The All-Time All-Star Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins
The Minnesota Twins began their live in the American League as the Washington Nationals, but the team was better known by its nickname, the Senators. And the Washington version of the team struggled for much of its history, with the exception being the decade covering 1924-1933, when the team won its three American League pennants and sole World Championship. Financial pressures forced the team to move to Minnesota in 1961, and its history has been a bit uneven there, too, but on the whole, the team has been much more successful in its Northern location than in the nation's capital. So, here are my choices for the best players at each position in team history.
Catcher: Joe Mauer. No, he ain't what he used to be, but he is still a fine player and an All-Star. And he will go into the Baseball Hall of Fame. After, all, he's only catcher to win three batting titles, leading the American League in 2006, 2008, and 2009. In fact, he's the only American League catcher to ever win a batting title. Add his 2009 A.L. Most Valuable Player award and his .323 career average, third in team history, and he's an easy pick as the franchise's best catcher by a long shot. I hope injuries don't cut short his brilliant career.
Other notables: Earl Battey, Hall of Famer (cough, cough) Rick Ferrell.
First Base: Harmon Killebrew. The "Killer' was a mild-manner fan favorite in both Washington and Minnesota. He blasted 573 home runs in his career, 559 with this franchise, and is the all-time leader in games played, Runs Batted In, walks, and strikeouts. (Harmon didn't get cheated!) He was also the American League Most Valuable Player in 1969, when led the Twins to the American League West title. His fine career was capped off by his selction to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.
One thing that always puzzled me about him, was that his natural position was first base, yet the Twins always had somebody else they had to put there, usually some singles-hitting good glove type, moving Harmon to the outfield or third base. Just how good was Rich Reese and his career .312 on-base percentage anyway? Or Vic Power, who had a magic glove, but a little league bat? The Twins should have dominated the 1960's A.L., but they kept messing around putting incompetent singles hitters at first base, and that messed everything up.
Other notables: Kent Hrbek, Joe Judge, Joe Kuhel,
Second Base: Rod Carew. The man played first base primarily from 1976 on, but he played most of his career at second base, and it was at second that he won five of his seven American League batting titles. He was the American League's Rookie of the Year in 1967, and was the A.L. Most Valuable Player in 1977, when he led the league with a .388 average and flirted with .400 for most of the season. A pure contact hitter, he had a .334 average as a Twin, best in team history. Alan Bannister once said of Carew, "He's the only guy I know who could go 4-for-3."
Carew eventually fought with the penurious owner of the Twins, Calvin Griffith, over money, and wound up being traded to the California Angels, where he continued his career, eventually getting his 3,000th career hit in 1985. Carew was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.
Carew was an outstanding bunter and base runner, who stole home seven times in 1969. One of the times he didn't make it wound up being memorable. He tried to steal home with Harmon Killebrew at the plate, and the Killer didn't see him, and he swung, zipping the ball right by Rod's head. Perhaps that's why he never did it again!
Other notables: Hall of Famer Bucky Harris, Buddy Myer, Chuck Knoblauch (who was pretty good as a Twin).
Shortstop: Joe Cronin. He was considered by many to be the A.L.'s greatest all-time shortstop until Robin Yount and Cal Ripken came around years later. Cronin was the team's player/manager when the Senators won their last A.L. pennant in 1933. He was the second "Boy Wonder" to lead the Nats to a pennant, the first being Bucky Harris in 1924 and 1925. A singles and doubles hitter, he hit .304 lifetime for the team, with a career high of .346 in 1930.
He also married into the Griffith family, wedding Clark Griffith's niece Mildred Robertson in 1934. It was after that season that Griffith traded his son-in-law to the Boston Red Sox, where Cronin would go on to be not only manager and General Manager of the Sox, but eventually, the President of the American League. He was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956.
Other notables: Roy Smalley, Cecil Traivs (who would have been a Hall of Fame had it not been for injuries suffered during military service in World War II), Christian Guzman.
Third Base: Gary Gaetti. "The Rat" was a popular member of the Twins during the 1980's, being a key part of the 1987 World Championship team. He was a slick fielding thrid baseman, winning four Gold Gloves at third base, and he could hit for power, blasting 201 home runs for Minnesota, sixth in team history, His best season was probably 1986, when he hit .287, with 34 home runs and 108 RBI.
Other notables: Eddie Yost, Corey Koskie, Ossie Bluege, Buddy Lewis.
Left Field: Goose Goslin. He was an RBI machine for the Senators pennant winners in 1924 and 1925, and was the A.L. batting champion in 1928 with a .379 average. But he was traded to the St. Louis Browns during the 1930 season when he started to slip a little bit.
He regained his stroke in St. Louis, and wound up being traded back to the Senators for the 1933 season, and darned if he didn't lead the team to another pennant. But his .297 average was thought to be too low, so he was traded after the season to the Detroit Tigers, where, woudn't you know it, he led Detroit to two straight pennants, and his game-winning hit in Game Six of the 1935 World Series gave Detroit its first World Championship.
He was a pure line drive hitter who used spacious Griffith Stadium to his advantage, leading the league in triples twice, in 1923 and 1925. His .323 average for Washington is currently fifth in team history. He was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1968.
Other notables: Hall of Famer Heinie Manush, Bob Allison, Jim Lemon, George Case.
Center Field: Kirbeeeeeeee Puckettttttt! I can't think of him in a Twins uniform without the p.a. man saying his name that way. Kirby was one of the most popular players in team history, always with a smile on his face and looking like he was so excited to get out there and play the game. Despite the controversies that surrounded his post-playing career, he played the game with great zest and elan, and his teammates thought the world of him.
His Twins' career started off slowly, with him not hitting a home run in his rookie season, but exploding to 31 bombs in 1986, his third year with the team. From there, he became one of the best players in the game, a 6-time Gold Glove center fielder who won the 1989 A.L. batting title with a .339 average, making the A.L. All-Star team in each of his last 10 seasons. He is most remembered for his play in the 1991 World Series, where he pretty much won Game Six with an RBI triple in the first, a great catch in the third, and the game-winning home run in the 10th to send the Series to a game seven, which the Twins won, 1-0.
His 1995 season was going along fine when his jaw was broken by a Dennis Martinez pitch. Few, Kirby included, knew it would be the last pitch he would see in an MLB game. In spring training of 1996, he lost the vision in right eye due to glaucoma, and he would never play again.
After his career he was involved in all sorts of controversies, mainly due to marital indiscretions, and wound up being a pariah to many. He died young, suffering a stroke in 2006 at age 45. He was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.
Other notables: Torii Hunter, Clyde Milan.
Right Field: Sam Rice. (Relax, Tony Oliva fans, there's a reason for this,...) Sam Rice played right and center field for the Senators from 1915-1933, and was a member of all three Senators' pennant winners. He began his career as a pitcher, but his bat was too good not to play every day. He also was a fine fielder. Had there been Gold Glove awards at the time, he probably would have taken home a few.
Rice lost his entire family to a tornado in 1912, while he was out of town at a baseball tryout. After a year in the Navy, he signed a professional contract in 1914, and became a Senator in 1915.
Solid, but unassuming, he led the A.L. in hits twice, in 1924 and 1926. He was another line drive hitter who took advantage of the gaps at Griffith Stadium to pound singles and doubles all over the park. A fine fielder, he is known for a controversial catch he made in Game Three of the 1925 World Series, when he disappeared into the stands while trying to catch a ball hit by Earl Smith of the Pirates. He emerged with the ball, and the umpire called Smith out. Rice never said anything about it, other than the umpire called him out. In his will, Rice left a letter about the catch to opened upon his death. In the letter, Rice said he never lost possession of the ball.
He is first in franchise history in runs (1,466), hits (2,889), doubles (478), and triples with 183. He is also second in stolen bases with 346, and is currently fourth in batting average with a .323 mark.
Rice played one more season in Cleveland, at the age of 44. He quit with 2,987 base hits. Record keeping being in the haphazard era, no one paid attention to his career hit total, and Rice himself didn't know how many he had. In that time period, milestones such at 3,000 hits weren't celebrated. That would be for another generation.
Other notables: Tony Oliva, Shane Mack.
Designated Hitter: Tony Oliva. It might be a stretch to say that the Designated Hitter position was created for Tony Oliva, but then again, it might not be. Oliva was an outstanding right fielder who had great instincts and a magnificent throwing arm. Unfortunately, he had the knees of an 80-year-old. In his 20's.
But he was a wonderful player who won the A.L. Batting Title three times, including two his first two full seasons in the majors. He was a free-swinger who connected more than he didn't, leading the A.L. five times in base hits, and four times in doubles. He is fourth in team history in homers (220), and has a .304 career average with the Twins. Many people say that he has a Hall of Fame argument, and I would tend to believe them, using Kirby Puckett as an example of a man who showed greatness in a short career. Oliva's numbers were mostly compiled in the 1960's, when hitting was at a nadir not known since the dead ball era. I would support his candidacy.
Other notables: Jason Kubel. (What, do you think I'm gonna list Randy Bush??)
#1 Starting Pitcher: Walter Johnson. I think he's the greatest pitcher of all-time, and looking at his stats, one wonders how many games he would've won had he not been on some of the worst teams in baseball history. He came to the majors in 1907, on a team that went 49-102. The 1909 team was worse, going 42-110, Johnson getting 25 losses in the process.
But the team got better in the teens, under the tutelage of Clark Griffith, himself a fine pitcher in his day. In 1912, the team leapt all the way to 91-61, with Johnson going 33-12 with a 1.34 ERA. Only Smokey Joe Wood's 34-5 season stopped Johnson from totally dominating the pitching headlines that year.
But as Wood faded in 1913, Johnson thrived, going 36-7, with a 1.14 ERA and 11 shutouts. Johnson wound up leading the league in wins seven times, ERA five times (even though it wasn't an official statistic for much of his career), and strikeouts TWELVE times. (Emphasis mine.)
"The Big Train", as he was known, had a pleasant disposition, sometimes giving opponents he liked easy pitches to swing out when he was far ahead in a game, which given the questionable offense of the Senators, wasn't often. He even got along with Ty Cobb, which was akin to liking Charles Manson's company.
He eventually got to a World Series in 1924, and lost both of his starts. However, he would enter in relief in Game Seven and pitch four scoreless innings to earn the victory. In 1925, Johnson won his first two starts, but lost Game Seven in a horrible rainstorm, 9-7.
Look at the all-time leader lists for pitching, and Johnson is all over them. 417 career victories, all with Washington, 113 shutouts, 5,914 innings pitched, the first pitcher to get 3,000 strikeouts, he was the best after 1893, when the current pitching distance of 60 feet 6 inches was established. He was one of the first first five players selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
#2 Starter: Jim Kaat. "KItty" belongs in the Hall of Fame, and will probably get there as a broadcaster. But he belongs in there as a player as well.
He won 190 games as a Twin, with his best season being in 1966, when he was 25-13 but didn't win the Cy Young Award because at the time, there was only one award given for both leagues. And Sandy Koufax's 1966 season was off the charts, so Kaat got nothing for his year except maybe a $500 bonus from Calvin Griffith (I kiid here, but not by much,...)
He was also the finest recognized fielding pitcher in baseball history, racking up an incredible 16 Gold Gloves in his career, 11 of them with the Twins. He was a quick worker who tried to get outs as quickly as he could. And had the Designated Hitter been around one year earlier, Kaat, off to a 10-2 start, might have had his best season. However, he tore a tendon running the bases that ended his year. Kaat was hitting .289 at the time, and always thought of himself as a good hitting pitcher.
#3 Starting Pitcher: Bert Blyleven. The 2011 Hall of Famer had two tours of duty with the Twins. The first ended in controversy as Bert was at war with local critics who thought he wasn't as good as advertised. But he pitched well for a franchise on the downside, leading the A.L. with 9 shutouts in 1973, winning 20 games that year for the only time in his long career.
Blyleven's return to the Twin Cities in 1985 rejuvenated him, and he was one of the big reasons the Twins won the 1987 World Series, going 15-12 that season as the #2 starter behind Frank Viola. He also surrended 46 home runs. The year before that, he gave up 50. But he also 17 games that year.
Bert is second in Twins' history in strikeouts with 2,035, third in wins with 149, and third in innings pitched, with 2,566.2. His Hall of Fame candidacy was debated for years until he finally was selected in 2011.
#4 Starting Pitcher: Johan Santana. He's had an okay career with the Mets, but he had a great career in Minnesota, winning two A.L. Cy Young awards, leading the league in strikeouts three times, ERA three times, and innings pitched twice. He was a big part of the Twins' resurgence in the 2000s, being one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Other notables: Brad Radke, Frank Viola, Camilio Pascual, Dutch Leonard.
Relief Ace: Joe Nathan. I could be contrary here and go with Firpo Marberry, but Joe Nathan fits the bill. Nathan came over from San Francisco in a controversial trade for A.J. Pierzynski. The Twins fans loved A.J., but Nathan more than made up for it. He was unstoppable for a seven-year period, with ERAs of 1.62 in 2004, 1.58 in 2006, 1.88 in 2007, and 1.33 in 2008. He is the Twins career leader in saves with 260, and if he hadn't hurt himself in 2011, he'd probably still be in Minnesota.
Other notables: Firpo Marberry, Rick Aguilera, Jeff Reardon, Eddie Guardado. This franchise has always been very ahead of the curve when it came to relief pitching. Even in the bad years, there's was always a Dick Hyde or an Allan Russell to come out of the pen and save the day.
Manager: Tom Kelly. He didn't strike anyone as being a great strategist,, and he had a stubborn streak a mile high, leading to David Ortiz being dumped because Ortiz couldn't play defense, but Tom Kelly always kept his teams on an even-keel with his low-key manner. And he won. He led his team to two World Series victories, in 1987 and 1991, and is still popular with the Minnesota fans. The team will retire his uniform number 10 in September of this year.
Other notables: Hall of Famers Bucky Harris and Joe Cronin, Ron Gardenhire.
Well, that's it. If you disagree, let me know!
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