As spring training is in full swing for our Minnesota Twins, it looks to be a long season for the hometown nine again. Who loses 19-0 in a spring training game and almost gets no-hit in the process? Stranger things have happened, but I’m going to bet a trip to the playoffs is not in the cards this year.
I started thinking about great Twins players during my lifetime. This was after listening to Terry Cashman’s great song, “Talkin’ Baseball.” There are many references to the outstanding players from the ‘60s and ‘70s in there, but these are people I never got a chance to watch play except in highlight reels. I’d like to take this week to look at great players from my frame of reference, the early ‘80s to today. Plus, let’s compare our best to the best in the game at those times.
1980s Twins: Our best was clearly Kirby Puckett. He was an outstanding hitter and fielder for the Twins and helped lead them to their first world championship in 1987. He was the player kids most looked up to and emulated in our own play. Kirby was a perennial Gold Glove and MVP candidate, and Bob Casey’s call every time he came to bat at the Metrodome will ring forever in the ears of anyone who attended a game.
How about MLB overall? There were so many great players during this time such as Wade Boggs, Eddie Murray, and George Brett, but I narrowed down my choice to Ricky Henderson or Cal Ripken, Jr. It comes down to this: Henderson was the greatest base stealer of all time and provided flair in the field and at bat. Ripken was the most consistent player in MLB history and was a solid all-around player. In the end, I went with Ripken. Day in and day out, you knew what you’d get out of the Baltimore Orioles’ shortstop, and that’s what made him great.
1990s Twins: This is a difficult decade. You started with another World Series win in 1991, but that core quickly dissipated and wasn’t around much after that year. There were some terrible years later in the decade, but I finally landed on the Twins’ second baseman for most of the decade, Chuck Knoblauch. He’s a player who played a crucial role in that World Series during a season where he was named Rookie of the Year, and he was solid in his remaining time with the Twins. Sure, he left on bad terms, but he was the best player the team had that decade.
As for the rest of baseball? This is an extremely difficult decade. The drug allegations that hang over so many players has left me in limbo with many of them. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens were some of my favorite players to watch over those ten years, but I just can’t get over what they did to help them become so dominant. One player who did not use drugs to become great was Ken Griffey, Jr. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ve likely never seen a prettier swing than what Griffey put on a pitch. The fluidity of his at-bats was aesthetically pleasing in every way. He also would glide around the outfield and helped turn the Seattle Mariners into a contender. He’s still one of my all-time favorite players.
2000-present Twins: Sure, it’s more than a decade, but this is really not a difficult decision. While some may still try to justify Joe Mauer as a cornerstone of the franchise and worth his big contract, I’ll take Torii Hunter as my best Twins player since the turn of the century. Hunter was similar to Puckett in his outfield heroics and provided a spark that made the team constant playoff contenders. Sure, his swing was erratic at times, but what really put him at the top was his last hurrah as a Twin after years away. He gave a clubhouse presence and one on the field that almost helped the Twins reach the playoffs again a couple of years ago. The team’s production pre- and post-Hunter show why he was the best we had.
And the rest of the league? Again, discounting Bonds and others who allegedly bulked up illegally, there are a lot of great players. Sluggers like Albert Pujols and David Ortiz helped lead teams to championships. Randy Johnson was as tough a pitcher to hit against as anyone. But at the end of the day, I’ll take Mariano Rivera, the closer for the New York Yankees. Now I hate the Yankees because of how successful they are, but I can’t help but admire Rivera’s dominance. If the Yankees had a lead late in a game, you were virtually assured that they would win. Rivera only threw one pitch, a cutter, but even when batters knew what was coming, they still couldn’t hit it. He was the best closer of all time, plain and simple.
Overall in that time period? Nah, I’m not going to go there. It’s so hard to compare players from different eras. How would Babe Ruth do today? Nobody knows. And I’m okay with that. Let’s give credit to players from each time period and leave it at that. Now, onward to baseball season!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is codswallop, which means nonsense, as in, “The older man thought the young buck was full of codswallop when he claimed Ripken was better than Henderson.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!