Friday, September 3, 2010

50 Years of Minnesota Twins Baseball

2010 marks the 50th Anniversary of Minnesota Twins. The Twins were the Washington Senators for 59 years before moving to Minnesota and playing the first game here in 1961. In their 50 years in Minnesota the Twins have won 2 World Championships (87 & 91), been to 3 World Series (65, 87 & 91), and won 9 division titles (69, 70, 87, 91, 02, 03, 04, 06, 09). The Twins have also finished last in all of baseball twice (82 & 00).

The Twins have been blessed to have 3 Hall of Fame players in Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, and Kirby Puckett who played the majority of their careers with the Twins. The Twins are equally blessed to have a future Hall of Famer in Joe Mauer currently playing for them.

Five Twins have won the American League MVP (Zoilo Versalles in 65, Killebrew in 69, Carew in 77, Justin Morneau in 06, and Mauer in 2009). Three Twins have won the American League CY Young Award (Jim Perry in 70, Frank Viola in 88, and Johan Santana in 04 & 06).

The most staggering accomplishment in Twins history might be that in 14 of the Twins 50 years of existences a Twins player has lead the American League in batting average (Carew 7x, Mauer 3x, Tony Olivia 3x, Puckett 1x). That’s 28% of the batting titles in last 50 years won by Twins players.

The Twins strongest position in their history seems to be 1st base which featured Harmon Killebrew, Kent Hrbek, & Justin Morneau. Killebrew and Hrbek already have their numbers retired by the Twins, and Morneau is on his way to have having his retired as well. All three men were/are great hitters with Hrbek and Morneau also playing well on defense.

The weakest position in Twins history looks to be shortstop. There have been moments at short like Versalles MVP year in 65 and Roy Smalley’s All-Star year in 79, but on the whole it has been a problem area. Only Greg Gagne (9 years as a starter) and Leo Cardenas (3 years as a starter) have given the Twins any real above average play at short.

Pitching wise the Twins have always seem to have better relievers than starters. Late innings pitchers like Al Worthington, Ron Perranoski, Bill Campbell, Tommy Johnson, Mike Marshall, Doug Corbett, Jeff Reardon, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, and Joe Nathan seem to always be there for the Twins.

The greatest single game performance by a Twins player was by Jack Morris. In Game 7 of the 1991 World Series Morris pitched 10 innings of shutout baseball to win the game 1-0. Think about it, Morris basically had to pitch the whole game knowing one mistake would cost his team a World Championship. More pressure? Morris is from St. Paul, Minnesota pitching at home in front of friends and family and a national television audience for the team he grew up watching. There have been other great hitting and pitching performances, but none done with such pressure.

Harmon Killebrew was loved by Twins fans. Kirby Puckett was beloved by Twins fans, and named Minnesota Athlete of Century. However, Joe Mauer is obsessively loved by Twins fans. It help of course that Mauer is not only a great player, but that he is from St. Paul, Minnesota. Twins fans love rooting for hometown kids.

I love Joe Mauer too as I do the Minnesota Twins as a whole. We Twins fans have been very lucky. We have won Championships and had some great players to root for. Teams like the Texas and Seattle have never been to the World Series. San Diego, Houston, and others have never won a World Series.

I have been around for a good number of the Twins 50 years and my best memories are of 77, 79, 84, 87, 91, 02, 03, 04, 06, and the last 2 years. I rejoiced at the World Championship, cringed at meltdown in 84, and am growing frustrated with the playoff failing the last few years, but I have enjoyed watching.

Gary Gaetti is my favorite Twin of all-time. I think the Metrodome was not as bad of a stadium as people made it out to be; Target Field is not a great as people make it out to be.

I saw my first game in person in 1979. In 1984 I attend 41 Twins games, the most I have ever attended. I have travelled to Kansas City (1x) and Milwaukee (4 x) to see the Twins play.

683 (and counting) players have worn the Twins uniform. Most of them for did not last for long. Of those that did even fewer became stars. Below I have created a 50th Anniversary All-Time Twins teams.

A few thoughts about how I created it.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a stat which measures how many more wins a player is worth to a team than a replacement player. For hitters WAR is calculated using a formula measuring runs produced on offense and run prevented on defense. For pitchers it is about things pitchers can control like earned runs allowed, strikeouts, walks, home runs allowed, etc. I used this stat in helping pick my team, but I also used OPS +, ERA +, and more traditional stats like home runs, batting average, ERA, wins, etc. I also use Myth.

Myth can be defined as a traditional story accepted as history. When Kirby Puckett played everyone knew they were watching a future Hall of Famer. Puckett was the greatest all around hitter in Twins history. He was one of the greatest defensive center fielders of not only his time, but all-time. He always produced in the clutch. He led the Twins to 2 World Championship. Was all of this true? The myth says it was. Fans believe myth. Myth has power. Myth can grow stronger and stronger until it becomes irrefutable even when evidence says it was wrong. People love myth. Myths provide material for stories, and we all love stories especially baseball fans love stories.

Here is my team:

Catcher – Joe Mauer

1st Base – Harmon Killebrew

2nd Base – Rod Carew

SS – Greg Gagne

3rd Base – Gary Gaetti

LF – Bob Allison

CF – Kirby Puckett

RF – Tony Olivia

P – Bert Blyleven

P – Johan Santana

P – Frank Viola

P – Camilo Pascual

P – Jim Kaat

RP – Joe Nathan

RP – Rick Aguilera

Mgr - Tom Kelly

I think this is a pretty impressive group. Mauer, Killebrew, Carew, Puckett, Olivia, Blyleven, and Santana are in or worthy of Hall of Fame consideration though obviously not all are or will ever be in the Hall of Fame. The only player on the Twins who is not an All-Star level player is Gagne who was a borderline All-Star player.

While doing research I found out that Shane Mack, Brad Radke, and Larry Hisle are some of the most underappreciated Twins of all-time; while Jim Kaat (still made the team though), Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Zoilo Versalles, Dan Gladden, and Torii Hunter come out looking a little overrated.

Earl Battey, Justin Morneau, Kent Hrbek, Chuck Knoblauch, Cesar Tover, Dave Goltz, Jim Perry, Corey Koskie, Tom Brunansky, and Hunter were deserving of consideration for the All-Time Team as well, but they just were quite good enough or some cases block by superior players.

For the most part the first 50 years of Twins baseball have been good; hopefully the next 50 will be even better.