii Hunter Region Hunter’s defensive prowess was something that followed him through his big-league career, even after he was forced to move to a corner outfield position. He won seven Gold Gloves during his time in Minnesota and added two more after signing with the Angels. He was a clear pick as the number one overall seed, but would he have enough to make it through the entire bracket? Zoilo Versalles might have provided the biggest challenge to Hunter in the region. The former MVP won multiple Gold Gloves at shortstop. Many reached out on Twitter and wondered how many current fans even remembered Versalles and his slick glove up the middle. Even if he was good for his time, Hunter ended up winning the region and moved on to the Final Four. Kirby Puckett Region Kirby Puckett made arguably the most famous catch in team history during Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. He wasn’t a one-catch wonder though as he accumulated six Gold Gloves throughout his Hall of Fame career. Unfortunately for Puckett, his region had a strong number two seed and an upset looked like it could be on the horizon. First, Puckett had to get by Corey Koskie, one of the team’s best defensive third basemen. From there he matched up in the regional final against Joe Mauer, who had defeated Denard Span in round one. Mauer won multiple Gold Gloves behind the plate and likely should have won one during his time at first. He was a tremendous athlete and his defensive skills beat out Puckett to win the region. Jim Kaat Region Younger fans might not be aware, but Jim Kaat lived up to his nickname on the mound as he used cat-like reflexes to pounce on batted balls. He holds the team record for Gold Gloves, and he went on to win 16 for his career. Much like Versalles before him, would a younger crowd on Twitter know enough about Kaat to push him through the region? Kaat’s region was no breeze as it included some of the biggest names in team history. Tony Oliva, Gary Gaetti, and Greg Gagne had a chance to upset the region’s number one seed. The regional final would be a battle between Gaetti, the team’s outstanding World Series third baseman, and Kaat, the top seed. Cooler heads prevailed and Kaat qualified for the Final Four. Byron Buxton Region Recency bias could play a role in making Byron Buxton the number two overall seed in the tournament, but he has made some legendary plays in his big-league career. Unfortunately, his career has been limited because of a variety of injuries. Would fans overlook his injury time and allow him to move out of the region? Buxton first made quick work of Kent Hrbek, a team legend, but one that played his entire career at first base. The lower part of the bracket pitted two other first basemen as one player took over first base from another in a dramatic trade deadline deal. Buxton faced a Gold Glove winner, Doug Mientkiewicz, in the final, but the first baseman couldn’t pull off the upset and Buxton moved on to face Kaat in the Final Four. Final Four Torii Hunter versus Joe Mauer and Jim Kaat versus Byron Buxton comprised the semi-final matchups in the Best Defender Bracket. Mauer had upset the number one seed, Puckett, to qualify for the Final Four, but he wouldn’t have enough steam to take down Spider-Man. Fans are more familiar with Buxton and it was easy for him to take down Kaat, especially since Buxton’s defense has been other-worldly when he has been healthy. Hunter facing off against Buxton in the final was certainly an intriguing match-up. Hunter has more Gold Gloves and was able to stay healthy and on the field for most of his Twins tenure. Buxton makes spectacular plays but there have been injury concerns. Overall, Buxton is a better defender and the fans picked him over Hunter’s longevity. https://twitter.com/NoDakTwinsFan/status/1253497118645518337 Do you agree with the results? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  13. First year of the decade (1990) - Worst team in the American League. Second year of the decade (1991) - Second World Series championship in five years. Third year of the decade (1992) - Won more games than that championship team. After that, well, it wasn't always pretty. However, there were still some great performances. Some of the top players of the 1980s were still playing well into the 1990s. A new star emerged in 1991 and was probably the best player of the decade. Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Terry Steinbach all came home. Today, we talk about the All-Decade team of hitters. Admittedly, some of the positions were harder to find greatness at than others, but the list is certainly enjoyable. Read through it and share your thoughts below. 1990s Twins All-Decade Hitters C - Brian Harper (1990-1993) 544 games, .304/.339/.428 (.767) with 121 doubles, 37 homers, 269 RBI. An argument could have been made that Harper should have been the Twins catcher of the ‘80s for the two years he played, but he continued to hit well for the Twins into the ‘90s and was a key piece of the 1991 Twins World Series championships. Harper went to the plate to hit. In 2097 plate appearances, he had just 67 non-intentional walks. He also struck out just 100 times over these four seasons. He hit at least .294 in each of these seasons (as well as 1988-89). 1B - Kent Hrbek (1990-1994) 591 games, .267/.365/.449 (.814) with 88 doubles, 92 homers, 362 RBI. Hrbek’s best years came in the 1980s but he was still a very productive player in the first half of the ‘90s as well. Even in the two seasons in which he hit under .250, he still had an on-base percentage over .350. He hit for power and doubles. His best season of the ‘90s was the championship 1991 team. He missed more time as he got older. He quietly retired during the 1994 strike. 2B - Chuck Knoblauch (1991-1997) 1,013 games, .304/.391/.416 (.807) with 88 doubles, 59 homers, 221 RBI. Knoblauch was easily the Twins top hitter of the 1990s. He was the team’s first-round pick in 1989 out of Texas A&M. He rose quickly and was the team’s opening day second baseman in 1991. He was the easy choice for American League Rookie of the Year and an instigator of the Twins World Series lineup, hitting second most nights. He was an All-Star four times in his seven seasons with the Twins. Despite playing in the same league at the same time as Roberto Alomar, “Knobby” won two Silver Slugger Awards and one Gold Glove Award.He posted OPS over .900 in 1995 and 1996. He was a doubles machine and led the league with 45 doubles in 1995. He led the league in triples in 1996. Knoblauch could hit, hit for extra base power, run, steal bases, play strong defense and other intangibles. He was traded to the Yankees after the 1997 season. 3B - Scott Leius (1990-1995) 476 games, .252/.327/.366 (.694) with 58 doubles, 26 homers, 155 RBI. Leius was the Twins 13th-round pick in 1986 out of Concordia College in Bronxville, NY. He debuted late in the 1990 season. In 1991, he platooned with Mike Pagliarulo and hit .286/.378/.417 (.795) with 14 extra base hits. He was also on the 1991 championship team. That was easily his best season. He played a career-high 129 games in 1992. He missed most of 1993, and he played a combined 214 games between 1995 and 1996. He later played for Cleveland (1996) and Kansas City (1998-99). This wasn’t a very strong position for the Twins in the 1990s. Other possible candidates include Ron Coomer, Jeff Reboulet, Pagliarulo and one-season stretches for Gary Gaetti and Corey Koskie. SS - Pat Meares (1993-1998) 742 games, .265/.301/.381 (.682) with 120 doubles, 41 homers, 303 RBI. Meares took over the Twins shortstop position in 1993 after Greg Gagne left via free agency. While Gagne was clearly the better fielder, Meares was a solid fielder who could hit a little bit more. He was the Twins 12th-round pick in 1990 from Wichita State and debuted less than two years later. In his six seasons with the Twins, he hit double-digit homers twice and had 19 or more homers in four of the seasons. He then played three seasons with the Pirates. LF - Shane Mack (1990-1994) 633 games, .309/.375/.479 (.854) with 119 doubles, 67 homers, 315 RBI. Mack remains one of the most underrated players in Twins history. He had been the top pick of the Padres in 1984 from UCLA but he just never got going in San Diego. In December 1989, he was the Twins Rule 5 draft. He spent the next five seasons hitting like crazy for the Twins. He hit between .310 and .333 in four of the five seasons. He got on base. He hit for power, lots of doubles and double-digit homers too. He had really good speed on the base paths and was really good out in the outfield. He was a key contributor to the 1991 championship. In 1994, he was hitting .333/.402/.564 (.966) with 21 doubles and 15 homers in 81 games when the strike hit. After the season, he signed a two-year deal to play in Japan before coming back to the States in 1997. CF - Kirby Puckett (1990-1995) 859 games, .312/.363/.485 (.848) with 217 doubles, 111 homers, 579 RBI. While Puckett was one of the top players of the 1980s, he continued to be a top player in the ‘90s. He was an All-Star all six seasons. He led the league in hits once. RBIs in 1994. Three more times he finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting. He won two more Gold Glove Awards and two more Silver Sluggers. His career came to an abrupt end in spring training 1996. While he was 36 years old, he likely had three to five more seasons remaining. He played mostly center field through the 1993 seasons and then moved to right field the final two seasons. RF - Matt Lawton (1995-1999) 512 games, .264/.367/.416 (.783) with 94 doubles, 49 homers, 245 RBI. Lawton was the Twins 13th-round pick in 1991 out of Mississippi Gulf Coast CC. He debuted with 21 games in 1995 and was up for good midway through the 1996 season. He was an All-Star for the Twins, though that was in 2000 so not included here. However, he was a very solid all-around player. He was a quality right fielder with a strong arm. While he didn’t hit for average, except in 2000, he always found his way on base, getting on base via walk about 10% of the time. In 1998, he hit .278, got on base 39% of the time, and he hit 36 doubles, six triples and 21 homers. He also could steal bases. He remained in the Twins organization until the July deadline in 2001. DH - Paul Molitor (1996-1998) 422 games, .312/.362/.432 (.794) with 102 doubles, 23 homers, 271 RBI. Coin-flip… Paul Molitor (‘96-98) or Chili Davis (‘91-92)? I went with Molitor. The St. Paul native finished his Hall of Fame career with three seasons in a Twins uniform. In 1996, he hit .341 and drove in a career-high 113 runs despite just nine homers. He did have 41 doubles. At 39, he still stole 18 bases too. He hit .305 with 32 doubles and ten homers. He recorded his 3000th hit in 1997 with a triple. What do you think? Previous Installments Twins All-Decade Team, the '60s (The Hitters) Twins All-Decade Team, the '60s (The Pitchers) Episode 15: Get t o Know the 1960s Twins (with Dave Mona) Twins All-Decade Team, the '70s (The Hitters) Twins All-Decade Team, the '70s (The Pitchers) Episode 16: Get to Know the 1970s Twins (with Patrick Reusse) Twins All-Decade Team: the '80s (The Hitters) Twins All-Decade Team: the '80s (The Pitchers) Episode 17: Get to know the 1980s Twins (with Howard Sinker)
  14. Multiple reports surfaced last week that Minor League Baseball was prepared to accept MLB’s proposal to eliminate more than 40 teams. Short-season and rookie ball would be eliminated but they would like to work out a deal where baseball could continue for the long-term in those cities. After these reports surfaced, MiLB responded and clarified that no agreements had been reached between the two parties. Many insiders believe MLB will use the loss of revenue from 2020 as the final push to get their desired outcome for Minor League Baseball. Some of the leagues are in need of reconfiguration to cut back on travel and other costs. Also, some of the facilities have been sorely ignored throughout the years and are hardly suitable for preparing athletes for the big-leagues. The E-Twins started play in 1974 and until recently, have seen few upgrades to the team’s facilities. Small clubhouses, no weight room and poor fan amenities were part of Elizabethton. In October 2018, the Twins agreed to upgrade the home clubhouse and add many modern training amenities. This could be one reason Minnesota might push to continue a partnership with the city of Elizabethton. Ray Smith, the manager in Elizabethton, might be the biggest reason for the team’s success. He took over the managerial role at age 31, just one year after retiring from his professional playing career. He spent all but two professional seasons in the Twins organization including all his big-league playing time. In those three MLB seasons, he was a light-hitting catcher as he ended his career hitting .219/.259/.270 (.529), while earning the nickname “Quality or Qualls.” He brought that quality approach to his minor league managerial role. Last season’s E-Twins finished one game below .500 and that ended a streak of 30 straight seasons with a .500 record or better. That’s not a typo; it’s a culture of winning. Smith has won 10 Appy League crowns, over 1000 regular season wins and guided the team to the playoffs in 14 of the last 17 seasons. Elizabethton has been a rite of passage for many of the team’s greatest players. After being taken with the first overall pick, Joe Mauer took his first professional swings in an E-Twins uniform. In 32 games, he hit .400/.492/.491 (.983) with eight extra-base hits. Like Mauer, Kirby Puckett started his pro career in Elizabethton with a .928 OPS and 21 extra-base hits across 65 games. Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti made stops there on the way to being World Series heroes. The E-Twins are part of the fabric of the Minnesota Twins organization and now that fabric has a good chance of being torn. Do you think E-Twins will ever play another game as an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  15. The Twins began the decade of the 1980s in really bad shape. The 1981 strike may have kept them from being one of the worst teams in baseball history. The 1982 Twins lost 102 games. However, that team was developing a strong core of young players, taking their lumps, who would be World Series champions just five years later. While our look at the hitters of the decade shows that there was some good offense, the pitching staffs were generally quite "offensive." With the exception of Frank Viola, it's clear why the Twins struggled at finding quality starting pitchers. Bert Blyleven came back in the mid-80s and helped the team toward that 1987 championship. Who would the player of the decade be for the Twins? Kirby Puckett? Kent Hrbek? Maybe Frank Viola? http://traffic.libsyn.com/sethstohs/GTKE_Podcast_Ep17_Howard_Sinker.mp3 Which players were underrated? Which players were your favorites, whether they were great players or not. To help talk about the 1980s Twins, we are joined by friend of Twins Daily's Howard Sinker. Howard is the digital man behind the startribune.com sports pages online. In September of 1984, he was the Twins beat writer for the Star Tribune. It was a job that he held until August of 1987. He saw some bad baseball. He saw some very good baseball. He interacted with some of your favorite players from that 1980s. You can follow Howard on Twitter at @afansview. And be sure to check out his great work at StarTribune.com as well. Enjoy, and discuss! http://traffic.libsyn.com/sethstohs/GTKE_Podcast_Ep17_Howard_Sinker.mp3 You can subscribe to the Get to Know 'Em podcast on iTunes. or follow Libsyn for new episodes here as well. Please leave ratings or feedback. And did you know that you can listen to the Get To Know 'Em podcast by asking Alexa to "Listen to the Get To Know 'Em Podcast." PAST EPISODES Episode 1: Get to know Niko Guardado (Actor and son of Eddie Guardado) Episode 2: Get to know Pat Dean, Brent Rooker Episode 3: Get to know Royce Lewis, AJ Achter Episode 4: Get to know Devin Smeltzer Episode 5: Get to know Jaylin Davis, Tyler Wells Episode 6: Get to know: Travis Blankenhorn, LaMonte Wade Episode 7: Get to know: Matt Wallner (and Ten Minutes with Tyler Wells) Episode 8: Get to know: Caleb Hamilton, Austin Schulfer, Nick Anderson Episode 9: Get to know: Andy Young, Billy Boyer (and Ten Minutes with Tyler) Episode 10: Get to know: Wesley Wright (Twins Pro Scout) Episode 11: Get to know: John Manuel (Twins Pro Scout) Episode 12: Get to know: Marshall Kelner (Mighty Mussels broadcaster) Episode 13: Get to know: Dick Bremer (Twins broadcaster, author) Episode 14: Get to know: Anthony Slama (former Twins pitcher, entrepreneur) Episode 15: Get to Know the 1960s Twins (with Dave Mona) Episode 16: Get to Know the 1970s Twins (with Patrick Reusse) Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Not registered? Click here to create an account. To stay up to date, follow Twins Daily on Twitter and Facebook.
  16. The Puckett Clause Twins fans are well aware of the legend of Kirby Puckett. His career tragically ended too soon at the young age of 35 after 12 seasons. Puckett was a dominant player during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as the Twins won two championships in a five year span. For 10 straight seasons, he was named an American League All-Star and he won six Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess. Some would argue he willed the Twins to a Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with his heroic actions in Game 6. Puckett was on a path for the Hall of Fame before his career was cut short. He wasn’t able to compile the same type of careers numbers that would scream Hall of Fame player. He only had two seasons in the top 10 for WAR and his career WAR only places him as the 184th all-time position player. That ties him with Brian Giles. Heck, even Joe Mauer ranks higher. There are plenty of people who believe he shouldn’t be part of Cooperstown’s elite group. The members of the BBWAA thought differently about Puckett. He was elected on his first ballot with 82.1% of the vote which easily cleared the 75% needed for induction. By receiving 36 more votes than were needed, he joined Dave Winfield in the Class of 2001. Puckett was able to pack enough into 12 seasons and the writers honored him for being one of baseball’s best for the better part of a decade. Applying the Puckett Clause Much like Puckett, Santana saw his career ended too early because of injury. Santana wasn’t hit in the head with a Dennis Martinez fastball. Instead, his golden left arm was betrayed by an ailing left shoulder. Some Santana supporters will point to his no-hitter on June 1, 2012 as his Puckett-Martinez moment. On the way to the first no-hitter in Mets’ franchise history, Santana tossed 134 pitches. At the conclusion of that contest, his season ERA dropped to 2.38 but he posted an 8.27 mark over his final ten appearances. He would never pitch in another MLB game. With writers limited to 10 names per ballot, it could be easy for some to ignore what Santana was able to accomplish. From 2003 through 2008, he pitched at much more than a Hall of Fame level. In over 1400 innings, he posted a 2.86 ERA (156 ERA+) while striking out four times as many batters as he walked. Throw in two Cy Young Awards and a third award that was stolen from him and it looks like he has a solid case for Cooperstown. As with Puckett, Santana didn’t have the longevity to accumulate many of the numbers needed to be deemed Hall of Fame worthy. He couldn’t pitch 3,000 innings. He couldn’t strike out 2,500 batters. He couldn’t accumulate a large career WAR total. If he had been able to pitch four or five more seasons in the back-end of a rotation, he’d be a lock for the Hall. His ailing shoulder took those seasons away. The greatness of careers shortened by injury should be given the benefit of the doubt. When Twins fans examine Kirby Puckett, it is clear that he was a Hall of Fame player. One high and tight fastball from Dennis Martinez deprived Twins Territory of the end of his career. Santana fits the same mold as he dominated the game before an injury forced him off the mound. The Puckett Clause applies and only strengthens Santana’s case for Cooperstown. Should the Puckett Clause be applied to Santana? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. Don’t forget to stop back in the coming weeks as I continue to make the Cooperstown Case for Johan Santana.
  17. Both Kirby Puckett and Michael Jordan made their professional debuts in 1984 and both were joining teams that had struggled in recent years. The Twins had a record of 171-262 (.394 W-L%) during the three seasons prior to Puckett’s debut. The Bulls were even worse in the years leading to Jordan’s arrival. The Bulls went 89-157 (.361 W-L%) in the three seasons before Jordan suited up in the red and black. Winning did not come instantaneously for either franchise because it takes a while to build a supporting cast after years of losing. Minnesota finished second in the AL West in Puckett’s first year, but then the club finished fourth and sixth before breaking through for the team’s first title in 1987. Jordan would have to wait even longer as the Bulls made the playoffs every year, but it took until 1991 for his first championship. Jordan made it very clear in the documentary that he needed a player like Scottie Pippen to be alongside him because Jordan couldn’t do it alone. Many of the Twins supporting cast was already in Minnesota before Puckett arrived. Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky were just a few of the key World Series players who debuted ahead of Puckett. Pivotal coaching changes also drastically altered the career paths of both Jordan and Puckett. In fact, within one year of coaches switches, both franchises would clinch their first title. Phil Jackson took over as the head coach of the Bulls for the 1989-90 season and Tom Kelly took the reigns in 1986. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the legacy of Jordan and Puckett would have been vastly altered with different coaches at the helm. The championships came, both cities were energized, but the lasting legacy for both players might have been “what could have been” situation even though they are Hall of Fame players. Back in 2016, ESPN named both players as part of a series on unfulfilled potential. Jordan’s minor league baseball career could have cost the Bulls a chance at eight-straight titles. Twins fans are well aware of Puckett’s career being cut short due to lost eyesight. Fans might still ask themselves, “What could have been?” Puckett’s legacy in the Twin Cities and upper midwest is well established, much like what Jordan’s legacy means to Chicago. In the book Puck by Chuck Carlson, Twins President Dave St. Peter said, “There’s a great sense of community pride with Kirby Puckett. He’s our Michael Jordan, our Larry Bird.” There are connections between the two metropolitan areas and the two players that redefined their individual organizations. For Twins fans, Kirby Puckett was the player that revitalized the franchise after years of ineptitude. For the NBA, no player may have meant more to any league than what Michael Jordan and the Bulls did in the 1990’s. Players like these are once in a generation and it’s hard to ignore their greatness. One player born in Chicago that provided more than one heroic World Series moment. One player born in North Carolina that provided more than one heroic NBA Finals moment. Two players connected in more ways than one. Who do you think meant more to their city? Michael Jordan to Chicago or Kirby Puckett to the Twin Cities? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  18. Jack Morris Region Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is widely considered one of the best games in baseball history. It capped off a tremendous back-and-forth World Series that might be the best World Series in history (See Kirby Puckett Region below). Jack Morris pitched 10-shutout innings on the way to winning the World Series MVP and this game was the logical choice as the number one overall seed. After a Twitter request, many important games in Twins history were identified and placed throughout the tournament. Johan Santana dueling with Jamie Garcia back in 2005, Minnesota tying for the AL West lead in 1987, and clinching the AL title back in 1965 were all great moments that some fans might have forgot. In the end, fans appreciated the 2002 Twins and their defeat of the Oakland A’s featured in the book and movie Moneyball. Kent Hrbek Region Kent Hrbek, a native of Bloomington, famously caught the final out of the 1987 World Series as the Twins were champions for the first time in franchise history. While the 1991 World Series is thought of as one of the best in history, the 1987 World Series was also strong as it went a full seven games and featured plenty of memorable moments. Johan Santana’s best strikeout performance, Jason Kubel taking out the game’s best closer, and Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter were not match for the team’s first championship. One of the most important games in Twins history got beat out in the first round of this bracket. Back in 1965, Harmon Killebrew walked off the New York Yankees in the days leading into the All-Star Game. It propelled the team to their first World Series run. Alexi Casilla Region Alexi Casilla certainly does not fit in with the other big names for this bracket’s regions, but he did provide one of the biggest hits in one of the team’s greatest games. Game 163 back in 2009 gave the Metrodome a send-off for the ages (we will just gloss over the Yankees series in the ALDS). For the younger generation of Twins fans, Game 163 is their World Series moment, because the club has not won a playoff series since 2002. One of my favorite games to attend was also in this bracket. Game 162 in 2006 saw Joe Mauer secure his first batting title, but the best moment of the day took place after the game. Twins players stayed in the dugout and fans stayed in the stands to watch the Tigers and Royals play on the big screen. Kansas City was able to upset the Tigers and the Twins players stormed the field and did a victory lap after clinching the AL Central. Kirby Puckett Region Kirby Puckett told the team to get on his back and he made sure to follow through with his end of the bargain. Puckett’s first big moment in the game was a leaping catch as he scaled the Plexiglass wall that occupied the Metrodome’s outfield fence. Later in the game, Puckett provided quite possibly the signature moment in Twins history with his extra-inning walk-off home run to push the series to a decisive seventh game. Puckett had another big moment that was part of this region. In 1987, he had a perfect 6-for-6 day at the plate that still stands as the team record for hits in one game. Jim Thome hit the first walk-off at Target Field and his 600th home run came a season later. Neither of these games survived the first round. Minnesota is the only club to turn two triple-plays in one game, but that game got beat out by Scott Erickson’s no-hitter. Final Four All four number one seeds qualified for the Final Four, but it was really no contest to get into the championship game. The 1991 World Series provided so many memorable moments that Game 163 and the team’s first championship clinching game did not stand much of a shot. It would come down to a battle for the ages between Game 6 and Game 7 from the 1991 World Series. In the end, it came down to two games that were separated by one night. Kirby Puckett provided a masterpiece with a defensive play for the ages and an iconic home run. On the other side of the coin, Jack Morris provided a pitching performance for the ages. Both games were epic, but Game 7 of the 1991 World Series might be the best game that has ever been played and that is the champion of this bracket. https://twitter.com/NoDakTwinsFan/status/1250115733633236994 MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  19. For the legendary manager of the 1991 Twins, the first one he pulled out was announced just hours before the first pitch was thrown. With his options limited for starting pitchers, he would turn to rookie lefthander Denny Neagle, who in game three had looked like an ace while holding the 2019 Twins scoreless through seven innings. He began this one with a quick one-two-three inning, needing just seven pitches to retire Jorge Polanco, Luis Arraez, and Nelson Cruz. His offense then immediately got to work for him in the bottom half against Baldelli’s big-blind check move of Michael Pineda, who was on the losing end in Game 3. Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, as he had also done to lead off their third matchup, ambushed Pineda with a bunt on an 0-1 pitch. It got past Pineda, and since Miguel Sano was playing in at third base, he was unable to cut it off in front of Polanco at short, who’s throw to first was a step late. Going back to the well for perhaps the coaching move of the series, Kelly again had Kent Hrbek batting second, and once again he rewarded his manager’s faith by launching the first pitch he saw into the first rows of seats above the baggy in right field. It was his sixth home run of the series, and 15th RBI for the ’91 team. In the second inning it was Baldelli’s turn to play his cards right, and since his team was known as the Bomba Squad and had just set the Major League record for home runs in a season, it was a bit of a bluff that paid off big. The inning started with back-to-back four pitch walks to Mitch Garver and Sano, then Max Kepler, C.J. Cron, and Eddie Rosario all followed with hard hit singles that put them out front 3-2. Neagle struck out Byron Buxton in his attempt to limit any further damage but followed that up by walking Polanco as the lineup turned over, again loading the bases. Luis Arraez then clubbed an opposite field double that scored two more and brought Kelly out of the dugout, his first trick having failed. “Yeah, the greenhorn didn’t get the job done,” the skipper would pan at the podium after the game when asked about the decision to start the rookie. With a smirk he continued, “It was Gardy’s idea with the options we had, I don’t think he’ll ever trust a rookie again.” Nelson Cruz and Garver added two more singles and two more runs to the tally before lefty David West was able to shut it down. In the inning, twelve men came to bat for the 2019 team, and seven had crossed the plate. Baldelli’s team took the second inning pot with three walks, five singles, and Arraez’s double instead of any Bombas. “It was a little different than how we did it throughout the season, but we’ll take ‘em how we can get ‘em,” Baldelli exclaimed in the locker room after the game. “We needed all those chip shots!” The ’91 Twins were able to get a few of those runs back in the following innings, as Mike Pagliarulo snuck a fly-ball just inside the foul pole and over the baggy in right for a two-run homer in the bottom of the second. Kirby Puckett led off the third with a ball that ricocheted hard off the folded-up seats above the baggy in nearly the same spot. Pineda’s night was over a batter later, after surrendering a single to Shane Mack. Baldelli then called upon Ryne Harper again, who allowed just one run over the next three innings, providing a good counter. Reliever West got the ’91 Twins into the fourth inning but was lifted after a two-out walk put runners on the corners for the 2019 squad, and Kelly again reached up his sleeve by bringing in his closer, Rick Aguilera, earlier than he ever had to try and squash any further rallies. This gamble paid off and by the time Aguilera was out of gas, Kelly’s team had reclaimed much of their chips at the table. He retired the first nine hitters he faced, five of them on strikeouts, and although he was clearly unhappy when Kelly came out to get him after allowing his first hit - a single to Miguel Sano in the seventh —it was clear to his manager he had given him all he had. “You saw Aggie want to tear my head off when I went out there to get him,” Kelly said about the extended mound meeting before he finally got the ball out of Aguilera’s glove. “He still hasn’t spoken to me, but that’s the type of competitor he is. He would have stayed out there until he could only lob it underhand if I let him.” Kelly maybe should have let him lob a few over, as Mark Guthrie proceeded to allow a double to Kepler that scored Sano after a passed ball put him in scoring position, and the 2019 Twins got a needed insurance run for an 8-6 lead. In the bottom half of the inning, Hrbek and Chili Davis drew a pair of walks, and with two outs Harper lined a shallow single into center field. Ignoring the stop sign from his third base coach, the hulking Hrbek took a gamble of his own rounding third and luckily caught Byron Buxton by surprise. His double-pumped throw to home came in off target and Hrbek’s headfirst flop beat Garver’s diving tag attempt to the plate to make it 8-7. “I’m sure you can tell I’ve never slid headfirst in my life,” Hrbek quipped post game, the road rash on his cheek and chin still red and covered in dirt. “There was no way I was gonna be able to stop at third there with the momentum I had built up.” The teams traded zeroes in the eighth inning, but it wasn’t due to lacking drama. The Bomba Squad got a single from Jorge Polanco in the top half that prompted Kelly to bring in Kevin Tapani. Luis Arraez then singled on a 3-2 pitch, and after an intentional walk to Nelson Cruz to load the bases with one out, Tapani stared down the highest Leverage Index situation of his career. He rose to the challenge, striking out both Garver and Sano to keep his team within one. In the bottom half a leadoff single from Pagliarulo prompted Baldelli to turn to Tyler Duffey, who induced a double-play ball, bringing Kent Hrbek to the plate down one. He was right on a couple 95 MPH fastballs up in the zone, fouling them straight back, before sending the third one deep into center field. Off the bat it didn’t seem like it was going to get out with that low of a trajectory, but surely it was going to land for extra bases. That was until platinum glove center fielder Byron Buxton turned on the afterburners to run it down at a full sprint speed of 33.4 feet-per-second, a Statcast era record, just short of the warning track before crashing into the wall just shy of where the baggy rises in right-center. Kepler helped him up off the track with a strong slap to his backside, his jaw on the turf in bewilderment. “Didn’t get enough air under that one” said Hrbek in his presser, shaking his head. “That kid is #^&@-ing fast.” Buxton would make noise from the batter’s box in the ninth as well, the adrenaline likely still coursing through his veins. After two one-out singles from C.J. Cron and Eddie Rosario, Buxton sent a grounder up the middle past a diving Greg Gagne to score Cron who beat Puckett’s throw to home with a foot first slide through Brian Harper’s legs as he fielded the hop over the plate. Kelly then brought out Jack Morris from the bullpen, looking to keep his team as close as he could, and Black Jack did his thing in striking out Ehire Adrianza and Arraez to keep the game within two. In the bottom of the ninth Baldelli couldn’t have felt better about sending out his season long bullpen weapon and closer, Taylor Rogers, looking to complete a 3-1 series comeback and hoist the trophy with all the state of Minnesota. “That’s the situation you dream about as an MLB closer,” Rogers remarked to Fox Sports North’s Marney Gellner in the clubhouse. “You just hope it goes a lot different than it did.” That’s because after Rogers got both Puckett and Mack to ground out to start the inning, Chili Davis’ solo home run into left opened the portals of doom with two outs for the 2019 squad’s best reliever. Brian Harper followed with a single to left, then Gene Larkin’s double down the left field line scored him all the way from first to tie the game at nine and send the Homer Hanky faithful in the stands into pandemonium. When Rogers stepped back onto the mound to face Greg Gagne, the decibel meters at field level in the Metrodome were registering a constant 130+ decibels, equivalent to a F-16 taking off from an aircraft carrier, and this beat writers glass of [not water anymore] was rumbled off my workspace in the press box. Gagne tried to channel the energy in the stadium and took a big cut at the first pitch fastball from Rogers, sending it toward center field. It had the height but fell harmlessly into Buxton’s glove in center for the third out and a brief reprieve from the overwhelming noise inside the homer dome, so this one was going to extra innings. Nelson Cruz got things started in the tenth by crushing a 3-2 pitch 108.1 MPH to deep center that Puckett couldn’t catch up to, resulting in a double and the go-ahead runner in scoring position. Garver moved him 90 feet away with a fly ball to the warning track in front of the baggy, then Sano stepped into the box with one out. For all the earlier excitement in the game, this at-bat would prove anti-climactic, as a 1-2 slider in the dirt bounced and was deflected by Harper towards the visitors’ dugout, allowing Cruz to scamper home for a 10-9 lead. Sano struck out and a fly ball from Max Kepler ended the inning, but the ’91 team now had work to do. After blowing the save in the ninth, Baldelli stuck with his closer to start the tenth, as the left-handed hitting Pagliarulo led off. Pagliurulo grounded out before Chuck Knoblauch lined a single into right field to put the tying run on base. Even though the next hitter was left-handed and his name was Hrbek, Baldelli wanted a fresh arm to face the Bomba Squad’s killer in the series. He went to Trevor May and the noise started creeping upward in the dome again as three straight balls made the count 3-1 to the slugger. May’s next pitch perhaps surprised Hrbek a bit, coming in a little softer than his normal mid-90’s heat at 88 MPH, and he was only able to send a can of corn out to center for the inning’s second out. That brought up Kirby Puckett, and he kept the rally alive with a single into left field, putting Knoblauch in scoring position for Shane Mack as perhaps their last hope. On a 2-2 pitch, he smashed a ground ball at 107 MPH the other way that looked like it would get past C. J. Cron at first base with the aid of the turf, but his reactionary dive allowed him to get just enough glove on it. As he pushed himself up off the turf he looked into his glove just to make sure the ball was in there, then put his hands up in the air in celebration as he stepped on the base for the game’s final out. “I kind of panicked for a split second when I saw the ball in my glove, it just happened so fast,” Cron said of his game saving play. “I didn’t even feel the ball hit my glove, so I didn’t think I had it, then it’s like ‘where do I get an out?!’” he laughed. Luckily for him, that out was just a few feet away, and he and the rest of his teammates could get to celebrating their series comeback from 3-1 and holding off the onslaught that was Kent Hrbek’s series MVP winning performance. It was only the second time a losing player has ever won the award in a World Series. “He can have it, my goodness” Rocco Baldelli remarked in the champagne covered clubhouse media-scrum after hearing about the award. “I don’t know who the heck else you could give it to after what he did this series, but I think my guys are fine with the other trophy!” It was then that Hrbek barged into the visitor’s clubhouse, exclaiming “Who’s got a beer for me?!” while unceremoniously dropping that MVP trophy into the nearest garbage can. He had to duck a bit as cans came flying at him from every direction, but he joined in on the celebration all the same. You can find the box score and pitch-by-pitch results for Game Seven attached below. If you would like to learn more about Out of the Park Baseball 21, please click on this link. If you would like to try it, you can also download it for 10% off the regular price using the code TWINSDAILY. Finally, be sure to go back and see the recaps for: Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4 Game 5 Game 6
  20. World Series Region After a Hall of Fame career and multiple heroic World Series moments, Kirby Puckett was named the tournament’s number one overall seed. Kent Hrbek was the number two seed in the region and these two seemed destined for an Elite Eight match-up. Both would advance before Puckett took out Hrbek to make the Final Four. Jack Morris might have been the one surprise in this region as he was able to defeat Tom Brunansky in the first round. Morris was the higher seed, but he only played one season in Minnesota. Still, his one season was a magical one and he pitched one of the greatest games in baseball history. It also helps that he has continued to have a media presence in the Twin Cities since retiring. Current Twins Region The Tournament Committee might have underestimated some of the players in the Current Twins Region. The biggest upset of the tournament happened in this region and it was the only region where a non-number one seed was able to make the Final Four. Nelson Cruz was given the number one seed in the region after being named the team’s MVP. Cruz made it all the way to the region final, but he was upset by Max Kepler, the region’s three seed. Kepler took out Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton along the way. The bracket’s biggest first round upset might have been Jose Berrios, the region’s number two seed, being taken out by Byron Buxton, a seven seed. Buxton’s Cinderella story ended in the next round, but he was able to handily beat the team’s two-time All-Star and scheduled Opening Day starter. Metrodome Region Of all the regions, this one might have included some of the biggest tournament snubs. Jacque Jones, Nick Punto, Doug Mientkiewicz and others were left out of the tournament with names like Lew Ford and Francisco Liriano beating them out. Joe Mauer was the easy selection as the number one and he had enough to beat out Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter to make the Final Four. The closest match-up in the entire tournament was between Johan Santana, the three seed, and Torii Hunter, the two seed. Heading into the final hour of voting it was deadlocked at 50-50. Hunter used a last-minute run to overtake Santana and head to the Elite Eight before eventually losing to Mauer. Early Twins Region Many fans on social media are far removed from the early Twins and their impact on this franchise. Harmon Killebrew earned the number one seed in the region and the number two overall seed and he seemed like the front-runner for the championship. He fell short of this goal, but it might have been connected to recency bias instead of his overall greatness. Minnesota has seven retired players eligible for this bracket and four of them made it through the first round. Realistically, the Mount Rushmore of Twins players includes multiple players from this region that wouldn’t be represented in the Final Four. Bert Blyleven and Tony Oliva weren’t able to upset the higher seeds and it set up a Killebrew vs. Carew final for the ages. Final Four Both semifinal matchups turned out to be no contests as the most recent legend in Twins history, Joe Mauer, beat out an all-time legend in Harmon Killebrew. Max Kepler, out of the Current Twins region, hasn’t made any big catches or hit any big home runs in the World Series, so it made sense for him to be demolished by Kirby Puckett. Puckett versus Mauer would be the final and it looked close at the beginning of the voting. After about eight hours of voting, both players were nearly tied for the top spot. Some on Twitter thought it would be atrocious for Mauer to beat-out Puckett, the World Series hero. Stronger heads prevailed and the top seed in the tournament, Puckett, cut down the nets. https://twitter.com/NoDakTwinsFan/status/1242161395157938176?s=20 MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  21. 1972 Record: 77-77 (3rd in the AL West) The first player strike in baseball history took out the first two weeks of the 1972 season. Players wanted an increase in their pension fund payments and salary arbitration added to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. A total of 86 games were lost over 13-days with most teams losing six to eight games. With teams playing a different number of games, the Detroit Tigers won the AL East by half a game because they played one more game than the Boston Red Sox. Rod Carew and Bert Blyleven were the Twins team leaders in WAR. Carew hit .318/.369/.379 (.749) with 27 extra-base hits in 142 games. Blyleven pitched nearly 290 innings and posted a 2.73 ERA with 228 strikeouts and 69 walks. Harmon Killebrew led the team with 26 home runs, but Bobby Darwin was close behind with 22. Dick Woodson nearly matched Blyleven with 251 2/3 innings and a 2.72 ERA. 1981 Record: 41-68 (7th in the AL West) Every team played roughly 107 games in 1981 after the players walked out on June 11 and didn’t return until August 10. Owners were pushing for draft pick compensation when losing a free agent player and they also wanted to be able to take a player off the roster of the team where the free agent signed. Because the stoppage was in the middle of the year, MLB had division winners from the season’s first and second halves face off in a division series before moving on to a championship series. Unfortunately for baseball, the teams with the top two records (Cincinnati and St. Louis) missed the playoffs because of this format. Minnesota’s final season in Metropolitan Stadium was certainly one to forget as the team struggled out of the gate in the first half and finished with a 17-39 record. The second half went a little better as the team ended up fourth in the AL West with a 24-29 record. There were few notable names among the team’s top WAR contributors. Doug Corbett, Albert Williams, John Castino and Pete Redfern are not exactly a top-tier list of former Twins greats. 1995 Record: 56-88 (5th in the AL Central) In what might be baseball’s most famous work stoppage, the 1994 season had ended early and baseball’s strike wouldn’t end until the beginning of April 1995. Players were given three weeks to get themselves in playing shape at a shortened spring training before heading into a 144-game season. It would be the first year where the playoffs would use a three-division format with a wild card team. For Twins fans, a moment occurred in 1995 that no one saw coming, Kirby Puckett’s final game. On September 28, Puckett stepped in against Dennis Martinez and took a pitch to the head. He would play during spring 1996 before waking up with blurred vision in his right eye. Beside Puckett, Chuck Knoblauch and Marty Cordova were the team’s WAR leaders. Cordova beat out the likes of Garret Anderson and Andy Pettitte to win the AL Rookie of the Year. https://twitter.com/TwinsAlmanac/status/1045667945462910976?s=20 Baseball messed up the playoffs in 1972 and 1981, so it will be interesting to see how the season will unfold when and if the teams return to action. Minnesota hasn’t fared well in any of baseball’s previously shortened seasons, but on paper, the 2020 version of the Twins are certainly set up to do well. How will this season’s delay compare to the previously shortened seasons? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  22. During his age-21 through age-23 seasons, Byron Buxton played 278 games at the big-league level. This culminated in a tremendous 2017 season where he won the Platinum Glove for his defense in center field. Also, he ended that season hitting .270/.330/.460 with 10 extra-base hits over his final 26 games. It truly looked like Buxton was putting it all together. At age-23, Kirby Puckett had yet to make his MLB debut and was playing the entire season below the Double-A level. He’d played the entire season for Visalia in the California League by hitting .314/.366/.442 with 45 extra-base hits in 138 games. Puckett’s path to the big leagues could be considered alternative because he wasn’t drafted until he was 21 and he didn’t make his professional debut until age 22. It’s no secret that Buxton is entering a critical year in his career. He has only played more than 92 games once since his rookie season so the Twins need him to prove he can stay healthy and productive. His 2019 season ended early due to a left shoulder labrum injury. Minnesota’s goal is to have him ready for Opening Day but the club has made it clear that there is no intent to rush him. https://twitter.com/dohyoungpark/status/1228681961994178562?s=20 Puckett started to show his Hall of Fame potential during his age-26 season, the same age season Buxton will enter in 2020. Puckett made the first of 10-straight All-Star appearances, he’d win his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger and he finished sixth in the MVP voting. From that point forward, he’d win six more Gold Gloves, five more Silver Sluggers, and he’d finish in the top-10 for MVP six times. Up to this point in his career, so much of Buxton’s game has relied on speed and his game will need to continue to evolve as he ages. He has continued to add muscle over the last two off-seasons in hopes of avoiding injury. He is still in the prime of his career, but players regress in different ways as they reach their upper 20s and early 30s. Will Buxton be able to make the appropriate adjustments throughout his career? Buxton’s minor league performance got him to the minor leagues faster than some of the best centerfielders in Twins history. He has already accumulated more WAR than Torii Hunter, Denard Span and Puckett through his age-25 season. This is quite the trio to be compared to, but Buxton is in an organization with a long history of strong center fielders. Is it fair to compare Buxton to Puckett? Probably not, but fans shouldn’t give up on the former first-round pick just yet. He has plenty of career still in front of him. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  23. This naturally leads one to wonder just how great Buxton could become. Obviously, steering clear of injuries and staying off the IL will be crucial for Buxton to reach his ceiling. The injury-plagued disaster of 2018 may have caused some Twins fans to sour on Buxton, but he has bounced back strongly in 2019. The expectations for Buxton have always been sky high as he was the number one overall prospect in baseball and made his major league debut at the age of 21. If he does stay fairly healthy throughout his career he could easily become one of if not the best Twins center fielder of all-time. It is obviously premature, but let’s take a look at how Buxton stacks up against three Twins greats (according to WAR) and how his future might project if he follows a similar trajectory. According to Baseball Reference, the three Twins center fielders with the highest WAR in their Twins career are Kirby Puckett, Torii Hunter, and Denard Span. Let’s take a closer look at their Twins careers and compare them with Buxton. For this exercise I am using Baseball Reference’s WAR. Career with the Twins: To no one’s surprise Kirby Puckett is the Twin’s leader in WAR by a large margin. Even though his career was cut short by injury, he also played the most games as a Twin of this group. For this reason, I calculated WAR per game and the results are fairly interesting. The fact that Denard Span leads this group is somewhat surprising. Span only played five seasons with the Twins and didn’t play the majority of his games in center field until his third season due to playing alongside Carlos Gomez, but he was a really good player for Minnesota. Also of interest is the fact that Buxton has the second highest single-season WAR total and it came at the age of 23! Buxton is having a similar season in 2019 and if he can come back healthy he has a chance to come close to that mark again. Although Buxton’s career Twins WAR per game compares nicely to the greats and even bests Hunter (by a significant margin); it may be better to look at the players’ careers through age 25 to get a better idea of where Buxton fits in. Though Age 25 Season: Suddenly Buxton’s numbers are looking really good. He already leads the group in total WAR and is sure to accumulate more through the remainder of 2019. His 2017 season is also the best single season of the group and in WAR per game he now trails only Span (who started his career with a bang, putting up a 4.3 and 3.8 WAR in his first two seasons). Span is a bit of an interesting case as his first two seasons were the best two year stretch of his career (his .390 OBP during that time made him an ideal lead-off hitter). Although Span was the 20th overall pick in the 2002 draft he really didn’t break out in the minors until his final year (2008) when he was repeating AAA (he was called up after 40 games). Span was a good prospect but he was never the elite prospect that Buxton was and Buxton certainly has a much higher ceiling. It’s possible that Span was overachieving in those first couple of seasons but his career serves as a precautionary tale for ominous reasons that we will come to later. That fact that Buxton has put up better numbers than Puckett and Hunter up to this point in his career is certainly encouraging. Hunter is similar to Span in that he was the Twins 20th overall pick in 1993 and wasn’t overly impressive in the minors. Early in his major league career he was shuffled back and forth between the majors and minors, but he was called up for good after crushing AAA to the tune of a 1.130 OPS in 2000. Of the four players, Hunter certainly had the slowest start to his career with a .0136 WAR per game. Fortunately, things turned around for Hunter in his age 25 season as he put up a 4.7 WAR (his best as a Twin). Buxton has had his ups and downs but it is important to remember that Torii Hunter had much greater struggles early in his career. Puckett was the third overall pick of the now-extinct January draft. Unlike the others, he played college ball and was 22 years of age when he began his minor league career. However, Puckett was a quick study and debuted with the Twins as a 24 year old. Puckett’s first two seasons with the Twins weren’t overly impressive as he hadn’t found his power stroke yet (His OPS+ was only 86 but he the little speedster did steal 35 bases in those first two years!). Of course, great things were to come. Projecting how Buxton’s career with the Twins will end up is naturally highly speculative. We do know that Buxton is under team control for three more seasons, so let’s take a look at how the others stacked up for their age 26-28 seasons. Age 26-28 Seasons: I think this Puckett kid might be pretty good. In three seasons Puckett slashed .339/.369 /.539, good for a .908 OPS and a 142 OPS+. Puckett flexed some muscle as well as he was good for 83 dingers in those three years. Can we hope for the same with Buxton? Buxton reportedly hit the weights hard this off season, adding 21 pounds of muscle and currently holds a career high .490 slugging percentage, so he is trending in the right direction. Puckett helped the Twins win their first World Series in 1987 and followed that up with his finest season in 1988 with a 7.8 WAR. Hunter built upon his breakout in 2001 and had three solid seasons from 2002-2004. He played in his first all-star game in 2002 (famously robbing Barry Bonds of a homerun) and put up a .859 OPS. Hunter greatly improved, but his WAR per game during this stretch was only .001 better than Buxton’s early career WAR as a younger player. Span’s career got off to a much hotter start than the others, but he did come down to earth a bit in the next leg of his career. From 2010-2012, Span hit for just a .702 OPS with a 94 OPS+. His OBP dropped from .390 in his first two seasons to .334 for his next three, taking away some of his luster as a leadoff hitter. Most relevant to Buxton, Span suffered a severe concussion in 2011 and was only able to play in 70 games. This would not be the last concussion of Span’s career. He did come back with his best year of the three in 2012, when he slashed .283/.342/.395 for an OPS+ of 104, but once again he was hampered by injuries and played just 128 games. Note that each player’s best season in this frame came in their age 28 season. This makes sense as a player should be coming into his prime at that age and will not yet have lost a step to the detriment of their defense. If the Twins are unable or unwilling to extend Buxton (they clearly upset Buxton by not calling his up in September last year), his age 28 season will be his final year of arbitration. It will be interesting to see how or if being in a contract year will affect Buxton. This leaves us with the question of what Buxton’s potential final years with the Twin’s will be like. Since he is already performing at the level that Hunter and Span did during their age 26-28 seasons is it safe to assume that Buxton will be better? Although it may be a fruitless exercise, let’s take a look at what Buxton’s numbers may look like if he has a similar rate of improvement (in Puckett and Hunter’s case) or regression (in Span’s case) as our “greats.” First, let’s look at the player’s rate of change between the seasons up to age 25 and their age 26-28 seasons: Now let’s project those “growth rates” to Buxton with some arbitrary amounts of games played. Buxton Projections for Age 26-28 Seasons: We can safely disregard the 162 games a year projections as Buxton will get days off even if he stays 100% healthy (we can dream right?). I think averaging somewhere around the 140 mark is possible for Buxton. With the exclusion of last season Buxton has played in around 140 games a year when you factor in both his minor and major league games thus far (since his MLB debut season). If Buxton stays healthy for the remainder of the season he will come close to that mark again. If Buxton improves at a Puckett or Hunter-like rate and plays in the neighborhood of 140 games a year we are looking at a 6 WAR a year player. As we’ve seen, Buxton has already had a 5 WAR season in 2017 and is on a similar pace this year. It seems within reason that a mostly healthy Buxton could challenge the 17.7 WAR that Puckett put up in his ’86-’88 seasons. This would also edge him ahead of Hunter on the Twin’s career WAR list. As crazy as it sounds, over the next three seasons, Buxton could be even better than Puckett. He is far and away the best defensive center fielder of the group and his defense is unlikely to significantly decline over the next three years. Buxton certainly has the potential to become a better offensive player, and if he does he will be an MVP-caliber player. Now let’s get really speculative and look at what Buxton’s career could look like. First, let’s take a look at the career totals of all four players. MLB Career: Obviously, Puckett and Hunter went on to have great careers. Hunter was able to remain a good player for a long time. He played 19 seasons and was an all-star as recently as 2013. Puckett’s career was cut short by a career ending injury at age 35, but he managed to lead the Twins to two World Series victories, is a MLB hall of famer, and is undoubtedly the best a Twins center fielder of all time. He will always be fondly remembered by Twins fans for his heroics in the ’91 World Series and his legendary status is firmly implanted in Twins history. Span’s career is another story. He certainly had a respectable career and some good years after being traded to Washington (for the recently retired Alex Meyer) after five seasons with the Twins. However, his best years were early in his career with the Twins and injuries took their toll on Span. Span suffered another concussion in 2014 and battled some other injuries throughout his career, reducing both his time and the field and presumably his effectiveness as a player. His career WAR per game is still in the same neighborhood as Hunter’s but he was unable to accumulate as many games and the course of Span’s career went in the opposite direction of Hunter’s. Injuries are a serious concern for Buxton as well. In his AA debut back in August of 2014, Buxton collided with another outfielder leaving him unconscious on the outfield grass for ten minutes and ending his season. Buxton is returning from another IL stint with “concussion like symptoms” after hitting his head on the turf while making a great diving catch. Buxton has also had his share of less career-threatening injuries including thumb, wrist, toe, and migraines (along with numerous scrapes and bruises due to collisions with the wall). Buxton’s aggressive all-out effort on defense is a big part of what makes him so great. However, if Buxton is to stay on the field he may need to dial it back a bit. Manager Rocky Baldelli could be instrumental in keeping Buxton healthy. As a former center fielder that had his own career cut short by injury, Baldelli should take great care with Buxton. Baldelli has prioritized giving his players regular rest and the Twins have been extra cautious in making sure injured players are healthy before sending them back onto the field. With innovative player management and a little luck hopefully Buxton will be able to stay relatively healthy throughout his MLB career. Without further ado, I give you Buxton’s career projections. Buxton is unlikely to reach the number of games played that Hunter did and also is unlikely to improve at Hunter’s rate (because of Hunter’s much slower start), so 90 career WAR seems overly optimistic at a minimum and possibly ludicrous. Improving at the Puckett rate definitely seems like the best case scenario for Buxton (though he could conceivably play in 1,500 more games, it will require good overall health) and would make him a potential Hall of Famer with over 60 WAR. Regressing at the rate that Span did also seems highly unlikely. For Buxton to accumulate only 13 more WAR for his career would be a massive disappointment, to say the least (injuries would have to take a heavy toll). As a final step, let’s combine these projections and see what we get. Composite Buxton: There you have it. Buxton is able to finish his career playing at a Puckett-like WAR per game level and slightly edges out Puckett in games played, giving him the highest career WAR of the group. This seems possible as speedy players and/or elite defenders tend to accumulate a lot of WAR (some examples: Kenny Lofton 68.3, Ricky Henderson 111.2!, Tim Raines 69.4) Needless to say a lot would have to go right for Buxton to reach these levels. Continued improvement, good year-to-year health, and overall longevity will be paramount to Buxton reaching these projections. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best!
  24. First World Series Run Since the club moved to Minnesota, the 1965 squad was the lone team to win over 100 games. With a 102-60 record (.630 W-L%), the team also has the highest winning percentage of any Twins team. During the 2019 campaign, the Twins have a .692 W-L%. It seems unlikely for the club to continue on that pace but it seems like they could get to 103 wins. Minnesota’s line-up that season featured greats like Harmon Killebrew, Tony Olivia, Bob Allison, and Earl Battey. Shortstop Zoilo Versalles would be named the AL MVP. The rotation consisted of some strong arms as well. Mudcast Grant, Jim Kaat and Jim Perry all had sub-3.30 ERAs, while Kaat and Grant combined to pitch over 534 innings. The Twins ran into the Dodgers and Sandy Koufax in the World Series, which stopped the club from being a champion. Still the 1965 team, might be one of the best teams from top to bottom. Baltimore Blues Teams Two of Minnesota’s best team contenders also fell short of their World Series goal. Both the 1969 and 1970 squads were able to qualify for the ALCS. Unfortunately, the Baltimore Orioles made quick work of the Twins in both years. Jim Perry was in quite the two-year stretch for being in his age-33 and age-34 seasons. He led the team in WAR in 1969 but he was actually awarded the AL Cy Young in 1970. In these two seasons, he combined to have a 44-18 record with a 2.93 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. He averaged 270 innings pitched and along with 160 strikeouts per season. Tony Oliva’s best professional season was in 1970. He 7.0 WAR led the team. He also led the American League in hits and doubles. Killebrew was also in the prime of his Hall of Fame career. Between the two seasons, he hit 90 home runs. Killebrew would take home the 1969 MVP. Oliva would finish second in the MVP voting one year later. World Series Wins Minnesota’s first World Series winning club didn’t exactly have a stellar regular season. The 1987 Twins finished the regular season at 85-77, which was two games better than the Royals. If the Twins were in the AL East that year, their record would have placed them fifth. The Tigers had trounced through the AL East that year with a 98-64 record, but the Twins were able to dispose of them in five games. Minnesota had to go to seven games against the Cardinals, but they won every game in the Metrodome to clinch the title. Frank Viola was the MVP and a poor regular season record was long forgotten. Minnesota’s second World Series winning club managed a better regular season than the first. They finished the year at 95-67, which was the best record in the American League. Do you know who lead the team in WAR that year? According to Baseball Reference, Kevin Tapani, Shane Mack, and Scott Erickson were the team’s top three players. For many, the 1991 World Series is considered the best Fall Classic of all-time. There were three extra-inning games including both games six and seven. Five of the seven games were decided by one run or less. All Twins fans know how this one ended. Puckett ended Game 6 and Morris dominated in Game 7. Metrodome Era Minnesota won the division five times from 2002-2009 with Ron Gardenhire at the helm. The 2002 club was deemed “The Team that Saved Baseball.” While that club shocked many by making the ALCS, the 2006 club might have been the best club in the Metrodome era. On the mound, Minnesota had the best one-two punch in the game. Johan Santana was in a stretch of being the best pitcher in the game. To join him, a young Francisco Liriano was showing he had the stuff to be among the league’s best. Liriano tried to pitch through pain in August but by November he was scheduled for Tommy John surgery. It’s hard to imagine any team that would have been able to beat Santana and Liriano multiple times in a seven-game series. Not to mention, Joe Nathan was anchoring the backend of a solid bullpen. At the plate, Joe Mauer was putting it all together at the big-league level. He won his first batting title, his first Silver Slugger, and he was an All-Star for the first time. Justin Morneau would be named the American League MVP as he beat out the likes of Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, and Frank Thomas. For many, Liriano’s injury cost the Twins a shot at World Series title. How good is the current team? Is it better than the 2006 squad? Is it better than the World Series clubs? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
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