Doc Powers (1870)
Hooks Dauss (1889)
Urban Shocker (1890)
Ira Flagstead (1893)
Harry Walker (1918) Bob Lemon (1920) Tommy Lasorda (1927) Ken Aspromonte (1931) Jim Fairey (1944) Larry Dierker (1946)
Jeffrey Leonard (1955) Wally Backman (1959) Vince Coleman (1961)
Bob Geren (1961) Mark Guthrie (1965) Mike Matheny (1970)
Four players born on this date made their debuts in 2019. That may not be a record, but it is unusual.
We would also like to wish a happy birthday to Spookymilk’s oldest daughter.
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.