Selecting an all-time Minnesota Twins team was one of the toughest tasks I have ever set out to do. There is not one position that did not have a close second or third choice.
The Twins have had many glorious eras with a cornucopia of talent. The mid 1960s, the early '70s, the two World Series championships, and the 2002 youth revival were some of the greatest highs in Minnesota's history. I have found that at this time--when our high-payroll Twins are suffering yet another anemic season--it is to relive the past and remember why we follow Twins baseball.
I hope this selection brings back some of the best memories:
Designated hitter: Chili Davis (1991-92)
The Twins did not go from worst to first without some sort of leadership and experience. I picked Chili Davis, because he always brought his bat and was always swinging. His woke up this Twins team and gave them an injection of energy and confidence that can be achieved by having 10 years of experience. The fact that he had an on-base percentage of .385 and a slugging percentage of over .500 meant that this was a DH who did more than swing for the seats.
Left field: Tony Oliva (1962-76)
Tony Oliva spent most of his career batting around .300, giving the Twins a chance to win every night. I picked Tony because he was a hitting powerhouse and a great fielder. The '64 American Rookie of the Year ended his career early due to serious knee problems. Even so, Minnesota fans have seen Tony 'O around the team for years, in one capacity or another. A native of Cuba, Tony exemplifies what is great about baseball and the American dream.
Right field: Torii Hunter (1997-07)
Baseball's version of Spiderman, Torii Hunter mastered the tough wall of the Metrodome, preventing at least one home run a night. Torii made my list because he was at the top of the heap of an amazing group of young players who came up from AA to play for the Minnesota Twins. And although he would have initially benefited from more time in the minor leagues, he worked hard and played the game with a lot of respect and a lot of heart. He may have struggled a bit with hitting, but after a lot of work with such greats as Kirby Puckett, Hunter quickly became a top hitter and was known for his outstanding hitting and fielding.
Center field: Kirby Puckett (1984-95)
I could write 10 pages of all the reasons why Kirby Puckett should be on this list, but will only pick one game: Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. The Twins were losing the game and were on their way to losing the World Series. Kirby told the team to "jump on my back" and went on to make a sensational, game-saving catch, and later he hit the home run that guaranteed Game 7. His momentum carried the team to win of the best World Series championships ever.
Third base: Harmon Killebrew (1954-74)
Harmon Killebrew is on this list because he was one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball, as well as one of the kindest people in baseball. He was aways on the list of top five American League home run hitters, leading the league six different years. Had he played on the East Coast, instead of the Midwest, Killebrew would be as well-known as Aaron or Ruth. Killebrew not only hit a record amount of home runs, he hit with incredible power. Killegrew was indeed, one of the greatest players to wear the uniform.
Shortstop: Zoilo Versalles (1961-67)
The legend of Zoilo Versalles has haunted every Twins shortstop since his retirement. Versalles had soft hands and was a pitcher's best friend, preventing a lot of balls from going out into the field for singles. A double Gold Glove winner, as well as the 1965 MVP, Versailles also led the American League that year in doubles, triples, extra-base hits and number of plate appearances. The bar is set so high, it may be impossible to match, let alone surpass his accomplishments.
Second base: Rod Carew (1967-78)
The 1967 American League Rookie of the Year, Rod Carew led the Twins with a league-leading batting average, nearly every year as a Twin. Combined with his excellent fielding and running skills, Rod Carew had a career that never faded and numbers that have never been matched. Although Chuck Knoblauch was a close second place, Carew remained consistent until the end.
First base: Doug Mientkiewicz (1998-04)
This was the toughest pick on this whole list. Although I can never forget Kent Hrbek's accomplishments at first base, including two World Series championships, I still select Doug Mientkiewicz. "Dougie Baseball," as he was once named by a Twin Cities blogger, Mietkiewicz was the leader of a the AA players who were sent up to be fed to the major-league lions. Mientkiewicz played first base with the sort of energy and passion of a little leaguer. Soon, the stands started to fill up and people began to pay attention again. Although, on occasion, he publicly struggled with perfectionism and it affected his batting. Yet, he had a healthy on-base percentage. And if he didn't produce at the plate, he more than made up for it with his defense. In the midst of his tenure with the Twins, he also led the U.S. baseball team to winning a gold medal in Sydney.
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski (1998-03)
Surly and mouthy, A.J. Pierzynski is the sort of catcher every team hates to face but loves to have on its bench. As part of the rebuilding team, Pierzynski had to work with an incredible amount of inexperienced pitchers and was instrumental in moving the team forward. A durable player, he not only played well defensively, but was not afraid to make an ugly hit and often started a game changing rally. I still rue the day that he was traded to make room for Joe Mauer. My close second was Butch Wynegar.
Starting pItcher: Frank Viola (1982-89)
Frankie "Sweet Music" Viola was instrumental in the Twins' first World Series championship. A 1988 Cy Young Award Winner, Viola made my list because of the smoothness of his pitches, uncharacteristic of most lefties. I selected him as he was a pioneer of the circle-change pitch, and thus, Viola was magnificent.
Starting pitcher: Bert Blyleven (1970-76 & 85-88)
Master of the curve ball, this crafty right-hander baffled batters for years. What I loved about Bert was not just his good pitches, but that he could joke at the fact that his fastball would regularly lead to home runs. Blylevin was instrumental in the '87 World Series championship win and is still a wonderful ambassador of baseball.
Starting pitcher: Jim Kaat (1959-73)
"Kitty" Kaat, as Jim Kaat was known, was a talented workhorse. A 16-time Gold Glove winner, Kaat was a smart pitcher who was the 10th man on the field. I chose him for his longevity--25 years in MLB--and for his magnificent curve ball. He hid his pitches behind him and could make his curve ball move.
Starting pitcher: Brad Radke (1995-06)
Brad Radke began his tenure with the Twins right after the glory days of two World Series championships. The Twins had a bit of a fire-sale in the late '90s, and they signed a lot of players who had seen better days. Brad Radke is on my list because he not only came out and pitched with pinpoint control, but for a time there, he was the single reason the Twins had anything in the win column. When the AA players came up to play, Radke was a seasoned veteran who showed the pitching staff how a professional conducted their business. His trademark offspeed pitches had a lot of movement and really confused the batters.
Starting pitcher: Francisco Liriano (2005-Current)
The best part of a disappointing era of the new Twins, Francisco Liriano is a strikeout perfectionist. His two-seam and four-seam fastballs startle batters. HIs slider finishes the deal. He is on my list because after career-threatening Tommy Johns surgery, he had to really change his style to prevent another injury. He made the necessary changes, but kept his overall style. Since then, he has pitched a no-hitter and has continued on as a strikeout king. He is truly amazing to watch.
Lefty specialist: Eddie Guardado (1993-03)
"Everyday Eddie" Guardado was literally that--every day. He was on this list because he came in and he shut things down. Sometimes every day of the week. On occasion, things got a little bit exciting with a full count, but in the end, Eddie overpowered the hitters. During the lean years, Eddie led the relief pitchers with his incredible work ethic.
Setup pitcher: Carl Willis (1991-95)
"The Train" kept the Twins in the game, before closer Rick Aguilera worked his magic. I picked Willis because he overpowered hitters and kept the Twins in the game. He was a hard working pitcher with some smoking pitches that helped the Twins win the World Series in 1991.
Closer: Rick Aguilera (1989-95) (1996-99)
The Twins have had three sensational closers: Jeff Reardon, Rick Aguilera and Joe Nathan. Although I considered each of these players deserving of All-Time status, Aguilera is the frontrunner because he was deemed so important, the Twins brought him back, after having traded him to Boston the previous season. His three pitches, fastball, slider and forkball served him well as a closer. He has always been considered a fan favorite.
Bench player: Al Newman (1987-91)
Al Newman has the distinction of being one of a few players who played on both World Series teams. He is on my list because of his his excellent base running, versatility--he could play any position--and his ability to produce during extreme circumstances. In addition, Newman was one of the most jovial and beloved players on this team.
Bench player: Gene Larkin (1987-93)
Manager Tom Kelly loved to have an arsenal on his bench and Gene Larkin was often his man. I chose Larkin because he was able to go up to bat, after having sat on the bench for eight innings, and was able to produce meaningful hits. Add that he was instrumental in both World Series hampionship wins, Larkin is at the top of my list.
Bench player: Cesar Tovar (1965-72)
Cesar Tovar not only had the talent to play every position on the field, and even did so in a game, he also was a leader in hitting. Tovar is on my list because most bench players are versatile, but most do not lead the American League in extra-base hits.Georgia Makitalo is a lifelong Twins fan, including having gone on road trips, to see the Twins play in other cities.
- Sports & Recreation
- Minnesota Twins
- Kirby Puckett
- Harmon Killebrew
- Tony Oliva