The Twins have had a storied, though not necessarily all that impressive, history. Among those who have been around since 1901 or earlier, only the Orioles have a worse record as a franchise than the Senators/Twins. From 1901-1960, they were the “first in war, first in peace, last in the American League” Washington Senators who won only the 1924 World Series. Since 1961, they’ve been the Twins, and have had a somewhat more successful run, winning in 1987 and 1991.
Guys It’s Not
Rod Carew, the team’s second best player left for the riches of California when he became a free agent. Harmon Killebrew played 106 games in Kansas City. And Sam Rice played 97 in Cleveland. Overall, this has been a remarkably stable franchise for one that hasn’t been too good.
In the top-24 in Twin/Senator history area a pretty incredible six guys who don’t make the list. Ossie Bluege, a third baseman from the 1920s and 1930s, is 23rd on their list. Though he played 13 seasons in which he topped 300 trips to the plate, only twice did he top 3 WAR. Shortstop and third baseman Cecil Travis played in the 1930s and 1940s and is 21st in franchise history in WAR, and he was particularly good from 1937-1941, 13th best among position players over those years. Kent Hrbek is 14th all-time in the team’s history. Ten times he hit 20 homers. Seven times he reached 3 WAR. And twice he won a World Series. Clyde Milan, a center fielder from 1907-1922, is 13th all-time in MIN/WAS WAR. I rank him right with Dom DiMaggio among center fielders, eleven times reaching 2+ WAR. And finally, Tony Oliva ranks 11th in franchise WAR. He led the AL in hits five times, doubles four times, and batting average three times. During his 1964-1971 prime, he was the ninth best position player in the game. Each of the best eight are in the HoME.
Twin Mount Rushmore
Walter Johnson: He’s the best player in baseball history who only played for one team. His career WAR having nothing to do with pitching is the same as Cesar Geronimo, better than Lyman Bostock or Wally Backman.
Kirby Puckett: Smiling is powerful, really it is. Same with batting average and World Series moments. During his career, he was a good player, not a great one. Only twice did he reach 5 WAR. Post-career, Puckett had a number of struggles, but we don’t seem to remember those. Of course, we remember the home run in the 1991 World Series. We love the .318 batting average too. As many chances as I can, I like to remind folks that I rank Puckett behind Chet Lemon, Willie Wilson, Brett Butler, and Johnny Damon in center field. You may not, which is fine. They’re close. But I have no doubt they’re close. And that means Puckett is no Hall of Famer, no matter how much he smiled.
Joe Mauer: Catchers break. Mauer is another in a long line of examples. The good news for Mauer is that when he was at his best, he was truly great, posting five seasons of at least 5 WAR. His 2009 MVP season was absolutely the best of his career. It was one that produced a triple slash triple crown, a pretty amazing achievement for a guy with only one season over 13 homers in his career. What happens after next year when Mauer becomes a free agent is anyone’s guess. I don’t think he’ll be valuable enough to give full-time at-bats. But I expect someone will start him if he wants. We’ll see.
Brad Radke: An underrated pitcher at a time when a lot of pitchers were underrated. He only topped a dozen wins three times. He had a career record of 148-139, and he has a 4.22 career ERA. Of course his record wasn’t great; the Twins weren’t always great when he pitched, and he got a little unlucky. And if you like a shiny ERA, Radke pitched at exactly the worst time in history. Neutralized stats at BBREF give him a 3.39 career mark, one that feels much more in line with his talent. In a world where Herb Pennock is in the Hall of Fame, it wouldn’t be disgusting to induct Radke too. Of course, that says more about the mistake that was Pennock than about Radke.
My Twin Rushmore
Rod Carew: Each of his seven batting titles and his MVP were in Minnesota. From 1973-1977 he hit .358, which I suppose is a modern equivalent to Rogers Hornsby hitting .402 from 1921-1925. He’s also on one of my all-time favorite baseball cards.
Harmon Killebrew: All Killer did was hit homers. While that’s not precisely true, of course, the statement does have merit for the six-time home run king, 1969 MVP, and guy on the outside of the HoME looking in. Yes, his bat was worth 487 runs, which is good for 43rd ever. Of course, he gave back 78 because of defense, 77 more because of his position, 27 because he grounded into a lot of double plays, and another 24 because he was super slow on the bases. He’s still good, but 115th in WAR is no 43rd with just the bat. He so clearly belongs on this list though.
Joe Mauer: It’s him or Puckett since I’ll go with a modern guy over Sam Rice. Mauer is still sort of producing, and by the time you read this, he’s likely to be ahead of Puckett in career WAR.
Check out the New York Met Mount Rushmore next.