All-Time Greatest: Minnesota Twins

The franchise currently known as the Minnesota Twins has gone through a couple facelifts in its time.  They were originally founded in 1894, as the Kansas City Blues, and were a part of the Western League (a minor league).  In 1901, they moved to Washington, and became one of the original eight teams to comprise the, now professional, American League.  They were the Washington Senators, and for 60 seasons, they played in the nation’s capitol.  And, over those six decades of play, they managed to make it to the postseason all of 3 times.  In fact, they finished in last or next-to-last place more times (24) than they even finished with a winning record (18).  Then, in 1960, MLB granted Minnesota an expansion team.  But, Calvin Griffith, the owner of the Senators, convinced the league to allow him to move his team to Minnesota, and grant the expansion franchise to Washington (which only lasted 11 seasons before they moved, and became the Texas Rangers).  So, from 1961 to present day, we have the Minnesota Twins franchise, named after the “Twin Cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  And, in their 53 seasons in Minnesota, they’ve enjoyed significantly more success – 11 postseason appearances, including 3 World Series appearances, and 2 championships.

In spite of limited success in Washington, they did have some excellent players to come through (as you’ll see below).  In the history of the franchise, 7 different players have won 8 MVP awards.  They’ve also seen 3 players win 4 Cy Young awards, and have had 7 Rookie of the Year winners.  They have retired 6 players’ jerseys (all of them in Minnesota), and currently have 8 Hall of Famers whose primary careers were spent with the franchise (4 Senators & 4 Twins).  So, you know someone is going to be left off this list that was a great player.

johan5. Johan Santana (2000-2007) – yes, I know that there are some great pitchers that have been left off of this list in favor of Santana.  Yes, I know that they may have reached more lofty career numbers than Santana has reached.  But, in his time with this franchise, Santana had an amazing run.  Consider for a moment that the first 4 years of his career with the Twins, he was primarily used out of the bullpen.  From 2000-2003, he appeared in 117 games, but only started 41.  And, once you take out his rookie season (6.49 ERA), he performed well out of the bullpen.  But, no one would have thought that when they moved him into the starting rotation for the 2004 season that he would have a stretch of years like he did from ’04-’07.  Two Cy Young awards, two more top-5 finishes, led the league in WHIP every year, led the league in strikeouts 3 times, ERA+ 3 times, ERA twice, K/9 three times, wins once, appeared in 3 All-Star games, and won a Gold Glove.  Compare all of that to the best 4 years of Blyleven or Kaat’s careers (and that’s any 4 years, not just 4 consecutive years), and you’ll see why Santana is on this list, and they aren’t.   Santana ranks at the top of the Twins’ all-time win pct. list (.679), 2nd in career WHIP among pitchers with at least 1,000 IP (1.09), 1st in K/9 (9.5), 6th in K’s (1381 – everyone else in the top-10 has at least 400 more IP than him, and all 4 of his seasons as a starter rank in the top 9 all-time for single-season strikeout totals in franchise history!), 1st in K/BB ratio (3.79 – all 4 of his seasons as a starter rank in the top 13 in franchise history), and 2nd in ERA+ (141 – second only to . . . well, you’ll see).

dyYcFhRx4. Kirby Puckett (’84-’95) – Puckett is my personal favorite Minnesota Twin.  I never got to see the rest of this list play, but Puckett was the kind of player you simply enjoyed watching.  He loved playing baseball, and you could tell.  Which made his sudden retirement at the age of 36, due to loss of vision in his eye, an especially sad day.  Puckett was the 4th player since the turn of the 20th century to record 1,000 hits in his first 5 seasons, and just the 2nd to accumulate 2,000 hits in his first 10 calendar years (he was called up from the minors in mid-May, his rookie season).  It felt like he could do nearly anything on the diamond.  He hit 20+ HR six times, drove in 90+ RBI six times, stole double-digit bases seven times, won 6 Gold Gloves in center field, won the batting title in ’89, led the league in hits 4 times, and appeared in 10 consecutive All-Star games.  He never won an MVP, but had one runner-up (’92), and finished in the top-7 five more times.  And, who could ever forget his game 6 performance in the ’91 World Series?  A triple in the 1st to drive in the first run of the game; a leaping catch against the plexiglass in center field in the 3rd inning to rob Ron Gant of extra bases; and the dramatic walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Twins the victory, sending the Series to a deciding game 7.  Puckett ranks 6th on the Twins all-time batting list (.318 – the highest career average for a right-hander since DiMaggio), 10th in career SLG (.477), 4th in runs scored (1071), 2nd in hits (2304), 3rd in total bases (3453 – and the two ahead of him have at least 2,000 more PA’s than Puckett), 3rd in doubles (414), 6th in HR (207), 3rd in RBI (1085), and 4th in runs created (1201).

7195g_lg3. Rod Carew (’67-’78) – .334 – over the span of 12 seasons in Minnesota, Carew bat .334.  Think about that.  He hit below .300 just twice in those 12 seasons – his first two years in the league, which includes his ROY campaign in ’67 when he hit .292.  He reached as high as .388 in 1977, when he led the league in batting, OBP, OPS, runs, triples and hits (239 – the most hits by anyone in the previous 45 years), leading to an MVP award.  Carew finished his career with a .328 average – 34th all-time, and ahead of the likes of Honus Wagner, Jimmie Foxx, and Joe DiMaggio.  While in Minnesota, he won 7 batting titles, including 6 out of 7 from ’72-’78 (and came within .008 – or, 5 hits – of winning all seven).  He also appeared in the All-Star game all 12 seasons he was with the Twins.  In addition to ranking at the top of the Twins’ all-time list in batting, he also ranks 2nd in OBP (.393), 10th in OPS (.841), 9th in runs scored (950), 5th in hits (2085), 8th in total bases (2792), 7th in doubles (305), 5th in stolen bases (271), 3rd in OPS+ (137), and 5th in runs created (1112).

harmon-killebrew-photo2. Harmon Killebrew (’54-’74) – as I continue to do these team-by-team lists, I’m constantly reminded of the unsung heroes of the game.  Now, Killebrew is a name that I know a lot of people already know.  But, I wonder how often we consider just how powerful of a hitter he was.  The bulk of his career was played during one of the most pitching-dominant eras in the last century (the ’60’s).  Yet, during that decade, Killebrew hit 393 of his 573 career homers – that’s more than anyone else in the decade!  More than Mays or Aaron or Robinson or Banks.  What impresses me even more is that during that decade, the only time he didn’t hit at least 39 HR’s, was in ’60, ’65 & ’68 – seasons in which he missed a month or more due to injuries.  Injuries were a major factor in Killebrew’s career.  It was his injured quad that led to the Twins moving him from 3B to LF in 1962.  It was knee surgery that led to him being moved from LF to 1B in 1964.  But, this also led to another impressive feat: when elected to the All-Star game in 1965 at first base (one of 11 in which he appeared), he became the first player ever elected to play in the All-Star game at three different positions (3B, LF & 1B).  Imagine, though, just how astounding his numbers might be, had he not been haggled so much by injury.  You see, he wasn’t an everyday player until 1959 with the then-Washington franchise (playing in just 113 games his first 5 seasons), and the final 3 seasons of his career were far from injury free (averaging less than 100 games per season).  So, when you box out those first 5 seasons, and those last 3, you really get a staggering picture – 14 seasons, 530 HR, 1424 RBI, .917 OPS.  And, even that includes 3 seasons shortened by injuries.  If he’d been able to play 16-18 healthy seasons, he might have ended up with Mays-like numbers.  As it is, he ranks 1st on the Twins’ all-time SLG list (.514), 1st in OPS (.892), 2nd in runs scored (1258), 6th in hits (2024), 1st in total bases (4026), 1st in HR (559 – 573 in his career ranks 7th all-time among non-PED users), 1st in RBI (1540), 1st in OPS+ (145), and 1st in runs created (1567).

walter-johnson.ap1. Walter Johnson (’07-’27) – part of the inaugural HOF class in 1936, and considered by many to be the greatest pitcher in the history of the game.  It’s difficult to put into words exactly how dominant Johnson was.  So, I’ll show you the numbers.  Over the span of 21 seasons, he won 60% of the games he started, leading to 417 wins (2nd only to Cy Young in the history of the game).  His career ERA is 2.17 – 12th all-time, but no one ahead of him comes within 4 years or 1,000 IP of his tenure.  And, of the 25 best single-season ERA’s in history, you’ll find Johnson’s name 4 times – more than anyone.  His career WHIP is 1.06 – 8th all-time, and again, no one within 1,000 IP.  He struck out 3,508 batters – the record for more than 50 years (and still 9th all-time).  In fact, no one else even eclipsed 3,000 K’s until 1974.  He still holds the career record for shutouts, with 110.  Think of it this way: Johnson has more shutouts than Zack Greinke has wins thus far in his 10-year career.  He won 2 MVP awards – one in 1913, at the age of 25, and one in 1924, at the age of 36!  He led the league in wins 6 times, ERA 5 times, K’s 12 times (most in the history of baseball), ERA+ 6 times, WHIP 6 times, and K/BB ratio 9 times (something no one else in the top-10 in career strikeouts accomplished more than 4 times).  He is the all-time leader in the Washington/Minnesota franchise’s history in ERA, wins, strikeouts, complete games, shutouts, and ERA+ (147).

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