COMMENTARY | Now that the Minnesota Twins have traded away Justin Morneau to the Pittsburgh Pirates, this is a good time to look at the greatest first basemen in Twins history and see where Morneau ranks.
The Twins don't have a long list of slugging first basemen to choose from. While first base is normally a position used for players with a lot of power, the Twins have ended up using players without much power for a number of years. These players have included Rich Reese and Doug Mientkiewicz.
It is also well-known that the Twins basically gave away a couple of first basemen to the Boston Red Sox. Both Mientkiewicz and David Ortiz helped the Red Sox end a long World Series drought.
The Twins have had three players that stand out well above the others that have played first base for the team. They left an indelible mark on the team and baseball history.
3. Justin Morneau
Morneau was a four-time All-Star, won two American League Silver Slugger Awards for first basemen, and was the AL MVP in 2006. He batted .278/.347/.485 in 1,278 games with the Twins. He had 221 home runs and 860 RBIs, which are third and fifth, respectively, in Twins history.
Despite these great numbers, there will always be questions as to how good Morneau could have been had he not gotten a knee to his batting helmet that gave him a severe concussion in July of 2010. Morneau was having a career year in 2010 when the concussion sidelined him for the season.
[Watch: Morneau Makes National League Debut]
Morneau had only once before surpassed .900 in OPS for a season, which was in his MVP season of 2006. In 2010, Morneau had an OPS of 1.055 when he was sidelined.
Morneau's career numbers up to that point were .286/.358/.511. Since the concussion, he's batting .257/.318/.412 and will have consecutive seasons of more than 100 strikeouts after never having more than 94 in a season.
2. Kent Hrbek
Very few Twins were as beloved as Hrbek. He was born and raised in Bloomington, Minn., and played his entire career for his hometown Twins. He came up straight from Class A in September of 1981 and became a fan-favorite in 1982 when he batted .301/.363/.485 and finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting to some shortstop named Cal Ripken.
Hrbek then finished second in the MVP voting in 1984 when he led the Twins to a surprising .500 finish that was nearly good enough to win the division.
His emergence as an elite player was one of the first parts of a turnaround that took a team that lost 102 games in 1982 to World Series championships in 1987 and 1991. Hrbek was one of four core players, along with Kirby Puckett, Greg Gagne and Dan Gladden, to play for the Twins' only two championship teams.
Hrbek batted .282/.367/.481 for his career. He was known as a slugger, but he was a rare power hitter that walked more times than he struck out in his career, and he batted better than .300 three times in his career.
What also endeared Hrbek to the Minnesota fans was his self-deprecating humor, his playful nature, and his love of the outdoors. Hrbek was famous for going duck hunting the morning of Game 7 of the 1987 World Series.
1. Harmon Killebrew
He was known as "Killer" -- but only because of what he did to baseballs. His moonshots and gentle nature were in stark contrast to each other, but the combination was why he could be one of the few Twins more popular than Hrbek.
Killebrew's 475 home runs are a Twins record. Hrbek (293) and Morneau (221) are second and third on the team's all-time lists. Killebrew had 573 home runs in his career, a major-league record for right-handed batters at the time, but he hit 84 of those while the franchise was still the Washington Senators and 14 came in his final season when he played for the Kansas City Royals.
First base wasn't Killebrew's only position. He also played third base and the outfield. However, Killebrew played at first base more than any other position, which is why he's on the list for the Twins' greatest first basemen.
Killebrew was a player ahead of his time. He was very good at the three "true" outcomes for baseball games, which are home runs, walks and strikeouts. This is because the defense is not involved in all three.
As a Twin, Killebrew led the AL in home runs five times, led the AL in walks four times, and led the AL in strikeouts in 1962, which is the year he also led the AL in home runs and RBIs. Killebrew also is the only Twin to hit 40 or more home runs in a season, which he did seven times. He twice hit 49 home runs in a season but could not ever get to 50.
Killebrew was an 11-time All-Star and won the MVP in 1969. He led the league that year in home runs (49), RBIs (140), walks (145) and on-base percentage (.427). He finished his career batting .256/.376/.509, which looks even better when you take into account the low-scoring environment that he played most of his career in.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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