Posts Tagged ‘Kirby Puckett’

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Game 7 and the Realm of Legend

April 29, 2016

All this work on the 1991 World Series ultimately had to come to game seven. It was, admittedly, a great game, one of the truly finest World Series games ever. By this point it’s entered the realm of Legend and Mythology.

Jack Morris

Jack Morris

Game 7

On 27 October 1991 Atlanta and Minnesota squared off in the final game of the World Series. The Twins started game one pitcher Jack Morris while the Braves had John Smoltz on the mound. They proceeded to engage in one of the great pitching duels in World Series history.

Over the first five innings Morris gave up five hits and a walk with one batter reaching third and not scoring. Smoltz was as good giving up four hits and hitting a batter. As with Morris, he allowed only one man to reach third and that man stayed there.

The sixth and seventh followed in the pattern of the first five innings. In many ways the key moment came in the top of the eighth. Lonnie Smith singled. Terry Pendleton doubled sending Smith to third. Almost everyone agreed Smith should have scored, but a decoy play by Minnesota middle infielders Chuck Knoblauch and Greg Gagne kept him at third. A grounder to first recorded the first out without Smith being able to score. An intentional walk loaded the bases. That brought up Sid Bream who hit one right at Twins first sacker Kent Hrbek. Hrbek fired the ball to catcher Brian Harper for the second out and Harper fired it back to Hrbek for a three-two-three double play that ended the inning and may have been, Kirby Puckett’s great catch in game six not withstanding, the defensive play of the Series.

In the bottom of the eighth a pair of singles and a fly gave Minnesota two on and one out when the Braves pulled Smoltz. His line for the night was no runs, six hits, a walk, and four strikeouts. In came Mike Stanton, who’d pitched well so far. An intentional walk loaded the bases, then a double play liner to second ended the Twins threat.

Morris set down the Braves in order in the ninth. A pair of singles in the bottom of the ninth led to Stanton’s removal and the arrival of closer Alejandro Pena. He got out of it with a double play and a strikeout. After Morris repeated his ninth inning performance in the tenth, Minnesota came to bat in the bottom of the tenth.

Dan Gladden greeted Pena with a bloop hit to left center. When it fell between the fielders, Gladden, who had speed, took off for second and was safe. Knoblauch sacrificed him to third. That brought up Kirby Puckett who was walked intentionally to set up a double play. A second intentional walk to Hrbek loaded the bases and set up a force at home. The Twins then sent up pinch hitter Gene Larkin. With the Atlanta outfield playing shallow, Larkin lifted a fly to left center than plated Gladden with both the game and the Series winning run.

Larkin singles

Larkin singles

It was an absolutely terrific Series. Five games were won by the winning team in their last at bat. Three games went into extra innings. Only two games were won by more than one run. The Twins had eight home runs and four triples while hitting .232 (.398 slugging) and scored 24 runs. The Braves also had eight home runs and four triples, but hit higher at .253 (.422 slugging) and scored 29 runs (almost half in the 14-5 blowout that was game five). Minnesota’s ERA was 3.74, again much of it because of game five, while walking 26 and striking out 39. Atlanta’s staff was even better, showing signs of the dominant staff of later years. Their ERA was 2.89 with 21 walks and 48 strikeouts. Morris took the MVP award.

Normally I would wrap up one of these looks at a World Series at this point, but I’d like to take a few lines and comment on the way game 7 in 1991 has moved beyond normal World Series hype to take on a bit of cultural legend and myth. There are a number of reasons for this. First, it was a heck of a game. It was well-played, it was dramatic, it went into extra innings, it went into extra innings as a double shutout. There was the decoy play; there was the three-two-three double play. Like I said, a heck of a game. Second, it occurred just before the strike and was seen as baseball at its purest (never mind it used a DH and was played indoors on artificial turf). Thirdly, for three years the Twins stood as the last American team to win the World Series and they’d done it in a terrific game. Don’t forget that Toronto won the next two World Series’ and that 1994 was the lost Series (You know, you could make a pretty good TV show outta something called “The Lost Series”). Next, it was a great ending to an overall great World Series. And it has, over the intervening years become much of the lynchpin for Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame campaign. That’s kind of a shame. Morris won a lot of games, had a ton of strikeouts, pitched a no-hitter, had three rings. All of that is as important as game 7 in making the case for or against including him in the Hall of Fame. It’s like making Sandy Koufax’s case rest on game 7 in 1965 (also against the Twins, by the way) or resting Carlton Fisk’s case on game six in 1975. Whether you think either or both belong in the Hall of Fame or not, you have to make your case based on the totality of their career. The same holds true for Morris.

It think that without the legend and the mythology game 7 stands as a great game. I’m not sure it was actually better than game 6 of the same Series, but it was game 7, the ultimate deciding game. Was it the greatest game ever played? Probably not, but it easily stands in the top half-dozen or so even without the mythology that goes with it. Back a few years ago MLB.com did a series trying to identify the 20 greatest games of the last 50 years. Game 7, 1991 placed second to game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Having watched both I think game 6 of 1975 is overrated, but then I prefer great pitching to hitting. My choice for greatest game of my lifetime has to be Larsen’s game 5 performance in the 1956 World Series (I got home from school early enough to see the last couple of innings.).

 

 

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Blowout and the Puckett Show

April 27, 2016

With the World Series tied two games each in 1991, the baseball season came down to a best of three set of games with Minnesota holding home field. But before the teams could return to Minneapolis, there was one game left in Atlanta.

Tom Glavine

Tom Glavine

Game 5

The game of 24 October became the only blowout of the Series. The Braves lit up Twins starter Kevin Tapani for four runs in four innings (has kind of a nice symmetry doesn’t it?). He’d pitched well enough through three innings (one hit, one walk) before Atlanta unloaded in the fourth. Dave Justice hit a two run home run. A walk, a single and an interference call put a man on for Mark Lemke who tripled to score the run. Rafael Belliard followed with a double to make the score 4-0. The Braves got another on a pair of singles and a force out in the fifth to up the tally to 5-0.

Braves starter Tom Glavine was pitching well (three hits and no walks) going into the top of the sixth. He never got to the seventh. He walked four men in the sixth and gave up a single. That, plus a ground out, gave Minnesota three runs and sent Glavine to the showers.

With the score 5-3 fans were getting what was, for this Series, a fairly typical game. But for this contest, no one was finished scoring. In the seventh and eighth Atlanta exploded for nine runs (six in the seventh, three in the eighth) including home runs by Lonnie Smith and Brian Hunter and triples by Mark Lemke and Ron Gant. The Twins got single runs in both the eighth and ninth that included triples by Al Newman and Dan Gladden. The final score was 14-5 and Atlanta now led the Series three games to two. For the game the two teams combined for five triples.

Kirby Puckett, game 6

Kirby Puckett, game 6

Game 6

With Atlanta ahead three games to two, the 1991 World Series moved to Minnesota for the final two games. Although down by a game and facing elimination, the Twins had one significant advantage, they’d never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome (6-0). They got another advantage when the Braves made the mistake of pitching to Kirby Puckett.

The Twins started Scott Erickson in game six while the Braves countered with Steve Avery. In the very first inning Puckett struck. With Chuck Knoblauch on, Puckett tripled (another triple for the Series) to score the game’s first run. He later scored the second run on a Shane Mack single.

In the top of the third Erickson hit a batter, then a force moved him to second. Up came Ron Gant, who smashed a drive into deep left center. Unfortunately for the Braves and Gant, Puckett played center. By 1991 Kirby Puckett was no longer slender (I’m not sure he was ever actually slender). He was, not to put too fine a point on it, overweight, especially in the hindquarters. But people forget that when he came up he was a leadoff hitter with decent speed. He raced across center, leaped at the fence and caught the ball as it was about to hit the Plexiglas and bounce around for God knows how many bases. The runner didn’t score and Erickson got the third out on a weak tapper to first.

Puckett's catch

Puckett’s catch

In the top of the fifth the Braves tied the score when Rafael Belliard singled and Terry Pendleton homered. But Puckett was due up in the bottom of the fifth. Dan Gladden singled, stole second, went to third on a fly. All that brought up Puckett who lifted a long fly that scored Gladden on a sacrifice and put the Twins ahead 3-2. In the seventh, Atlanta got a run to tie the game at 3-3.

And it stayed that way for the rest of regulation. Puckett singled in the eighth, stole second, but didn’t score. Atlanta had to consider that a minor victory. In the top of the eleventh a caught stealing and two pop ups set the Braves down in order. To start the bottom of the eleventh, they brought in Charlie Liebrandt to pitch. He drew Puckett leading off. Liebrandt threw four pitches. Puckett parked the last one in the stands for a 4-3 Twins victory and a necessary game seven. And the Twins had still never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome.

Over the years Puckett’s performance in game six has been lost behind the mythology that became game seven. That’s a great shame. Between the hitting and the run saving, and possibly game saving, grab in left center Kirby Puckett had one of the great World Series performances ever.

 

 

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Two Games in Atlanta

April 25, 2016

Down two games to none, the Atlanta Braves picked up home field advantage for the next three games of the 1991 World Series. The games in Atlanta would produce, in its first two games, two nail-biters.

David Justice

David Justice

Game 3

The third game of the World Series was held 22 October 1991. Twins 20 game winner Scott Erickson faced Braves lefty Steve Avery. Avery started off rocky by giving up a triple to Minnesota leadoff man Dan Gladden. A Chuck Knoblauch fly plated him, but Atlanta got out of the inning without further damage. The Braves got the run back in the bottom of the second with a two out walk to catcher Greg Olson followed by consecutive singles to bring him home.

In the bottom of the fourth, Dave Justice, whose error in game two cost Atlanta a run, smacked a homer to put the Braves ahead 2-1. In the bottom of the fifth they added another run on a Lonnie Smith home run. Up 3-1,  Terry Pendleton Walked and went to second on a wild pitch. An error sent him to third and sent Erickson to the bench in favor of David West, who proceeded to walk the bases full. A further walk scored Pendleton and brought in Terry Leach, who finally got the third out.

Down 4-1, the Twins fought back in the seventh and eighth innings. A Kirby Puckett home run leading off the seventh made the scored 4-2, then in the top of the eighth catcher Brian Harper reached on an error and came home on a two run homer by Chili Davis that knotted the score.

And it stayed that way through the ninth, through the tenth, through the eleventh. Men were on base, but no one came home. In the twelfth the Twins loaded the bases, but had depleted their bench. They sent relief ace Rick Aguilera to bat with two outs. He lined out to center. In the bottom of the inning Justice singled with one out and stole second. A walk brought up Mark Lemke, who singled home the winning run.

Atlanta won 5-4 in twelve innings to halve the Twins lead in games. Despite two errors (Minnesota had one), they’d hung in to finally show they could win a game. Twins manager Tom Kelly played his entire bench and was later criticized for having to bat Aguilera in the last inning.

Mark Lemke

Mark Lemke

Game 4

On 23 October 1991, Minnesota and Atlanta squared off in game four of the World Series. The Twins sent game one winner Jack Morris back to the mound, while the Braves countered with John Smoltz, starting his first Series game.

Again, the Twins broke on top. A Brian Harper double and a Mike Pagliarulo single plated the first run of the game in the second inning. It held up until the bottom of the third when Terry Pendleton launched a homer to tie the game.

There things stayed through the sixth. In the top of the seventh, with one out, Pagliarulo hit a home run. An out later the Twins pulled Morris for pinch hitter Gene Larkin. He grounded out to end the inning. In came reliever Carl Willis to take over for Morris. He got two outs before Lonnie Smith tied the game with another home run, making three total for the game.

And there it stayed into the bottom of the ninth. With one out Mark Lemke tripled to put the winning run 90 feet from pay dirt. An intentional walk set up a potential double play which pinch hitter Jerry Willard promptly made moot by sending a sacrifice fly to right that scored Lemke with the winning run and tied up the World Series two games each. Lost in the shuffle was a great hitting performance by Pagliarulo in a losing cause and a fine two inning shutdown in the eighth and ninth by Braves reliever Mike Stanton, who took the win.

Game five was scheduled for the following day.

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Opening Round in Minnesota

April 21, 2016

After a short detour, it’s time to get back to 1991.

The first two games of the 1991 World Series were scheduled for Minneapolis in the Metrodome. It was a place of quirks with a “baggie” in the outfield, Plexiglas in the outfield, and an inflatable roof. It was also the place that saw two excellent games and one controversial play.

Greg Gagne

Greg Gagne

Game 1

The first game was played 19 October with Twins pitcher Jack Morris facing Charlie Leibrandt. Both hurlers got through the first two innings giving up a couple of hits, but allowing no runs. That changed in the bottom of the third when Dan Gladden singled with two outs. He stole second and came home on a Chuck Knoblaugh single for the Series’ first run. That was all until the bottom of the fifth. A Kent Hrbek double and a Scott Leius single put runners on first and third for nine hitter Greg Gagne. He’d hit eight home runs all season, but grabbed a Leibrandt pitch and drove it to left field to put Minnesota up 4-1 and send Leibrandt to the showers.

It was all Morris would need. He gave up single runs in both the sixth and the eighth, while Hrbek contributed another Twins run with a home run in the bottom of the sixth. It made the final score 5-2 and put Minnesota up one game to none. For his career, Gagne managed four home runs in 12 postseason games for the Twins (the 1991 homer was his last postseason home run) while averaging only 10 a season for his career. For Morris it was a typical outing. He gave up two runs on six hits, and four walks while striking out three. All six hits were singles.

For the Series it was to be the only game of the first four decided by more than one run. It set the stage for an excellent game two, a game that led to one of the Series’ most controversial plays.

Wrestlemania

WrestleMania

Game 2

On 20 October, Minnesota hosted game two of the World Series. The hometown Twins sent Kevin Tapani to the mound in hopes of taking a 2-0 lead in games, while Atlanta countered with Tom Glavine, whose job was to help tie up the Series.

Glavine was in trouble from the first. He managed to coax a fly from Minnesota leadoff hitter Dan Gladden, but right fielder Dave Justice misplayed it into a double. Then Glavine walked Chuck Knoblauch. Kirby Puckett grounded to third. Terry Pendleton got the ball, stepped on third, tossed to first, and picked up a double play that left Knoblauch alone on second. With two outs, Kent Hrbek smashed a two-run homer to left center to put the Twins up 2-0.

In the top of the second, Justice helped make up for his error with a single. He went to third on a double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Brian Hunter. That put the Braves a run closer. It stayed that way into the top of the third when one of the most controversial plays in World Series history occurred.

With one out, Lonnie Smith reached first on an error. A second out brought up Ron Gant. Gant singled to left field and rounded first wide. Gladden, the left fielder, threw to Tapani, cutting off on the mound. Seeing Gant turn wide, Tapani threw to first baseman Hrbek covering the bag. Gant dashed back and collided with Hrbek. In the process Hrbek lifted Gant off the base while holding the ball. The umpires ruled Gant out to end the inning. Atlanta argued that Hrbek had intentionally pulled Gant off the bag and thus Gant was safe at first while Smith was on third. Ultimately the umps conferred and agreed that Hrbek had been unable to maintain balance in the collision and had not purposefully pulled Gant off the bag. That made for three out and the inning was over.

It did matter. In the top of the fifth, the Braves picked up a tying run on a double, ground out, and sacrifice. That tied the score and left Braves fans wondering what might have happened had Gant been safe with Smith on third.

The score remained tied into the bottom of the eighth. Scott Leius, Twins third baseman, whose error had put Smith on in the third inning, led off. He drove a home run to left center to put Minnesota ahead with one inning to play. Twins reliever Rick Aguilera entered the game in the ninth. He struck out one, allowed a single, then struck out the final two Braves to end the game and leave Atlanta fans wondering what would have been had “WrestleMania” not broken out at a baseball game.

The Twins were ahead two games to none with the Series moving to Atlanta. The Braves now had three consecutive home games to tie up the Series or go ahead.

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Minnesota

April 17, 2016
Inside the Metrodome, Minneapolis

Inside the Metrodome, Minneapolis

My World Series memories go back into the 1950s. Some of them are pretty vague, but they’re still locked away somewhere in my brain and come back every so often. So I missed some of the great World Series’ of the 1910s and the 1920s and even the ’30s and ’40s. Some of those may have been the greatest World Series ever played, but I missed them. For my money in my lifetime the best I ever saw was in 1991. It’s been overshadowed by its own game seven and the controversy over Jack Morris’ qualifications for the Hall of Fame, but 1991 was more than Morris and game seven.

The 1990 Minnesota Twins finished dead last. They recovered and won the American League West in 1991, then ran past the Blue Jays to win the pennant. Manager Tom Kelly’s gang won 95 games by leading the AL in average, OBP, and hits while coming in second in slugging, OPS, and total bases. They were third in triples, fourth in runs, and sixth in home runs. The staff was second in ERA and in saves, third in runs allowed and fourth in shutouts.

The infield consisted of long-time Twin Kent Hrbek, rookie (and later Rookie of the Year) Chuck Knoblauch, Greg Gagne, and a platoon system at third. Hrbek was an underrated first baseman whose 20 home runs were second on the team. His 89 RBIs also tied for second and, in a rarity for modern hitters, walked more (67) times than he struck out (48). Knoblauch filled a hole Minnesota had for a while by playing a decent second (he’d not yet forgotten how to throw to first). He also walked more than he struck out (59-40) and led the team with 25 stolen bases. Gagne made only nine errors all season at short, hit .265, and was tied for fourth in stolen bases. Mike Pagliarulo was the left handed hitting part of the third base platoon. He’d come over from the Yankees and hit .279 in 365 at bats. Scott Leius was the righty at third. He hit .286. Between them they gave the team 11 home runs and 56 RBIs. Al Newman and Gene Larkin did much of the backup work in the infield. Newman was noted more has a pinch runner than either a hitter or fielder but had been caught more often (five times) than he’d been successful (four times) in stealing a base. Larkin hit .286, Newman a buck-91. Both also walked more than they struck out. Hrbek, Knoblauch, and Larkin had OPS+ numbers of 100 or better (Knoblauch’s 125 was high) and Knoblauch’s 2.8 WAR barely topped Hrbek’s 2.7 to lead the infield.

The outfield was, from left around to right, patrolled by Dan Gladden, Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, and Shane Mack. Gladden, a San Francisco refugee, led off and was dead last of the starters with a .306 OBP and his .356 slugging percentage was second lowest among starters (ahead of only Knoblauch). He wasn’t a bad outfielder and had some speed on the bases. His 15 stolen bases were second on the team, but he was a strange choice as a leadoff hitter (although in defense of Tom Kelly it worked). Puckett hit .319 with 15 home runs, 89 RBIs, and 195 hits. All were either first or second on the team. As usual he didn’t walk much (my son used to say he never met a pitch he didn’t like) and he was a competent center fielder who, despite his weight, could run some. In game six he would prove to be a spectacular fielder. Mack was in the game for his bat. It’s not like he was an awful outfielder, but his .977 fielding percentage wasn’t all that good for a big leaguer. He made up for it by hitting .310, putting up 74 RBIs, and leading the position players with a 140 OPS+ and a 5.0 WAR. Randy Bush and Pedro Munoz did most of the outfield backup. Between them they had 13 home runs, 49 RBIs, and Bush hit .303.

Chili Davis, another Giants cast off, was the designated hitter. He led the team with both 93 RBIs and 29 home runs. He also led the team with 34 doubles and his 141 OPS+ was a point higher than Mack’s, although his WAR was only 3.3.

Brain Harper did the catching. He was another player in the game for his bat. He was third in errors and second in stolen bases allowed, but he hit .311, second to Puckett on the team. There were 10 home runs, 69 RBIs, and a 111 OPS+ to help make up for his lack of glove.

The staff was new. Of the team that won the 1987 World Series, none of the main pitchers remained. The primary starters were led by Jack Morris, who has by now become famous for nothing except his game 7 performance. He was a star in the era, with a no hitter and a World Series ring from 1984. He was also famous for having more pitching wins than any other pitcher in the 1980s. In 1991 he was 36 and went 18-12 with a team leading 163 strikeouts. Kevin Tapani was 16-9 and had the only ERA under 3.00 (he was 2.99). His 135 strikeouts were second on the team to Morris and his 6.8 WAR led the team. Scott Erickson was a 20 game winner (20-8) over 204 innings. His ERA was 3.18, but had been going up as the season wound down. Allan Anderson was 5-11, the only lefty among the starters, and the only other pitcher to start 20 games. Rick Aguilera was the stopper. He’d managed 42 saves and a 2.35 ERA over 69 innings. He had a 1.072 WHIP. Steve Bedrosian managed six saves, and Mark Guthrie had started 12 games in a spot starter role.

The Twins had fallen a long way from their 1987 championship, but rebounded in 1991. In some quarters they were favored, in other they were underdogs. Few people bothered to point out that they had a secret weapon. They would play four games in the Metrodome. In the history of the Twins, they were 0-6 on the road in the World Series, 7-1 at home.

 

Game Six: One Man Band

August 10, 2011

Did you ever notice how one player can completely take over a game? Bet you’ve seen it a thousand times with pitchers. Occasionally a hitter can do it too, but it’s not as frequent as with pitchers. The World Series has produced a handful of games in which one player simply steps up and decides “this game is mine and we will not lose.”  Take a look at both Sandy Koufax in game seven of 1965 or Bob Gibson in game seven of 1967. Those are two pitchers that did just that, take over a game and refuse to lose. I’ve got a game six position player who did the same thing.

Puckett hitting the home run in game six, 1991 and the statue of him at the new Twins field

1991

I’ve said before that 1991 is simply the greatest World Series I ever saw. Game six is one reason. It was played 26 October in the Metrodome. The visitors sent Steve Avery in to pitch what could be a close out victory for Atlanta. The home team Twins sent Scott Erickson to the mound. His job was to keep Minnesota alive for Jack Morris and game seven. Fortunately for him and the team, Kirby Puckett was playing center field.

Erickson got through the first inning, then Puckett took over. With one on and one out he laced a triple that scored the first run (keep track with me–1 RBI). Then he scored the second run (1 run) on a Shane Mack hit. So far, Puckett 2, Braves zip.

In the third inning with a runner on first, Ron Gant hit a long fly to deep left center field. Puckett was playing Gant in right center. Puckett dashed across center, raced to the fence, leaped and caught the ball against the fence for out two. The Braves didn’t score. You’ve all seen Willie Mays’ 1954 catch. Some of you remember Ron Swoboda’s 1969 World Series catch. I’ll bet you can name a handful of Ken Griffey or Jim Edmonds or Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter catches in the regular season. Puckett’s catch ranks right at the top with any of them. Remember he’s in right center, he’s got short legs and a jelly donut filled backside (I’m trying not to say he was pudgy), and he caught the damned thing. It was arguably the greatest catch I ever saw and if not, it’s certainly in the top five.

So now we’re Puckett 2, plus a great catch, Braves still zip. Of course that wasn’t going to last. The Braves tied it up in the top of the fifth. Want to guess who was going to bat in the bottom of the fifth? Dan Gladden singled, stole second, and went to third on a bunt. Up came (you guessed it) Kirby Puckett who launched a long sacrifice fly that put the Twins back on top (1 run, 2 RBIs). So now we’re Puckett 3-Braves 2.

The Braves tied the game in the top of the sixth and Puckett wasn’t due up in the bottom, so the game remained tied through the ninth (although Puckett singled in the eighth). Neither team scored in the tenth. In the eleventh the Braves got a man on, had him thrown out stealing, and then went in order, bringing up the bottom of the eleventh and bringing up Puckett one last time. He immediately hit the ball over the fence and ended the game (Puckett 4, Braves-3). The next night the Twins won it all in ten innings.

Here are a couple of lines from the game: Braves-3 runs, 3 RBIs, and 9 hits. Puckett–2 runs, 3 RBI’s, three hits (in four at bats), and a superior catch. Puckett had a hand in all four Twins runs, either scoring or knocking in each. It was a dominating performance. I can’t recall seeing a better one among position players in a World Series game (feel free to nominate your own candidate if you have one). Unlike SportsPhD, I’m not a particular Twins fan, but what a treat to see such a great performance.

A Franchise Best

May 20, 2011

Griffith Stadium, home of the Washington Senators (and the Homestead Grays)

The loss of Harmon Killebrew and SportsPhD’s comment about Killebrew being the greatest Twins player got me to thinking. In some ways SportsPhd is right, but if you look franchise-wise (in other words all the way back to 1901) the answer has to be Walter Johnson. So that brings up the question of an All-Twins/Senators team. The slash is there to remind everyone that for much of their history, the Twins were in Washington. So I decided to figure one out for myself and share it with a breathlessly waiting world. Now I’m no Twins expert so I’m willing to admit that this list is probably flawed. It fact, it may be greatly flawed. It was also put together quickly with only a couple days reasearch. So you might want to take it with the proverbial grain of salt. But, it’s my best shot on short notice.

Now the caveats. This is a little easier because I decided to look for only a starting lineup plus a rotation and a manager. If you try to put together a 25 man roster you notice just how weak the Twins/Senators have been at certain positions (like thrid base). That’s actually fairly common. Try it with your own favorite team and see how quickly you start asking yourself “Do I really want to put this guy on the team?” Because the Senators were formed in 1901 there is no need to discount 19th Century players. Also, you’ll notice that the Twins have more players making this team in a shorter period than the Senators. Frankly, the Twins have been better than the Senators, so I’m not concerned with the percentages here. Feel free to come up with your own players and disagree with my selections.

Infield: Almost from the beginning, first base was the biggest hurdle for me. There have been a lot of good Twins/Senators first basemen: Joe Judge, Mickey Vernon, Kent Hrbek, Justin Morneau. None of them are really at the very top of any chart concerning great first basemen. OK, that means none of them are Lou Gehrig, but none of them are particularly close either. Ultimately I went with Hrbek because he was a solid first baseman, his 3-2-3 double play in game 7 of 1991 was one of the greatest plays by a first baseman I ever saw (and the Ron Gant body slam was a play for the ages) and he could hit well. I’m fairly sure that Morneau is probably (“fairly sure” “probably”, how’s that for certitude?) better, but until he can stay healthy and put in enough years I have to go with Hrbek. Second, short, and third are all fairly easy with Rod Carew, Joe Cronin, and Gary Gaetti being obvious picks.

Outfield: I was able to pick a left, center, and right fielder without having to double up on right fielders and drop a left fielder or some such thing. Kirby Puckett in Center Field is an obvious choice and for me Tony Oliva gets right field over Sam Rice. Yeah, Rice has a longer career, but Oliva’s is better, but over a shorter period of time. Old time Senator Goose Goslin get left field for this team. Did you know that Goslin is the only player to appear in every Washington Senators World Series game?

Catcher/DH: You know this is going to be Joe Mauer don’t you? If you think I need to justify that, you haven’t been paying attention to the American League. DH is where I put Killebrew. He wasn’t much of a fielder, but was best at first. I thought long  and hard about him there and if I was certain I was leaving out a great player, I’d move Killebrew to first. 

Starters: Of course this list begins with Walter Johnson, but you guessed that already, right? It’s amazing how far the drop from the team’s best pitcher to its number two is when Johnson is your number one. The rest of the list is good enough, but somehow just completely pales when compared. It’s also a little strange to see such an uneven list when you try to find five starters. I went with (alphabetically) Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, Camilo Pasqual, Johan Santana. I have some reservations about both Pasqual and Santana. Pasqual’s numbers don’t look all that great if you just stare it them, but if you recall how awful some of his teams were, he gets better quick. And Santana just wasn’t there very long, but when he was  he was great.

Relievers: If the quality of starters is uneven, Twins/Senators relievers are amazingly good. There’s a long tradition of quality relievers going all the way back to Clark Griffith and the early years of the franchise. I took Firpo Marberry because he was one of the first truly great relievers and went with Rick Aguilera as the other one. I sort of miss putting in Jeff Reardon or Joe Nathan, but I like the other two better.

Manager: Tom Kelley was easy for me. Bucky Harris won in 1924, lost in 1925. Cronin was in charge in the 1933 loss, and Ron Gardenhire hasn’t won yet. So Kelley’s two wins are double anyone else in franchise history.

As a rule I’m not a big fan of these kinds of lists; there are just too many variables for me, or anyone else, to consider all of them. You inevitably leave off someone you shouldn’t and look like a total fool (trust me, Idon’t need a lot of help with that anyway). They are, however, kind of  fun.  So remember that when you look this over and go “What was he thinking?”  or rather “Was he thinking?”

My 10 Best Center Fielders

March 30, 2011

Now that I’ve made up my mind about who I think are the top ten center fielders, I’ll present the list in a moment. I thought about it, read over comments on my question about the “tenth man,” and decided on a list. I’m putting it down in alphabetical order, not in order of 1-10:

Richie Ashburn, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Jim Edmonds, Ken Griffey, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Kirby Puckett, Duke Snider, Tris Speaker.

Now, of course, the usual commentary is going to show its ugly head. First, I left out all Negro League players who spent the bulk of their careers in the Negro Leagues (guys like Oscar Charleston). I just don’t think there is enough information available for analysis to compare them directly with Major League players. Are some of them as good or better than the people listed? I’m sure they are, I just can’t prove it. My guess is that Charleston, and maybe Torriente and/or Bell, might make this list. Proving it is another story. I also dropped in pre-mound players. I simply think the game is too different to compare the players. I know a bunch of people have come up with statistical programs that claim to have overcome that problem. Obviously I don’t buy that. Feel free, particularly if you’ve invented one of those programs, to disagree.

You’ll notice it’s a pretty standard list. My guess is that almost anyone reading this then putting together their own list is going to have seven or eight names that are just like mine. It’s the other couple that will create the problem. So let me take a second of commentary and at least partially justify three of my picks, the three I think will create the most “Huh?” factor from readers.

Ashburn: Richie Ashburn is simply the best center fielder I ever saw (which has nothing to do with how well he hit). He had incredible range and a fine glove. He led the league in putouts nine times, in assists three times, and range 10 times. The argument is always made that he played behind a staff that threw an inordinate amount of fly balls. If you had Ashburn behind you, wouldn’t you throw a lot of fly balls too? Additionally he could hit a little. He led the league in average twice, on base percentage four times, hits three times, triples twice, walks four times, and stolen bases once. For a man who hit only 29 home runs for a career (his career high was 7 in his final season with the 1962 Mets) he has a respectable OPS of  778 (OPS+ of 111). His black ink total is 32, his gray ink is 156, both above Hall of Fame standards. I remember we didn’t see the Phillies much when I was small (they were usually terrible), but when we did it was Ashburn you were drawn to. I’ve always been a little surprised he took as long to make the Hall of Fame as he did.

Puckett: I’m amazed at how quickly Kirby Puckett has disappeared from our conciousness. OK, I know he’s dead, but he seemed to be fading already by the time he died. His post baseball career was a tragedy of weight gain, vision problems, and allegations of abuse. It seems he just didn’t know what to do with himself when the thing that defined him, his baseball career, was over. But let me remind you how terrific he was. The greatest catch of the last 25 years may have been in game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Frankly, I didn’t think short-legged, chubby Kirby Puckett could run that far that fast. He was a very good center fielder. Three times he led the league in both assists and putouts by a center fielder and twice in range. He hit well, winning a batting title, leading the league in hits four times, total bases twice, and in RBIs once. His OPS is 837 (OPS+ of 124). The Minnesota Twins have won exactly two World Series’ ever. Puckett hit third on both teams.

Edmonds: Obviously, based on the last post I made, he was the person I thought longest and hardest about (and just as obviously Andruw Jones is 11th on this list). I finally chose him based on his fielding and his overall hitting  stats. I decided that both he and Jones have differences, but that they are pretty much miniscule. Even at strange stats like gray ink and Hall of Fame standards they end up a wash (Edmonds leads in gray, Jones in HoF standards). The key difference to me was the OPS+ stat where Edmonds leads 132 to 111 (which is quite a difference). I finally decided if Ashburn gets in at 111, then Edmonds, who has a higher number, should be in too.

So there’s the list. I’m sorry to have had to leave out Earl Averill, Earle Combs, Hack Wilson and an entire group of good center fielders, but somebody had to be left out. I especially hate having to leave out Vada Pinson, who I thought was great when I was much younger. I also have some problems with including either Edmonds or Jones (or even Griffey for that matter). I don’t like to put in players who are still active or who have just retired. We have absolutely no perspective yet on them and that always worries me. I’m not sure how, ten years from now, their careers will stack up, but to leave them off smacks of fogeyism. You know fogeyism, don’t you? It usually starts with a comment along the following lines, “Heck, everyone was better when I was a kid. These guys couldn’t hold Paul Blair’s glove.” Most of us are probably guilty of it from time to time. Hopefully I haven’t been in this case.

 Thoughts appreciated, but remember to be kind in your comments. This is a family site. 🙂

The Center Fielders

March 11, 2011

The loss of Duke Snider and a spring training have gotten me to thinking about one of baseball’s glamour positions, center field. So for the next short while I’m going to turn to the position on this site. Some posts will be my standard bios with commentary, others will be on different issues.

Did you ever notice just how many really good center fielders there were? I didn’t say “great”, I said “really good.”  Jim Edmonds is one of those. He just retired and I have to admit I loved watching him play. It wasn’t his hitting that I enjoyed, although it was pretty good too, but it was his play in the field. It seem like the guy could catch everything, no matter how far he had to run or how far he had to stretch out. Torii Hunter is another of those that I simply love to watch field. I’ve been known to offer up a prayer to the effect of “Let someone hit a shot to center just so the world can see Edmonds  (or Hunter) go get it.” Sometimes it gets answered.

Those kinds of guys have existed for a long time. I remember the 1966 World Series pitted Paul Blair against Willie Davis, two truly fine enter fielders of the era. The Series turned on pitching (and three errors on two consecutive plays by Davis) but both were tremendous in the field (Ok, not Davis in game 2). In 1941 Joe DiMaggio faced off against Pete Reiser. In 1927 it was Earle Combs against Lloyd Waner. I could go further back.

But you know what? There aren’t really a lot of great center fielders. Now I suppose we’ll all have different definitions of “great” and that’s part of the joy of baseball. But to make a partial point about it, take a look at the last 30 years of Hall of Fame voting (1981-2010). In 1980 Duke Snider got in. In the 30 years since there have been only two or, depending on where you put Robin Yount and Andre Dawson, three or four center fielders make the Hall. The only two sure center fielders are Richie Ashburn in 1995 by the veteran’s committee and Kirby Puckett by the writers in 2001. To me Yount is a shortstop and Dawson plays right, but others may disagree.  Considering how many quality center fielders there have been in the last 30 years, that’s not a lot being defined as “great.”

Take a minute, sit down, and draw up your own list of the five greatest center fielders ever, leaving out 19th Century and Negro League players and concentrating on the players since 1901. Here’s mine alphabetically: Cobb, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mays, Speaker. Yours may vary and that’s not the point. I’ll bet it didn’t take long to come up with the list, did it? Now go to 10. See if it doesn’t get really harder as you get toward nine and ten (passing Griffey, Puckett, and Snider as examples). Mine did. And by 15 I was beginning to list guys like Edmonds and Hunter who I knew weren’t “great.”

This problem isn’t unique. Try it with first basemen or third basemen or left fielders. You get the same results. There are a few truly amazing players, then an entire truckload of very good ones.  But I want to stick with center fielders for a few days.

Short but Sweet

December 27, 2010

Following up on the post about guys who made the Hall of Fame and really could only do one thing well, I began to look for other groups of players who could be linked. An easy one was guys with very short, but very intense careers who make the Hall of Fame based on a brief time of greatness. It turned out there were more than I thought. 

Let me exclude from this list players who lost significant time to war. Guys like Joe DiMaggio who only played 13 years and Hank Greenberg, also 13 years, go in this group. Also I exclude Negro League players who are in the Hall of Fame for their Major League years but lost significant time to segregation. This is where guys like Roy Campanella and Larry Doby go. A third group to be left out are those guys who die while major leaguers but make the Hall. Addie Joss and Ross Youngs are the primary people in this group. All of these people have short careers because of outside influences (or internal in the case of Joss and Youngs) and not due to baseball related causes. That makes them different enough to me that I exclude them from the list I compiled. I also excluded players whose primary career was prior to 1900. Conditions were so different then that short careers were actually somewhat common and both conditions and rules changes (a mound over a pitching box, gloves vs no gloves, etc) made a difference. Still, I get a fairly impressive, and probably incomplete, list.

Among pitchers, five came quickly to mind and a survey of the info indicated I was right about them. Jack Chesbro, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Gomez, Sandy Koufax, and Joe McGinnity (alphabetically) all had very short careers that were considered Hall of Fame worthy (and I don’t intend to debate here whether they were worthy or weren’t).  In Dean’s case he only barely got the required 10 years in through a bit of trickery by the St. Louis Browns ownership. McGinnity also deserves a caveat. He left the National League after 10 years (averaging 25 wins during the 10 seasons) to return to the Minor Leagues (which were not tied to the Major Leagues as they are now) and racked up another 250 plus wins before finally retiring. I’m a bit unclear on his reasoning for the change, but his ML career was on its downside.

I knew of six hitters who met my criteria: Earl Averill, Mickey Cochrane, Earle Combs, Ralph Kiner, Kirby Puckett, and Hack Wilson (again alphabetical). Averill, Combs, Kiner, and Puckett all suffered injuries (back for both Averill and Kiner, a skull fracture for Combs to go along with a broken collarbone, and eyes for Puckett) that curtailed their careers. Cochrane was skulled in a game and told to retire. He did. Wilson drank himself out of the game.  Again each had a short, and very intense period of greatness that did not turn into a long career because of other circumstances (primarily injury except for Wilson).

By my count, there are 180 people in the Hall of Fame who are primarily players (Here’s hoping I can count.) and not managers, executives, umpires, etc. I didn’t really go through the entire list looking for people who played only 10-13 years. Instead I used people I could think of immediately. Maybe not the best way of doing it, but it’s what I used. At least 11 of them had short careers. That’s about 6%, which isn’t a bad number, although certainly not an overwhelming number either. And here I used the entire Hall without excluding those people I specifically excluded in the second paragraph. Had I done so, the percentage would, of course, be higher. It seems that if you are very good you can still have a short career and make the Hall of Fame. But you have to be very, very good.