Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Johan Santana Was Not Always a Star

Congratulations to former Minnesota Twins pitcher Johan Santana on pitching his first no-hitter. 

Santana was a unheralded Rule 5 draft pickup whose first 2 years with the Twins (2000 – 2001) were pretty unspectacular. By 2003 though Santana was on his way to becoming the best pitcher in all of baseball, winning the AL CY Young award in 2004 and 2006.

It is fairly obvious that Johan Santana is one of the 10 best Twins ever. Looking at the Twins career leaders in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) Santana is the 9th best player in Twins history.

Rod Carew – 60.4
Harmon Killebrew – 49.9
Kirby Puckett – 48.2
Bert Blyleven – 46.3
Brad Radke – 42.6
Tony Oliva – 39.7
Chuck Knoblauch – 36.3
Kent Hrbek – 35.7
Johan Santana – 34.0
Joe Mauer – 32.8

However, with all the honors Santana received as a Twin, and the sheer domination he showed between 2003 -2007, Santana probably joins, Mauer, Carew, Killebrew, Puckett, Blyleven, and Oliva as one the seven biggest stars ever in Twins history.

The Twins could not keep Santana, who wanted $20 + million a year, and traded him after the 2007 season to the Mets. His time with the Mets has been injury filled, but the no-hitter he just threw – first in Mets history – will make him a legend there.

I don’t know if Santana will make the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he certainly will make the Twins Hall of Fame. I also know he will be a hard and expensive autograph to get, but that was not always the case.

When I began collecting Twins autographs 2005, Santana was already hugely popular. How popular? At the 2006 Twins Autograph Party I waited line over 4 hours to get Santana to sign a baseball for me, and I barely made it threw the line.

However, last weeekend I was at the Twins Cities Sports Collector Club (TCSCC) show in Bloomington when I found some Santana signed cards for a reasonable price. When I asked the guy who had them where he got them, the guy told me that back in 2001, before he became a star, Santana made an autograph signing appearance at the TCSCC show charging like $5-10 an item, and not a lot of people were interested in him.

It is just another reminder that a player who might not seem like a star at the time, might well turn into one. That is why I am collecting autographed baseball cards for all living Minnesota Twins, not just the ones I think will be a star.

Meanwhile I now have signed cards from 411 current or former Twins which means in my quest to get a signed card from living current and former Twins is now in need of 238 more players. I have requests out to 112 of them, so we will see what shows up.

I can all but guarantee there won’t be a card coming in the mail from Johan Santana (he has not signed through the mail in years), but again congrats Johan on your well deserved no-hitter.