Chris Von der Ahe (1851)
Ed "The Only" Nolan (1857)
Bill Brubaker (1910)
Dick Stuart (1932)
Jake Gibbs (1938)
Jim Kaat (1938)
Joe Niekro (1944)
Buck Martinez (1948)
Willie Norwood (1950)
Guy Sularz (1955)
Orlando Mercado (1961)
Russ Springer (1968)
Todd Ritchie (1971)
Glendon Rusch (1974)
Esmerling Vasquez (1983)
Danny Santana (1990)
Promoter/entrepreneur Chris von der Ahe, referred to as "Bill Veeck with a handlebar mustache", owned the St. Louis franchise from 1882-1899.
Left-hander James Lee Kaat was one of the original Minnesota Twins, playing for the franchise from 1959-1973. This is only a little more than half of his incredibly long career. Born in Zeeland, Michigan, he attended Hope College in Holland, Michigan, one of two alumni to make the major leagues (the other was Doc Lavan). Kaat was signed by the Washington Senators as a free agent in 1957. He came through the minors quickly, making his major league debut with Washington in August of 1959 at age 20, spending half the season with them in 1960, and making the big leagues to stay in 1961 when the team moved to Minnesota. He struggled a little early on, as might be expected of someone his age, but hit his stride in 1962, winning 18 games and pitching a league-leading 5 shutouts. He made the all-star team that year, and won the first of his 16 gold gloves. He also pitched 269 innings that year, his second year in a row over 200. He had an off year in 1963, although he certainly wasn't terrible, and then ran off a string of nine seasons in which his highest ERA was 3.56, with four of them under three. In the first eight of those seasons, he pitched over 200 innings, with a high of 304.2 in 1965, the year he won 25 games and pitched 19 complete games. He also made his second all-star team that year and finished fifth in the MVP voting. He was famously injured at the end of the 1967 season, possibly costing the Twins the pennant that year, but was well for 1968. Kaat was injured again for part of 1972, and when he got off to a slow start in 1973, the Twins assumed the 34-year-old Kaat was done and placed him on waivers. The Twins were eventually proved correct, as Kaat only played for ten more years. The White Sox quickly selected him, and he won 20 games in each of his two full seasons with them, piching a total of 581 innings in those two seasons. That off-season, the White Sox traded him to Philadelphia, where he spent three more seasons as a rotation starter. The Phillies sold him to the Yankees in 1979, where at age 40 he was converted to relief. The Yankees kept him until April of 1980, when they released him and he signed with St. Louis. Somewhere along the way, Kaat, already a quick worker, developed a no-windup delivery, which made him even quicker. He was with the Cardinals through 1983, pitching effectively out of the bullpen for most of that time. He was released in July at age 44, and even though there was no conclusive proof that he could not pitch any more, Kaat elected retirement. As a Twin, Jim Kaat was 190-159 with a 3.34 ERA with 133 complete games and 23 shutouts. For his career, he was 283-237, with a 3.45 ERA, 180 complete games, and 31 shutouts. Kaat was the pitching coach for Cincinnati, and then turned to broadcasting, currently working for the MLB Network and also as an occasional analyst for FSN. He also has a sports management company, Southpaw Enterprises, Inc., which solely represents pitchers.
Right-hander Joseph Franklin Niekro pitched for the Twins in 1987 and 1988. He tends to be remembered today as either Phil Niekro's brother or the guy who got caught with the nail file in his pocket. That’s a shame, because Joe Niekro was a very good pitcher who came to the Twins at the end of a very long career. Born in Martin's Ferry, Ohio, he attended Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Ohio, and then went to West Liberty State College in West Liberty, West Virginia, the most successful of four major leaguers to have attended that school. He was drafted by the Cubs in the third round of the secondary phase of the 1966 draft. He spent only one season in the minors, making the Cubs to stay in 1967. Niekro was in the Cubs starting rotation for just over two years before being traded to San Diego in April of 1969. After the season, he was traded to Detroit. Niekro was in the Tigers' organization through 1973, spending part of 1972 and most of 1973 in the minors before being placed on waivers and selected by Atlanta in August. It was during this time that he developed his knuckleball, helped by some coaching by Phil. He remained in the minors for most of his time with the Braves, and then was purchased by the Astros in April of 1975. Houston is where his career finally took off at age 30. After a few years as a swing man, he moved into the starting rotation in 1978. His two best years came in 1979 and 1980, when he won 21 and 20 games, respectively. He finished in the top four in Cy Young voting both years, also receiving MVP consideration. He remained a rotation starter and innings eater for several more years, pitching over 200 innings every year from 1978-1985 with the exception of the strike year of 1981. In September of 1985 he was traded to the Yankees, and in June of 1987 Niekro was traded to the Twins for Mark Salas. He was 42 by the time he came to the Twins, and did not have much left; as a Twin, he was 5-10 with a 6.67 ERA in 24 appearances, 20 of them starts. The Twins released him in May of 1988, and his career came to an end. Still, it was a pretty good career--it lasted 22 major league seasons, and he won 221 games with a 3.59 ERA. He pitched 107 complete games, and had 29 shutouts. Joe Niekro passed away in Tampa, Florida on October 27, 2006 from a brain aneurysm. In his memory, the Joe Niekro Foundation has been established to raise money for aneurysm research.
Outfielder Willie Norwood played for the Twins from 1977-1980. Born in Greene County, Alabama, he went to high school in Long Beach, California, then attended the University of La Verne in La Verne, California, the same university attended by Dan Quisenberry. He was drafted by the Twins in the third round in 1972. He spent three years in Class A, but after hitting .309 in 1974 was finally moved up the following year. After hitting .303 in AAA Tacoma in 1976, Norwood started the next season in Minnesota. He was used mostly as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement, getting only 83 at-bats through the end of June. At that point, he was sent back to Tacoma, where he hit .412 over the last two months of the season and earned a September call-up. He was a mostly regular in 1978 and a semi-regular in 1979, his only two full years in the big leagues, but hit only .250 over that span with few walks and not much power, although he did steal 25 bases in 1978. He was with the Twins for the first half of 1979, then was sent to the minors. In December, he was traded to Seattle for Byron McLaughlin in what has to be considered an even swap: both players were released by their new teams the following March. He was inducted into the University of La Verne Hall of Fame in 2013. At last report, it appeared that Willie Norwood was living in Birmingham, Alabama.
Infielder Guy Patrick Sularz did not play for the Twins, but was in spring training with them in 1980. He was born in Minneapolis, went to high school in North Hollywood, California, and was drafted by San Francisco in the tenth round in 1974. He had no power, but drew a good number of walks and hit for a good average. He reached AAA in 1978 and hit around .300 in consecutive seasons there. He was originally a shortstop, but moved into more of a utility role in 1979. He was left unprotected after the 1979 season and was chosen by Minnesota in the Rule 5 draft. He stayed most of spring training, but was returned to the Giants on April 1. His average slipped a little, but he was still considered good enough to get a September call-up that year. He had become primarily a third baseman at this point. In 1981 he hit .324 with 24 stolen bases in AAA and again got a September call-up. He spent nearly all of 1982 in the majors as a utility infielder, but played sporadically and hit only .228 in just 101 at-bats. Back in AAA in 1983, he again hit .316 and earned another September call-up. In 1984 he slipped to .284 in AAA, and while that’s not bad, he was 28 that season, and the Giants released him after the season was over. No one picked him up, and his playing career came to an end. He then moved to Phoenix, where he became a firefighter. He then went into the real estate business in the Phoenix area, which is what he was doing at last report.
Catcher Orlando (Rodriguez) Mercado played in nineteen games for the Twins in 1989. He is one of a number of weak-hitting catchers who have played for the Twins over the years. Mercado was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and was signed by Seattle as a free agent in 1978. He didn't hit much in the minors until 1982, when he hit .280 with 16 home runs for AAA Salt Lake City. That got him a September call-up, and he stayed as a reserve catcher with the Mariners for most of the next two seasons, with brief stints at AAA. His high for major league playing time came in 1983, when he played in 66 games and got 197 at-bats. He hit only .197, however; his playing time was reduced for 1984, and he was traded to Texas after the season. He was in the Rangers' organization for two years, spending about half the season with them in 1986. The Rangers traded him to Detroit in March of 1987, he moved on to the Dodgers in May, and was released in November. Mercado was with the Oakland organization in 1988, was released again, and signed with the Twins for 1989. He was with AAA Portland most of the season, getting about a month in Minnesota from mid-May to mid-June. He played in 19 games over that span, getting 38 at-bats: his line was .105/.190/.105, with an OPS+ of -16. A free agent again after the season, Mercado signed with the Mets for 1990, and was taken by Montreal on waivers in August. Back in the Mets' organization in 1991, he went on to the Cubs, Indians, and Angels organizations before ending his playing career in 1994. He got 617 major league at bats over eight seasons, hitting .199 with 7 homers and 45 runs batted in. He was the bullpen coach for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from 2003-2010, then became the team's minor league catching coordinator, a job he held from 2011-2013. In 2014, he was a coach for AA Trenton in the Yankees organization. He retired after the season and at last report was living in the Phoenix area, where he gives private baseball instruction. Orlando Mercado was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in 2004. His son, Orlando Mercado, Jr., was a catcher in the Angels' organization from 2003-2011 and played in the Can-Am League in 2012.
Right-hander Todd Everett Ritchie pitched for the Twins in 1997 and 1998. He was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, went to high school in Duncanville, Texas, and was selected by Minnesota with the 12th pick of the 1990 amateur draft. He apparently suffered some fairly serious injuries, as he hardly played in 1993 and 1994. Attempting a comeback, he really did not pitch very well in 1995 or 1996. Perhaps because the Twins were desperate for pitching, or perhaps because he was out of options, he spent all of 1997 with the Twins, posting a 4.58 ERA in 42 relief appearances. He spent a couple of months with Minnesota in 1998, but was no better, and was released after the season. Pittsburgh signed him, and he stayed with the Pirates for three years. Ritchie enjoyed his only major league success with Pittsburgh, winning 15 games in 1999 and posting the only ERA under four of his major league career. After the 2001 season, he was traded to the White Sox and never had a good year again. Released by the White Sox after 2002, he played in the Milwaukee, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh organizations, playing briefly in the majors in 2003 and 2004. Released by Pittsburgh in February of 2006, Ritchie was out of baseball for two years before attempting a comeback in the Rockies organization in 2008. It was not to be, however, and after the season his playing career ended for good. As a Twin, Todd Ritchie was 2-3 with a 4.83 ERA. He appeared in 57 games, all in relief, and pitched 98.2 innings. At last report, Todd Ritchie was living in Antioch, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville.
Right-hander Esmerling Vasquez made six starts for the Twins in 2012. Born and raised in Tenares, Dominican Republic, he signed with Arizona as a free agent in 2003. He was a reliever early in his career but struggled, mostly with his control. He struggled in that role initially too, but then appeared to take a big step forward in 2007, going 10-6, 2.99, 1.12 WHIP in 29 starts for AA Mobile. Unfortunately, when promoted to AAA in 2008 he took a big step backward, going 3-6, 6.62, 1.83 WHIP in 83 innings (24 appearances, 15 starts). He went back to the bullpen in 2009, made six good appearances for AAA Reno, and found himself in the big leagues at the end of April, staying the rest of the season. He stayed there in 2010, too, although in neither year were his numbers anything to shout about, as he posted a combined ERA of 4.81 and a WHIP of 1.55. He actually pitched better in the first half of 2011, going 1-1, 4.15, 1.32 WHIP, but by this time the Diamondbacks had run out of patience. They sent him to AAA in late June, and when he did not pitch well there they put him on waivers at the end of September. The Twins claimed him and sent him to Rochester, where he pitched very well in 2012: 9-6, 2.78, 1.13 WHIP in 100.1 innings (31 appearances, 8 starts). He got a September call-up and went into the rotation for the last month of the season, going 0-2, 5.68, 1.61 WHIP in 31.2 innings. He was released by the Twins in June of 2013 and went unsigned. He pitched briefly and ineffectively for Lancaster in the Atlantic League that season. He apparently did not pitch in 2014, but pitched in winter ball after the season and then went to Japan, pitching there for two seasons. It appears that he did not pitch in 2017, but again pitched in winter ball after the season and then went to the Mexican League for 2018. Surprisingly, the Texas Rangers signed him for 2019 and he made twelve minor league appearances between AA and AAA. He turns thirty-seven today. He did not pitch in 2020, but there weren't a lot of places for someone like him to pitch in 2020. There appears to be zero chance that he'll make it back to the majors, but I would not be surprised if he pitches someplace in 2021 if he can find someone who'll let him.
Infielder/oufielder Daniel Ernesto Santana played for the Twins from 2014-2017. He was born in Monte Plata, Dominican Republic, and signed with Minnesota as a free agent in 2007. He really did not hit all that much in the minors, although he was generally young for his league. He improved as he went along, though, hitting .286 for Fort Myers in 2012 and .297 for New Britain in 2013. He was batting .286 for Rochester in 2014 when he was called up to Minnesota in early May. Primarily a shortstop in the minors, he became the regular center fielder for the Twins by the end of the month. While the move may have been made out of desperation, it worked, as .319/.353/.472 in 405 at-bats, numbers significantly better than any he'd had in the minors. He was not a great defender, as one would expect of someone learning a new position in the big leagues, but he played center field competently. The Twins moved him back to shortstop in 2015 and hoped they had the position taken care of, but it didn't work out that way. He struggled offensively and was not all that stellar on defense, either. He ultimately lost the shortstop job to Eduardo Escobar and went to AAA for the month of August, coming back as a September call-up. He moved back to the outfield in 2016 and was again not particularly good as a reserve. He started 2017 with the Twins but they traded him to Atlanta in early May for Kevin Chapman and cash. The change of scenery did not help him, as he batted just .203 for the Braves as a reserve outfielder. He had a solid year in AAA for the Braves in 2018, but did little when promoted to the majors for a month. Two year ago, we wrote, "He turns twenty-eight today and hasn't done much in the majors since his rookie year in 2014. He may get a minor-league contract somewhere, but one suspects he is just about out of chances." Well, he got a minor league contract with Texas, was promoted to the majors in mid-April, and had an amazing year, batting .283 with 28 homers and an OPS of .857 while playing every position but catcher and pitcher. He was back with the Rangers in 2020 but had an injury-plagued season and appeared in just fifteen games. He turns thirty today. We're skeptical that he can repeat his 2019 season, but you never know. Sometimes players just take longer to figure it out. If he can get healthy, maybe he can have a few more good seasons.