Tag Archives: Twins retired numbers

0 and 99

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.

№ 0

Worn by: Junior Ortiz (1990–1991)
Incumbent: none
Highest rWAR: Ortiz, 1.7
Lowest rWAR: Ortiz, 1.7
Best season: Ortiz, 1.5 rWAR (1990)
Worst season: Ortiz, 0.2 rWAR (1991)

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.

№ 99

Worn by: Logan Morrison (2018)
Incumbent: none
Highest rWAR: Morrison, -0.3
Lowest rWAR: Morrison,-0.3
Best season: Morrison, -0.3 rWAR (2018)
Worst season: Morrison, -0.3 rWAR (2018)

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?

2019 Game 69: Joe Mauer Was Very Good At Baseball

On Joe Mauer's player page, Baseball Reference lists two transactions:

  • June 5, 2001: Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 1st round (1st pick) of the 2001 amateur draft. Player signed July 17, 2001.
  • October 29, 2018: Granted Free Agency.

This community did not exist before Joe Mauer became a major leaguer. Mauer made his debut on 05 April 2004; SBG started posting at the Old Basement in July 2004. Granted, there were isolated pockets of Twins fans online before Mauer crouched behind the plate, but every one of the well-established communities of Twins fans came into being during Mauer's career. The Mauer Era is the era of critical mass for Twins fans online. The retirement of Joe's number is something of a milestone for all of us.

The seeds of the ongoing revolution in the evaluation of baseball players' performance stretch back to before Joe Mauer was born. By the time Mauer was swinging the bat on St. Paul's sandlots, a few forward-thinking executives had started kicking around these new approaches. By the time Joe Mauer signed with the Twins, those approaches had already jumped from theory to application in the most forward-thinking front office in the game. (That front office was not in Minnesota.)

Joe Mauer's career unfolded in a period in which enlightened baseball executives, baseball bloggers, and a few sportswriters were capable of perceiving how legendarily good Mauer was, but in which traditional executives, old school players, and (especially) sports-writing newspapermen simply lacked the curiosity, imagination, or willingness to appreciate him. The Twins' front office remained so hidebound in its approach that Mauer's own organization was simply not capable of articulating the special abilities of its franchise catcher. In Mauer's own home state, some newspapermen conspired to poison the well, turning a huge percentage of fans against the best pure hitter they might ever see play for their favorite team. Nothing in Joe Mauer's personality suggests he brought this treatment on himself. His "crime" was to be judged a good enough ballplayer to be made a multi-millionaire by the children of a billionaire banker.

Had Mauer's career unfolded exactly as it had, but a decade later, we would know with much greater certainty how amazing he was behind the plate. We know a few things. He threw out 33% of runners attempting to steal against a cumulative league average of 27% during his catching years. Baseball Info Solutions judges him about 17 runs above average in pitch calling. Johan Santana, the best pitcher to toe the rubber for the Twins since Bert Blyleven's heyday and likely the best pitcher in the American League during his own peak, threw more innings to Joe Mauer than any other catcher in his career. The only catcher with whom Johan had a lower OPS+ allowed was Ramon Castro, who caught less than a quarter of the total innings Mauer caught Johan. We can guess other things — Mauer certainly was a very good receiver, and possibly inner-circle great at framing — but we'll simply never know how he compares to the excellent catchers who came after him.

But we do know this: very, very few catchers could hit like Joe Mauer in his prime. Joe Mauer had the fifth-highest peak, judged by rWAR, of any catcher, ever. In ten seasons, from 2004–2013, Joe Mauer hit .323/.405/.468, good for an 135 OPS+. Over that span, which included a debut season derailed by a knee injury, he ripped an average of 28 doubles every year. He got an extra-base hit in 8% of his plate appearances over that stretch, but struck out just 11.2% of the time. He totaled 2051 total bases in a decade of hitting, often banged-up from his duties on the back side of the plate. Of players who caught at least 750 games and had at least 3000 plate appearances, Mauer is 3rd in Batting Runs, 7th in WAR Runs Batting, and 8th in Runs Created.

Joe Mauer was ours. He arrived just as we were gaining the ability to follow baseball with new friends we had never met, who lived far away from the territory reached by the 50,000 watts of WCCO that then still carried Herb's voice. His career was, with the exception of the disappointments his team suffered in the postseason, the career of all of our dreams when we were growing up. Nobody — especially not the cranks at the Star Tribune and their sycophants online — can take Joe Mauer's greatness away from us. We knew it, and we shared it.

Happy Joe Mauer Day, friends.