The Minnesota Twins have now completed 60 years of baseball. It is year 9 of putting my pet project on the WGOM site, and this year I've partnered with Seth Stohs of Twinsdaily.com to create an e-book to go along with the rankings (see details below).
2020 obviously has been a strange year and dealing with the short season has made it difficult to determine how the top300 list should be affected. Not a lot of plate appearances and innings pitched as normal, but it still was a division championship team that saw a few jumps to the list and 3 newcomers. This year's newcomers are Kenta Maeda, Randy Dobnak, and Caleb Thielbar.
In the top 100, Eddie Rosario moved up into the top50 in what could have been his final season as a Twin. He lands at #47, up 13 spots. Miguel Sano moves up 1 spot to #60 and Jorge Polanco moves up 3 spots to #62. Right on their heels are Max Kepler (up 13 spots) at #64 and Nelson Cruz (up 22 spots) at #69. Also moving up within the top100 is Byron Buxton (up 15 spots) at #78 and Jose Berrios (up 1 spot) at #82.
Zero movement in the 101-150 range as Taylor Rogers (115), Mitch Garver (130), and Jake Odorizzi (134) all stay in the same spot with disappointing seasons.
Luis Arraes jumps up 21 spots to #171 and Jake Cave moves up 2 spots to #194. Michael Pineda moves up 15 spots to #203, while Ehire Adrianza drops one spot to #206. Marwin Gonzalez moves up one spot to #219, while Trevor May and Tyler Duffey move up several spots to #253 nad #256 respectively.
Kenta Maeda is the highest ranked newcomer coming in at #223. At 66 innings pitched, he has the least amount of innings of any pitcher in the top300, but with so many accolades and top10 statistical appearances in the short season he jumped up the list pretty high for only 11 starts. Randy Dobnak (#293) and Caleb Thielbar (#296) just sneak into the top300.
Falling out of the top300 this year are Terry Muholland, Larry Casian, and Martin Perez.
I stole the idea from when Aaron Gleeman started his top40 list over a decade ago, but just decided to expand to a nice big round 300. The below quote is his, and the rest is an excerpt from a book I put together at the 50 year mark. I’ve updated the list and stats through 2020.
“The rankings only include time spent playing for the Minnesota Twins. In other words, David Ortiz doesn’t get credit for turning into one of the best players in baseball after joining the Red Sox and Paul Molitor doesn’t get credit for being one of the best players in baseball for the Brewers and Blue Jays. The Twins began playing on April 11, 1961, and that’s when these rankings start as well.”
I used a variety of factors, including longevity and peak value. Longevity included how many years the player was a Twin as well as how many plate appearances or innings pitched that player had in those years. For peak value, I looked at their stats, honors, and awards in their best seasons, as well as how they compared to their teammates. Did they lead their team in OPS or home runs or ERA for starters or WPA? If so, that got some bonus points. I factored in postseason heroics, awards (gold gloves, silver sluggers, MVPs, Cy Youngs), statistical achievements (batting titles, home run leaders, ERA champs, etc), and honors (all star appearances), and I looked at team success as well. If you were the #1 starter on a division winning champ, that gave you more points than the #1 starter on a cellar dweller. I looked at some of the advanced stats like WPA, WAR (as calculated by fan graphs and baseball-reference.com), WARP (as calculated by Baseball Prospectus), and Win Shares (as calculated by Bill James). For hitters, I also looked at OPS and the old school triple crown statistics like batting average, home runs, stolen bases, and RBI (and not only where you finished within the AL in any given year, but where you appear on the top25 lists amongst all Twins in the last 60 years). For pitchers I looked at strikeouts, innings pitched, win/loss percentage, ERA as well as ERA+). If there was a metric that was used for all 60 years of Twins history, I tried to incorporate it. I tended to give more credit to guys who were starters instead of part time/platoon players, more credit to position players over pitchers (just slightly, but probably unfairly) and starters over relievers (and closers over middle relievers). There’s no formula to my magic, just looking at a lot of factors and in the end going with the gut in all tie-breakers. Up in the top10 I’m looking at All star appearances, Cy Young and MVP votes, batting average or ERA titles or top10 finishes, etc, and placement in the top25 hitting and pitching lists in Twins history as well. In the middle 100s, it’s more about who started a few more years or had 2 good seasons rather than 1 with possibly an occasional all-star berth or top10 finish in SB or strikeouts. Once you’re in the latter half of the 200s there are none of those on anyone’s resume, so its basically just looking at peak season in OPS+ or ERA+, WAR, Win Shares, and who started the most years, had the most at bats, or pitched the most innings. What the player did as a coach, manager, or broadcaster is not taken into consideration for this list, so Billy Martin, Tom Kelly or Billy Gardner weren’t able to make the top 300 since they were poor players and Frank Quilici and Paul Molitor didn’t improve his status due to his managing career.
Feel free to pick it apart and decide in your opinion, who was slighted, and who's overrated.
Also, if you are interested in the e-book that expands on the list in great detail, please visit the below link at Twinsdaily to purchase. Go Twins!
Bob Allison was headed into his third full MLB season when the Senators moved to Minnesota. He was already a very exciting player, with an athletic . In 1959, Allison hit 30 homers and a led the American League with 9 triples as Washington's primary center fielder. (His defense in center left something to be desired; his glove rated -12 Fielding Runs that year, so despite his 122 OPS+, he was merely a 1.4 rWAR player). As with Zoilo Versalles, Allison changed numbers after the move, leaving Nº 26 behind and donning Nº 4 in Minnesota. Once here, he became a potent middle-of-the order threat for the Twins during their greatest period of sustained success. Allison most frequently hit 5th, 4th, or 6th in the order. His best season came in 1963, when the Twins finished 91-70, in third despite a Pythag 98-63 that would've tied them with the second-place White Sox. Allison finished 15th in MVP voting but was the best player in the American League by rWAR.
That season came during a four-year peak, 1962–1965, that saw Allison average 5.7 rWAR while playing three different primary positions: first right field, then first base, and finally left field. Sam Mele's decision to play Harmon Killebrew in left field for 157 games and Allison at first for 93 is puzzling. Vic Power had been the Twins' primary at first in '62 and '63, but he only got 7 starts in 19 total games and was sent to the Angels in a three-way June '64 trade that brought Jerry Kindall to Minnesota. Harmon had been playing left field for two years, but had been the primary first baseman in 1961, and was the primary first baseman through mid-June 1965. Allison moved back to the outfield in '65, shifting to left to make room for Tony O.
Allison struggled through injuries from the mid-Sixties through his retirement in 1970. He suffered four wrist injuries, including two fractures from HBPs. Knee trouble necessitated cortisone shots to stay on the field. And, of course, he was a victim in one of the most infamous incidents in Twins history: on a swing through Detroit in 1969, Allison was KO'd by Dave Boswell, who had gotten into it with Art Fowler and Billy Martin. Considering the wrist injuries, Allison's production at the plate was beyond reproach while he remained a regular, including resurgent seasons at 32 (134 OPS+) and 33 (129 OPS+). He dropped off from there, down to a 106 OPS+ in 220 PA in 1969, and then to a 83 OPS+ in 1970. Even in that last season, he could be dangerous at the plate: his batting line as a pinch hitter that year was .300/.391/.550 (23 PA). When he retired, Bob Allison had hit the second most home runs in Twins and Senators franchise history by a pretty wide margin. (He passed Roy Sievers in 1965.) Bob Allison's 211 homers with the Twins have only been surpassed by four Twins since he hung up his spikes. By traditional stats, he was all over the franchise leaderboard: 7th in RBI, 5th in walks, 2nd in strikeouts, 6th in extra-base hits, and 7th in total bases. He was also third among position players in WPA, 9th in rWAR, and first all-time in Power/Speed Number (which might have been the first quasi-sabermetric stat to draw my interest), though none of these things were known at the time of his retirement.
We've already encountered Steve Braun once in this series, and now is the time to dwell on him for a moment. The Twins traded Graig Nettles after the 1969 season. Ostensibly, Nettles was blocked by Harmon Killebrew, who was named the AL MVP, but was also turning 34 on legs that were susceptible to injury. Harmon played one more season at third, then moved across the diamond to first. Braun succeeded him. It would be unfair to Braun to compare him to Nettles; after all, he didn't make the trade — Calvin Griffith did. So, on to Braun's story.
Braun played his first six seasons with the Twins, earning almost all of his career rWAR in those years. (He played until 1985.) He didn't hit for power (.097 ISO), and he was a so-so fielder — some years pretty good, some years not according to Fielding Runs. What he excelled at, however, was getting on base. Braun had a .376 OBP with the Twins, which buoyed his barely better than league average power sufficiently to record a 116 OPS+ during his Twins tenure. Numbers broken out for his Twins years are just onerous enough to obtain, but over his entire career, Braun walked 5% more often than league average and struck out 3.2% less often.
In the field, he was a bit of a nomad. While he saw most of his time at third base in his first two seasons, the Twins were able to put Braun at second and shortstop on occasion. He finally gave way at third for Eric Soderholm in 1974, moving to left field. In 1975 he started the year with nine games at first base, then moved back to left for the balance of the year. In his last year with the Twins Braun mostly served as DH, though he wasn't the primary, playing some left field and third base. The Mariners nabbed him in the 1976 Expansion draft.
Steve Braun's excellent on-base skills and utility helped him average 2.5 rWAR per season during his time with the Twins. Of his 17.4 rWAR, 15.0 came in a Twins uniform. Aaron Gleeman has long considered him a mostly forgotten, underappreciated player from Twins history, first writing about him in his Top 50 Twins series, and again in a piece for Baseball Prospectus as part of BP's introduction of their Deserved Runs Created (DRC+) stat, calling him "the most underrated non-star in Twins history."
Gene Mauch never wore Nº 4 as a player, though he did wear the number twice for the '48 Dodgers. He was Roy Smalley's brother-in-law, which meant he was Roy Smalley's uncle. We'll encounter his nephew shortly. Mauch came to managing through the light-hitting infielder unemployment program. Though Mauch was nicknamed the Little General at some point, he was the Young General first; he was only 34 when he took over the Phillies' clubhouse as the team's third manager of 1960. He managed Philadelphia for nine seasons. After a dismal first two years (.382 and .305 winning percentages!), he got the club to .500 or better every season afterward, including a run of pretty good years from '63–'66. Fired in 1968, he landed in Montreal the next season and endured a .321 year. Fortunately, that was the last time a team Mauch managed ever lost 110 games, or even 100 games. Unfortunately, Mauch's Expos never cracked .500 while he was in Quebec.
Mauch took over in Minnesota in 1976, replacing Rhu_Ru favorite Frank Quilici. In June, the Twins traded ace Bert Blyleven to the Texas Rangers for Mauch's nephew, 23 year old switch-hitting shortstop Roy Smalley. Bert seems likely to have welcomed the exit from Minnesota, if not the destination; he flipped Met Stadium fans the bird the day before he was sent to Hades Arlington Stadium. Other players and cash were involved. Smalley took a couple years to develop into, briefly, the best shortstop in the American League. Mauch's Twins did well his first two years, but slipped under .500 in 1978, then lost Rod Carew to Calvin Griffith's penurious wallet, stupidity, and prejudice. A brief surge up to .506 in 1979 was the last time the Twins would be north of break-even until 1987. Mauch's teams over this period consistently under-performed their Pythag records:
While this was not egregious underperformance, Mauch seems like a frustrating manager, a rigid skipper bent on smallball tactics. His teams clearly had some talent, but never finished better than third while Mauch was the manager. Clearly, much of this falls on Calvin Griffith, but Mauch's increasingly shorter stays in gigs suggest he may have been a burr in more than one saddle before he ever started working for Gene Autry. I would've pegged Mauch as a hidebound traditionalist, but his New York Times obituary suggests he might not have owned that label:
A lean, silver-haired presence in the dugout, Mauch was adept at gaining an edge. He kept computer printouts to check what batters had done against certain pitchers before that kind of analysis became customary. Rod Carew, the Minnesota Twins' Hall of Famer, once recalled how Mauch deployed a five-man infield four or five times on a single road trip to cut off the winning run at home plate in the ninth inning, and how it worked every time.
Mauch left the Twins after 125 games in 1980. He caught up with Rod Carew in California, where he had some success and some bitter disappointment.
Jim Eisenreich was one of two native Minnesotans living their dream in 1982. Kent Hrbek played 24 games with the Twins in late 1981, and Eisenreich appeared set to follow him the next season, less than two years after being selected out of St. Cloud State in the 16th round of the draft. Apparently Eisenreich was a non-roster invitee to spring training after a .311/.407/.507 (585 PA) year with Wisconsin Rapids in 1981. Like Hrbek, he parlayed that success into a jump from Low-A ball to Minnesota. In the span of a season, the Twins graduated two 16th/17th round picks with no experience above A ball. That speaks to both the state of the major league team, but also the potential Hrbek and Eisenreich had when they arrived. For his part, Eisenreich won the starting center field gig and made his major league debut in the Metrodome on 06 April 1982. He had to wait until the next day to collect his first hit, a single off Jim Beattie that scored Gary Ward and Sal Butera. It took a few more games to get his bat going, but he carried a .300/.385/.438 line into Boston in early May.
Unfortunately, an undiagnosed neurological disorder thwarted not only his season, but his career with the Twins. Eisenreich had already pulled himself from his three previous games in Minnesota, leaving in the sixth inning once and the fifth twice. According to Eisenreich's SABR bio, an interview with Patrick Reusse for The Sporting News was followed by a piece in a Boston newspaper that ran the day the Twins got to town and fueled intense heckling from Red Sox fans. Eisenreich left the game in the fourth that day, and in the third the next. He didn't play again until 28 May, and didn't play another complete game in 1982; his season was over on 10 June, after just 34 games.
A proper diagnosis had eluded Eisenreich's doctors for well over a decade. As a child, his doctors had diagnosed him hyperactive and prescribed him Valium. Doctors at St. Mary's Hospital in Minneapolis presented three diagnoses: social phobia (now called social anxiety disorder), agoraphobia, or Tourette's syndrome. Eisenreich believed the Tourettte's diagnosis was correct; the Twins' team physician thought that was a convenient excuse and preferred a combined social phobia-agoraphobia diagnosis. From a June 1987 Sports Illustrated profile of Eisenriech:
Dr. Faruk Abuzzahab was the expert on Tourette syndrome who made that diagnosis at St. Mary's and who so informed Dr. Leonard Michienzi, the Twins' team physician. Michienzi disagreed. He supported the diagnosis that Eisenreich suffered from some combination of stage fright and agoraphobia, and his support of that diagnosis eventually led to the player's retirement from the Twins.
Today Michienzi continues to believe that diagnosis. "Jim likes the diagnosis of Tourette," says Michienzi. "It takes the burden off his family and keeps away from any stigma that psychological disorders have in our society. Maybe he is a Tourette, but I'm still not convinced he is." Michienzi insists that a diagnosis of Tourette syndrome does not explain why the violent shaking first came so severely those nights in April and May of 1982, and why it was only so intense when he stood in center-field. "I think large crowds bother him," says Michienzi. "He has double-deck syndrome."
"He's a small-town boy," says Abuzzahab. "The Twins' doctors thought the limelight and attention aggravated his condition." Abuzzahab's diagnosis has been supported by Dr. Arthur Shapiro, director of the Tourette and Tic Laboratory and Clinic of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "If Abuzzahab diagnosed him as having Tourette," says Shapiro, "he probably has it."
Eisenreich endured a number of treatment regimens over the next two-and-a-half years. Apparently traquilizers used as anti-seizure meds were prescribed, but these prevented him from performing up to his potential on the field. Eisenreich attempted to play in 1983 (2 games) and 1984 (12 games), but his symptoms — hyperventilation, grunting, & twitching — were unrelenting. He finally asked the Twins to put him on the voluntary retired list. Misunderstood by fans and misdiagnosed & maltreated by doctors, Eisenreich did not play professionally at all in 1985 or 1986.
He continued to play centerfield for the St. Cloud Saints, though, and strong seasons helped convince him to try one more time. Eisenreich asked to be reinstated from the retired list and was told by the Twins he wouldn't be permitted to play for the team. Instead, he was placed on waivers. Kansas City claimed Eisenreich in October 1986 after a St. Cloud State teammate, now working in scouting and player development, convinced Royals GM John Schuerholz to pay $1 for his rights.
In 1987, Eisenreich began putting his career back together. It must have been difficult to watch his former team win the World Series without him (and one wonders what the '84 or '87 Twins would have been like with Eisenreich in the outfield), but he paved his own way back to the major leagues. Playing all three outfield spots, Eisenreich hit .277/.320/.390 (98 OPS+) over 2100 PA for the Royals. He signed a free agent deal with the Phillies in 1993 and reached the World Series that season. His stay in Philadelphia, which began at age 34 and ended with his age 37 season, provides the best glimpse of what Jim Eisenreich might have become, had he simply gotten proper treatment in 1982. Over four seasons and 1500 PA, Eisenreich hit .324/.381/.453 (120 OPS+) as the strong side of a platoon, first with Wes Chamberlin, then Mark Whiten. A free agent again heading into his age 38 season, he signed with the Florida Marlins to play the outfield corners and some first base. With the Marlins, Eisenreich finally won the World Series that had eluded him by exclusion in 1987 and by defeat in 1993. He closed out his career with one more season, split between the Marlins and Dodgers. To surmount what nearly wrecked his career in his early twenties and play until he was 39 suggests Jim Eisenreich is a pretty remarkable, resilient person. We can wonder what might have been, but we should dwell on what he actually did.
I enjoyed saying Steve Lombardozzi's last name more than I enjoyed his play with the Twins. Second base was an offensive black hole between Tim Teufel's departure via trade and Chuck Knoblauch's arrival in 1991. Lombo was the primary there in '86, '87, and '88, and posted a 77 OPS+ and largely serviceable defense. He did have the best year of his career with the glove in '87 (10 Fielding Runs), so at least his timing was good. He's mostly remembered as either a member of the Twins' first World Championship team, Dan Gladden's punching bag, or Steve Lombardozzi's father.
Chip Hale seems like the kind of prospect who would be more properly evaluated today than he was when he was in the Twins farm system, but at one point he looked like he might be a future contributor. He grew up in San Jose and played college ball at Arizona, which meant he had plenty of warm weather seasons to develop. He was drafted in the 17th round and reached the Twins in his third season. His .273/.330/.370 batting line at Portland in'89 was nothing to write home about, but he was two years younger than his league. A level ahead of Knoblauch, Hale was presumably on track for a spot on the 25-man after hitting .280/.366/.357 at Portrland in 1990. Score issued a set of 100 Rising Star cards in 1991; #39 featured Chip Hale. Though three other Twins were featured in that set, Knoblauch didn't get a card. Instead, Skippy hopped over Hale from AA Orlando to the starting second base gig in 1991. He repeated AAA for the third time in 1992, before splitting 1993 between Portland and Minnesota. In that time, he was passed not only by Knobby, but Jeff Reboulet, Terry Jorgensen, and Pat Meares. He got all of 652 PA with the Twins across six seasons, posting an 87 OPS+ with average defense at second and third base, and played a bit for the Dodgers in his last major league stint. He came close to reuniting with the Twins when he interviewed to succeed Ron Gardenhire as the Twins' manager. At the time, Hale was the Athletics' bench coach. The Twins hired the guy who wore Nº 4 after Hale, who in turn took over the Diamondbacks after Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell were ousted from the organization. Hale didn't last long, either; he and GM Dave Stewart were fired after the 2016 season. Hale landed back in Oakland for a year, then signed on as Dave Martinez' bench coach in Washington. He filled in as interim manager when Martinez was hospitalized for cardiac treatment last September, and no doubt savored the Nationals' victory over the Astros in the World Series.
Paul Molitor's baseball roots were planted and nourished in Minnesota. Though it took him nearly twenty years to get to the the team he grew up rooting for in St. Paul, once he was back home his baseball present and future was almost always intertwined with the Twins. An all-state selection and champ in baseball and basketball, Molitor was drafted by the Cardinals the 28th round of the 1974 draft. He didn't sign and took a scholarship to play for Dick Siebert at the U of M, where he broke in as a starter at second in his first season. He became a collegiate star almost immediately, and was moved to shortstop. The Brewers took Molitor 3rd overall in the 1977 draft, and he signed. The U eventually retired his Nº 11.
Molitor got in a half-season with the Burlington Bees, the Brewers' A-level affiliate that year. With Robin Yount out until May, Molitor was suddenly the Brewers' opening day shortstop. For all that, he had a pretty good year, even if his .673 OPS didn't sparkle. Apart from a couple of rehabilitation assignments, he never went back to the minors, and the Brewers suddenly had two really good middle infielders in their early twenties. We know about the injuries, of course, and the problems with cocaine. What is often less remarked upon is the new manager Buck Rogers' decision move native son Jim Gantner from third to second, and to force Molitor to play center field in 1981, displacing Gorman Thomas to right field. Don Money took over third. It was a stupid decision; Molitor slumped to a .675 OPS (100 OPS+), Don Money wasn't very good, and Thomas apparently resented it. An ankle injury cost Molitor most of his season, though it wasn't incurred in the outfield. Rogers moved Molitor again in 1982, this time to third base, where he stayed pretty consistently until 1989.
When Molitor was fully healthy, he was one of the best players in the league, averaging 4.0 rWAR per season from 1979–1989, pretty impressive considering he lost almost all of 1984 to Tommy John surgery and averaged only 118 games per season over the same stretch. His injuries were numerous and no doubt inhibited his performance to varying degrees. Molitor played the majority of his games at second one last time in 1990 before shifting into a DH who occasionally played first base. In 1991 he led the league in three counting stats — runs, hits, and triples. How many times has a primary DH led their league in triples, I wonder? That season was also the second time Molitor lead the AL in plate appearances and at bats. In fact, Molitor was finally healthy enough that he strung three 700+ PA/ ≥140 OPS+ seasons together in his ages 34–36 seasons.
The last of those was his first season in Toronto, where he wore Nº 19 to honor his former double play partner, Yount. Rate-wise, his .332/.402/.509 line was second only to his 1987 performance (.353/.438/.566), but it came in 160 games instead of 118. His 22 homers were a career high. Toronto repeated as World Series champs, and Molitor was named the World Series MVP. He finished second in the AL MVP voting, the highest of his career. His batting line was even better in 1994; when the strike ended the season, Molitor was hitting .341/.410/.518 (138 OPS+). He slumped to a 101 OPS+ in his last year north of the border. At 38, with a thick medical chart, and with 211 hits between him and 3000, one might have wondered if he was heading for a curtain call in 1996.
Which, finally, brings Molitor back to Minnesota. It was exciting to have him join the Twins, who looked to have Chuck Knoblauch hitting ahead of Molitor, Kirby Puckett , and 1995 Rookie of the Year Marty Cordova. The Twins had a young pitcher from Eau Claire named Brad Radke heading into his second season, and Rick Aguilera was going to try to return to starting after six seasons as a closer. Frankie Rodriguez, Rich Becker, Eddie Guardado, Mike Trombley, and prospects Matt Lawton, Todd Walker, and LaTroy Hawkins offered some excitement or hope, respectively, but it was a tough time to root for the Twins. Dave Winfield's 3000th hit in 1993 should have been a still-fresh memory, but it must have felt a longer time ago to many Twins fans. Given Kent Hrbek's retirement, the strike, and the sudden loss of a franchise icon with Kirby's glaucoma diagnosis, Molitor's pursuit of his own milestone was the best thing the Twins had going in 1996.
He didn't disappoint.
I'm not sure how many people expected Molitor to reach 3000 hits in 1996, but it would have been a tall order for any 39 year old. He didn't shrink from it, playing 161 games with 71. The last day his average was below .300 was heading into the fourth game of the season. Somehow, his third lowest average, .318, came on 22 July. From that point on, Molitor hit .378/.426/.524, with 19 doubles and 6 triples. His BAbip was .412. The hits just kept coming. He finished the year with 41 doubles, at the time one of just three players to hit at least 40 at age 39 or later. (The other two were Tris Speaker & Pete Rose. Craig Biggio & David Ortiz have since joined them.) The last of those triples was this one:
There's so much to love about this video. The triple, obviously, and the fact that he wasn't thrown out trying to stretch the hit further than it wanted to go. Molitor's expression after standing up from his slide. TK's appearance, as Dick Bremer notes, was rare enough considering his preference to let players celebrate their accomplishments without him, but to top it off, TK's wearing a snap-back hat for some reason. The Kaufmann Stadium crew play a montage of Molitor's career highlights over The Boss' "Born to Run," which hits you a little different at 39 than at 21. Robin Yount is watching from a suite, wearing one heck of a mustache, and Linda Molitor's hair is every bit as epic. The tape artifact just after the three minute mark suggests we're lucky the highlight even survives, as does the MSC logo in the upper right.
Molitor played two more years for the Twins. He was still above average at 40, with a 104 OPS+. At 41, it was clear he'd reached the end of the line as a player, and the team was also heading into a period of transition. Knoblauch was traded after the '97 season, and the pieces of the team that rallied back from the brink of contraction were only starting to fall into place. Matt Lawton and David Ortiz had found spots in the lineup, and Corey Koskie and Torii Hunter got their first tastes of major league action. On the pitching side, Radke, Guardado, Hawkins, and Eric Milton were all active, though Milton was a rookie and Hawkins hadn't yet moved into the bullpen. Rick Aguilera was in his last full season with the Twins. Terry Steinbach had one year left of his own personal homecoming. Marty Cordova was a year from free agency. Todd Walker hadn't yet worn out his welcome.
More significantly, Tom Kelly was nearing retirement. Two World Series victories were highs for any manager would probably endure considerable hardship, but the years between them hadn't been easy, and the years since the Twins' last winning season in 1992 must've compounded the toll. Molitor was there for the last two, serving as TK's bench coach in 2000 and 2001. TK got the Twins back to a winning record in his last year, then resigned. Molitor and Ron Gardenhire were immediately named by sportswriters as potential successors. As the contraction attempt unfolded, Molitor removed his name from consideration in early December. Gardenhire got the job, Seligula's contraction attempt was thwarted, and the Twins began a run of regular season success and postseason futility that is still hard to think about.
Molitor took the hitting coach gig in Seattle in 2003, but returned to the Twins as a roving minor league instructor. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, wearing a Brewers cap, the second ballplayer from St. Paul to reach Cooperstown. (Hopefully another guy from St. Paul will join him in a few years.) Molitor finally joined Gardy's staff in 2014, and the rest of his story is recent enough to not need recounting.
When he arrived in Minnesota, Molitor had reverted his uniform back to Nº 4. His SABR bio claims that, when Molitor chose that number in Milwaukee, it was in part due to his admiration of Bob Allison when he was a young Twins fan. That's a neat baseball story, if it's true, and it's fair to say he wore it well.
For some reason, the Twins issued Nº 4 to Augie Ojeda in 2004.
Tony Batista played for the Twins fourteen years ago, which isn't long enough in the past to erase the memories. He was signed as a free agent after being released by the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, for whom he hit .263/.294/.463 in 591 PA in 2005. This was a period of maddening, self-thwarting, dumpster diving free agent signings that kept the Twins from capitalizing on the core of excellent players the organization had developed. (Also on the 2006 Twins: Ruben Sierra, Phil Nevin, Juan Castro, and RonDL White.) Who knows what Terry Ryan was told by scouts, but I'm guessing it led with "27 homers and 90 RBI." Batista, who wore Nº 7 in Ontario and Quebec, was definitely not getting that number in Baja Manitoba Minnesota. Nor was he getting the Nº 10 he wore in Arizona and Baltimore. Instead, Batista leapfrogged Joe Roa to claim the highest regular season jersey number issued by the Twins to that point.
Batista played exactly 50 games, all of them starts at third base, where he gave statues a bad name with -8 Runs Fielding in 434 innings. (Those interested in more traditional stats will observe the .954 fielding percentage and as many errors (6) as double plays turned (also 6).)
Batista was cut on 15 June. Somehow, the Twins survived Batista's performance and won the AL Central, finishing one game ahead of the Detroit Tigers. Jason Bartlett was called up to take his place on the active roster; Bartlett finished the season with 2.8 rWAR, good for 8th on the team.
No highlights survive of Tony Batista's time with the Twins because there were none to begin with.
Fernando Romero will be 25 this season, and is at a crossroads in his time with the Twins. Romero has stuff — Fangraphs rates his 95–97 mph fastball as a 70/70 — but walks have been a problem in his limited time in Minnesota. Romero has a 1.565 WHIP in 69.2 innings for the Twins, which a strikeout rate just a bit below 20% won't mitigate. He's been better than league average at keeping the ball in the park (SSS). A guy who throws hard and has an okay slider might find a spot in the bullpen, but the Twins aren't flush in fungible bullpen slots when they have guys who throw just as hard, and with better control and, thus far, results. Romero is out of options, so if he doesn't break camp with the Twins, he'll likely be wearing a different uniform the next time he reaches the majors.
Unlike its preceding digit, Nº 2 has a collection of distinguishing achievements in its history: an MVP award, a Rookie of the Year award, and multiple All-Star and Gold Glove nods. Its incumbant might be the
Zoilo Casanova Versalles Rodriguez left Nº 5 behind him in Washington and broke in Nº 2 for the Twins in 1961. His selection for MVP was (and remains, for some) rather contentious, but if you're of the opinion that the MVP should be awarded to position players, Zoilo is a worthy recipient. His 7.2 rWAR led AL position players, just edging Chicago second baseman Don Buford. Teammate Tony Oliva and Detroit's Norm Cash tied for third with 5.4, followed closely by Jim Fregosi (5.3). Zoilo Versalles was the first Latin American player to be named MVP.
Zoilo signed with the Senators when he was 17 and reached the AL at 19, but his MLB career was over at 31. These factors contributed to a pretty tragic story after baseball. According to Zoilo's New York Times obituary, following his death at age 55:
After playing a season in Japan in 1972, Versalles returned to the Minneapolis area but found it virtually impossible to make a living, partly because he had never learned to read or write English and partly because of the lingering effects of a back injury he suffered while running out a ground ball with the Dodgers in 1968.
He held a series of menial jobs, but lost his house to foreclosure and was eventually forced to sell his m.v.p. trophy, his All-Star rings and his Gold Glove award.
In addition to his back problems he suffered two heart attacks and underwent stomach surgery.
In recent years he had been sustained by disability payments, Social Security and memories of a season that came only once.
Graig Nettles wore three numbers during his brief Twins career; Nº 2 was the last. Billy Martin first became his manager at AAA Denver, where Martin replaced Johnny Goryl at the end of June 1968. Martin pressed Nettles into double duty, giving him reps in the outfield as well as third base. When Nettles was called up to Minnesota in September, he played 16 of his 22 games in the outfield. In 1969 he got into 96 games, 74 on defense. With Harmon Killebrew en route to an MVP season and Rich Reese playing over his head with a career year, Nettles got only 21 games at third base. He found himself in something of a platoon with Bob Allison, who was 34 and, while still productive, nearing the end of his career. Nettles started hot, topping out at .316/.371/.561 (.306 BAbip) in mid-May, but bad luck led to a hard fade and he went .190/.303/.613 (.226 BAbip) the rest of the way.
Nettles was heading into his age 25 season when the Twins traded him; Harmon Killebrew turned 34 years old the same year. Nettles put up a 5.2 rWAR campaign in 1970. His manager, Alvin Dark, stuck him a third for the whole campaign. His 101 OPS+ wasn't exciting, but he showed some power with 26 homers, walked more than he struck out, and flashed excellent leather (22 Fielding Runs). The Twins repeated as AL West Champs in 1970, without much help from Luis Tiant, the primary return in the deal that sent Nettles to Cleveland or Rich Reese, who hit .261/.332/.371 (92 OPS+) in 564 PA as the primary first baseman. The Twins released Tiant in March 1971. Reese plummeted to a .219/.270/.353 (74 OPS+) in 359 PA. Harmon Killebrew moved across the diamond to first base, and 23 year old rookie Steve Braun took over at the hot corner. Braun didn't embarrass himself, turning in 1.0 rWAR year, but the Twins fell from first to fifth in the West. Nettles swatted 28 homers and displayed a fine eye (82 walks to 56 strikeouts), ending 1971 with a 114 OPS+ and 30 Fielding Runs. All that was good for a 7.5 rWAR season, just short of double César Tovar's total, which led the position player ledger of the '71 Twins. Braun eventually wore Nettles' Nº 2 in 1976, which was his last year in Minnesota. More on his story another time.
Three seasons after Braun's departure, the Twins finally seemed like they might fill the hole they created by trading Nettles when John Castino split co-Rookie of the Year honors with Toronto's Alfredo Griffin. (Between 1971–1979 Nettles put up 41.8 rWAR, including an MVP-worthy 8.0 rWAR year in 1976. Nettles finished 16th in MVP voting, tied with Baltimore-era Reggie Jackson. This is the only time anyone will ever hear me say a Yankme was robbed of an MVP.) Castino's rookie season was a solid 2-win effort. Castino hadn't played a game above AA Orlando when he made the major league roster out of Spring Training in 1979. His .285 batting average drew favorable notice in the era, surprising even his manager, Gene Mauch; his .331 OBP and .112 ISO speak to the shape of his overall production at the plate. Castino's defense, however, drew more than one comparison to Brooks Robinson, who had retired partway into the 1977 season. Mauch might have seen Robinson play at age 19 or 20, when they briefly overlapped in the American League, but given that Mauch spent Robinson's heyday managing the Phillies and Expos, one wonders exactly how much eyeball time he had to draw the comparison. Brooks, for his part, accepted it, saying that Castino's throwing & actions reminded him of himself, and opining that Castino looked to already be a fine fielder.
In fairness to Castino, that much was true. From 1980–1983, his glove contributed 36 Fielding Runs' worth of value to the Twins' defense, even though he played fewer than 120 games twice in that span. The limited playing time was due not only to the '81 strike, but the discovery of a back problem that ultimately cut his career short. X-rays taken after Castino was injured diving for a ball late in the second half of the season resulted in a spondylolysis diagnosis. Castino tried playing through it at first, but had to back off. Doctors ultimately performed a spinal procedure that fused a couple of his vertebrae together. Atrophied from a winter in a body cast, Castino tried to play out the '82 season at a new position; Gary Gaetti's arrival shifted Castino over to second baseThe results supported Castino's after-the-fact observation that he was not ready to resume playing baseball that year. Who knows whether a year of PT and gradual adjustment back to the game would have changed anything for him, given the therapies available at the time. Castino only got one more year on the diamond, playing second base and matching his career-best with another 4.5 rWAR season. With Castino under contract through the 1987 season, the mid-Eighties Twins might have had some interesting choices to make to find enough playing time between second & third for him, Gaetti, and rookie Tim Teufel. Unfortunately, those good problems never materialized. Castino's back limited him to 9 games in 1984, and that was it. Just as the Twins were starting to turn their fortunes around with the maturation of the core of the cohort of prospects that won the '87 World Series, Castino's career was over. He was 29. He appeared in just 666 games and made only 2578 plate appearances. Thirty-six years later, Castino's 39.3 Fielding Runs still place him 5th among Twins infielders and 10th among all position players. Brooks Robinson & Gene Mauch were right — he turned out to be a pretty good fielder.
Chris Pittaro wore Nº 2 next. Pittaro is perhaps most notable for the scouting & front office career he began with the Athletics in 1991. That gig reunited Pittaro with his Twins teammate Billy Beane; he became one of the Oakland front office characters named in Moneyball, is still a special assistant to Oakland GM David Forst.
Wally Backman managed to achieve -0.7 rWAR in just 87 games and 337 PA for the '89 Twins. He can thank Luis Rivas for sparing him the honor of worst season while wearing Nº 2.
Pat Meares had the unenviable task of succeeding Greg Gagne as the Twins' primary shortstop. Younger and cheaper, Meares' Twins tenure nevertheless was not as valuable as the five seasons Gags split between Kansas City & Los Angeles to end his career:
Luis Rivas broke in as a full-time player in 2001 & was the second baseman when the Twins began their resurgence in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, he contributed little to that effort. Rivas made over 2000 plate appearances, mustering an 80 OPS+. His hitting was a mirror of his fielding: Rivas' -54 Batting Runs made a potent statement at the plate, while his -51 Fielding Runs made his defense conspicuous. In the five seasons Rivas was (or began the season as) the Twins' primary second baseman, the team went 444-365. Many more things about Luis Rivas, but suffice it to say that he was the starting second baseman on a string of successful Twins teams, often plying his trade in the Nº 2 hole (666 PA). I don't remember who came up with the nickname (Gleeman?), but I'll always remember him as "Luis Oh-for-ThRivas."
For five seasons Denard Span blended excellent outfield defense, solid on-base skills, and good baserunning. Span's glove ranks 6th among Twins outfielders with 39.0 Fielding Runs, and places him 11th among all Twins position players. One of the great DSPAN2 fun facts is that he was — at least by one definition — the most exciting player on the Twins' roster: he hit 36 triples (half his career total) with the Twins, against 23 homers. A concussion and some other injuries intruded on his playing time, so he was only the primary center fielder twice during his Twins tenure, but he was nonetheless a very solid player during the last few years in the Metrodome and the first few at Target Field.
The Twins traded DSPAN2 in November 2012, sending him to the Nationals for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. The next season, Brian Dozier made two significant changes: he moved from shortstop to second base, and he took over Nº 2. Dozier had worn different numbers at AAA Rochester and Southern Mississippi, and neither his birth date or month suggest an attachment to the number. The new position minimized some defensive shortcomings. Dozier's defense at second base was very strong in 2013, but he never matched it again, and by 2018 was a bit of a liability in the field. Nonetheless, Dozier put together a string of seasons that gave a whole different shape to the position, something Twins fans had not seen in over fifty years: the slugging second baseman. In his five full seasons with the Twins, Dozier averaged 29 home runs per season. In 2016, he became the first Twin hit 40+ homers since since Harmon Killebrew in 1971. Dozier carried a .202 ISO into his last season with the Twins, slipping to .199 before the Twins sent him to the Dodgers at the trade deadline. Measured by rWAR, Dozier was the most successful player to wear Nº 2.
For all the Bomba Squad excitement last season, Luis Arraez might have been the Twins' most interesting hitter to watch at the plate. One plate appearance rarely is enough to define a player, but Arraez' pinch hitting appearance after Jonathan Scoop injured himself down 0-2 to fireballer Jeurys Familia on July 16 was really dang cool. It will be interesting to see what he can do with a full-time gig at second this season.
Ryan Eades pitched 3.2 innings across two games for the Twins in 2019 after a mid-season call-up from AAA Rochester. Eades replaced Willians Astudillo on the active roster on 08 June and wasted no time getting into a game. Of the sixteen batters he faced, Eades struck out five, walked two, and surrendered four hits, none of which were home runs. He allowed two stolen bases.
The first was by Niko Goodrum with two down in the bottom of the Detroit 6th on 08 June; the Tigers were up 5-2, but likely felt they needed every run they could get. Rocco Baldelli challenged the call, but it was upheld. Eades walked the batter, but recovered and struck out Nick Castellanos to end the inning. The Twins lost the game.
The second stolen base came in the top of the 8th against the Mariners on 12 June. Eades was the third pitcher of the inning for the Twins. The score was tied 1-1 when Trevor May began the inning in relief of Mike Morin. May gave up a walk and a single, then Domingo Santana hit a sac fly to score the lead runner, Edwin Encarnacion. Blake Parker was called in with one runner on and one out. Parker gave up a single to Omar Narvaez that did not score Dan Vogelbach. Dee Gordon reached on an error by first baseman C.J. Cron, scoring Vogelbach. Then, Blake Parker coughed up a three-run homer to Shed Long. Parker was yanked for Eades, who struck out Dylan Moore for the second out. Mallex Smith hit a single, then stole second. He gained third on Mitch Garver's throw, but Eades struck Kyle Seager out to escape the inning. The Twins tied it up over the next two innings while Eades held the Mariners in check. Tyler Duffey replaced Eades in the 10th, the Twins’ defense gave up three runs on three errors, and they lost 9-6.
Eades was sent back to Rochester for his trouble; Fernando Romero came up to take his roster spot. The Orioles claimed Eades off waivers on 14 August; he pitched 11.1 innings for Baltimore down the stretch. Eades was outrighted by the Orioles in October and is currently a free agent.
Reno Bertoia came to Minnesota with the Twins in 1961, and brought the number he had worn with the Senators along in his suitcase. (Born in Italy as "Pierino," he is the only "Reno" to play in MLB.) Bertoia was the starting third baseman in the Twins' first game; they defeated the Yankees 6-0 at Old Yankee Stadium. He played 35 games, then was traded on 01 June with Golden Gopher Heismann runner-up Paul Giel — a native of Winona, Minn — to Kansas City. The same day, Milwaukee traded Billy Martin to the Twins. Both men were listed at 5' 11"; Martin took over the number. While Martin has more to his story than just that, both men are exemplars of one of the primary types of player to wear this number: banjo-hitting infielders. Another group — banjo-hitting, fleet-footed outfielders — reached its fullest expression in the late Eighties to late Nineties.
Martin, of course, is known best for his exploits & altercations while manager of the '69 Twins, who finished first in the new AL West during his only year at the helm. Much could be said about Billy Martin; suffice it to say he's a significant character in the story of the Twins' greatest period of dominance.
No Twin wore Nº 1 in 1962, but after Bernie Allen picked it back up midway through the 1963 season, the number stayed in circulation until 1970. Eric Soderholm wore it for two seasons with a 72 OPS+ over 391 PA, then switched numbers and put up a 117 OPS+ over his last remaining 1136 PA as a Twin. The guys who came after Soderholm didn't find any better success wearing it, and then Twins didn't issue the number to anyone in 1979. In 1982, Ray Smith became the first — and so far, only — catcher to wear Nº 1 for the Twins.
After another break in 1987, John Moses was issued the number and started the above-mentioned run of fast, light-hitting outfielders that ended with Otis Nixon. Moses had his career year in '88, an okay year in '89, and, along with the rest of the team, crashed to Earth hard in '90. Jarvis Brown wore Nº 1 in 1991. Had Gene Larkin not pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the tenth in Game 7, Brown might be the least-remembered position player on the Twins '91 World Series roster. (We'll get to the guy who could claim that title later in this series.) Alex Cole brought Nº 1 back into circulation with a solid year in 1994, batting .296/.375/.403 (102 OPS+) over 398 PA, with 15 doubles, 5 triples, and 29 stolen bases (78% success rate). Cole was the Twins' first primary center fielder following Kirby's move to right field, but unfortunately for him, his incumbency lasted only lasted one year. He was off to a solid start in 1995, but must've gotten injured; he missed every game from 01 June through 22 September, and apparently did not play in the minors. Three seasons later, Nº 1 was issued to Otis Nixon, who had worn the same number in Atlanta. By the time he reached the Twins, Nixon was just two years younger than Billy Martin was when he became the manager of the 1969 Twins. Nixon stole 37 bases — with an 84% success rate! — for the Twins, which nearly doubled the franchise's previous high water mark for a player 39 years old or older. (Lave Cross stole 19 bases in his age 40 season for the 1906 Senators. Paul Molitor held the post-relocation record, with 18 in 1996.)
The past twenty years have seen Nº 1 alternate between Gardenhire-era second basemen and fifth outfielders — with one exception: Jason Kubel wore it as a September call-up by the 2004 Twins. Kubel looked really impressive, hitting .300/.358/.433 (.320 BAbip, 104 OPS+) over 67 PA. He was 22. After that first cup of coffee, Kubel blew out his knee in the Arizona Fall League. When he returned to the Twins in 2006, he did so wearing a different number. One wonders what might have been.
Whether Kubel wanted a new number or not, part of the reason he wasn't reissued Nº 1 was that Luis Castillo was wearing it. Castillo came to Minnesota in a December 2005 trade from Florida — where he had worn 1 since 1997 — to fill what had been a gaping hole for the Twins since the Chuck Knoblauch trade. Castillo put up 2.3 rWAR for the best post-Knoblauch season at the keystone in his first year, and followed it up with 1.4 rWAR the next before a deadline deal sent him to the Mets. The Twins proceeded to flail around again until Orlando Hudson signed a one-year free agent deal for 2010. O-Hud put up the best single season for the № 1 jersey (in what remains the single best post-Knoblauch season at second base), and the Twins won 94 games and repeated as AL Central champs in their first year in Target Field. Hudson was allowed to walk after the season, which turned out to be his last decent year. He was known to be a chatterbox, and — if Poultry Man is a credible source — complete wore out his welcome. The Twins elected to assign № 1 to their new second baseman, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who came over from the Chiba Lotte Marines. Nishioka had won the batting title in his last year in Japan, which lended some excitement to the Twins' first acquisition from NPB. Six games into the season, Nick Swisher broke Nishioka's left fibula with a takeout slide. Nishioka missed all of May and half of June. The Twins lost 99 games, and General Manager Bill Smith was fired in November. After a poor showing in 2012, Nishioka asked for and was given his release, despite having a third year left on his contract. He returned to Japan and played for the Hanshin Tigers until 2018.
Nick Gordon wears № 1 for the Rochester Red Wings. He appears to be the successor to the Punch and Judy infielder line, but his future in the organization is more doubtful than his draft number once suggested. The frequency with which the Nº 1 is assigned to players has also dropped since its near-ubiquity from 1961–1995. Whether this is incidental or by design is hard to say. There are only ten single-digit numbers, and the Twins have already retired three of them. Whether the Twins have gotten more selective about who gets them remains to be seen in future installments.
Let's begin with 0 and 99. No, not the Twins' record in the postseason since Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS. This is about the bookends of the uniform number spectrum.
Uniform numbers evoke the memory of the players who wore them — their personalities, their accomplishments, mental snapshots of iconic moments. The Twins have retired eight numbers worn by members of the organization. In order of retirement, they are: 3, 29, 6, 14, 34, 28, 10, and 7. Since the Twins made Harmon Killebrew's 3 the first retired number in franchise history on 4 May 1975, the longest duration between number retirements was the 5165 days between Kirby Puckett's 34 (25 May 1997) and Bert Blyleven's 28 (16 July 2011). The longest duration then rolled into the shortest duration; just 420 days after the Frying Dutchman's number was retired, Tom Kelly's 10 joined it. No player had been issued the number since TK stepped down as manager after the 2001 season, and 10 became the first number retired to honor a Twin who didn't play while wearing it. We‘ll eventually circle back around to the retired numbers; they burn brightly in our memories — or, if we never saw them worn on the field, in our baseball consciousness.
Every uniform number in Twins history has a story, however, and each number that has not been retired likely has a de facto "owner" in the minds of Twins fans. In the course of this series, we're going to discover who some of those players are. Both numbers in this post have only been worn by one player in Twins history, making those players the default owners of their number in the minds of Twins fans — assuming Twins fans remember them.
Junior Ortiz isn't likely the least-remembered player on the 1991 World Series roster, but nearly three decades after the Twins' last world championship, he's no longer a household name. Ortiz had actually worn 0 prior to joining the Twins; he wore it in his last year in Pittsburgh, where he was the primary catcher that season. (Was Mike "Spanky" LaValliere hurt?) One might presume he chose it because it evoked his last initial. In those days the Twins wore their names on the back of both the road and home jerseys, but one could still forgive the redundancy; it's a cool choice.
Ortiz was Scott Erickson's caddy, for reasons that have never been quite clear to me. The other pitchers in the rotation threw to Harper just fine. But, Erickson was known to be particular, and that particularity means he & Junior Ortiz will be forever linked. Ortiz got 8 plate appearances in the 1991 postseason thanks to that relationship. Three came in Game 3 of the ALCS, and he got another two apiece in Games 3 and 6 of the World Series. In fact, he was the starting catcher in the elimination game, thanks to Erickson getting the ball. He was pinch-hit for in the later innings of both games. Ortiz also replaced Steve Bedrosian as part of a double switch in the Game 5 blow-out. Bedrosian had entered in an earlier double-switch, knocking Chuck Knoblauch out of the game. With one out in the ninth, Ortiz grounded to third, scoring Gladden for the Twins' last run of the game.
Ortiz went on to wear 0 for two more teams, Cleveland and Texas, before retiring in 1994. As far as I can tell, Junior Ortiz is the second most prolific wearer of 0 in baseball history when measured by the number of different teams that issued him the number.
When Logan Morrison wore 99 in the starting lineup on 29 March 2018, it became the highest number worn on the field by a Twins player history since 11 June 2006. (We will get to what that number was in due time.) Unless and until the Twins have a Yankme problem and run out of numbers, that's not likely to change. Morrison had never worn 99 before joining the Twins, and he didn't exactly put an indelible mark on it while in Minnesota. He lasted 95 games and 359 PA for the Twins, which is honestly more than I remember. Given Morrison's 74 OPS+, I bet it seemed longer than that at the time, however. LoMo played 29 games with the Phillies last year, but wore 8, which was another uniform first for him.
Having finally gotten into circulation, the number itself is too good to waste on languish with LoMo. Given the right player and personality, 99 should find its way back onto the field.
But, a question — is it best reserved for a gas-throwing reliever, a toolsy position player, or simply any player with a unique personality?