Best Players in Minnesota Twins History — The 1980s
In the fourth part of this six-part series, we take a look at the best players from the decade that brought the Twins their first World Series title since 1924, when the Twins were the Washington Senators. The majority of the decade did not go well for the Twins, with the team finishing under .500 seven times. But in the magical 1987 season, the Twins put it all together to win the World Series in seven games over the St. Louis Cardinals by taking the last two games in the series to come back from a 3-2 deficit.
Kirby Puckett came out of Calumet City High School, about a half hour south of Chicago, as a raw, unbridled bundle of talent. That talent turned into one of the best Twins of all-time and a Hall of Fame outfielder.
Puckett spent a year at Bradley University, where head coach Dewey Kalmer helped teach him the fundamentals of the game. Puckett then moved back home to Triton Community College before being drafted by the Twins as the third overall pick in the 1982 draft.
Puckett made his debut on May 8, 1984 and the rest is history.
Puckett spent his entire 13 year career with the Twins, and will be the only player to appear on two different decade lists.
Over his six seasons with the Twins during the 80's Puckett was a star. In his first season, Puckett finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, but over the course of the next five seasons, Puckett got MVP votes every year and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting four straight times from 1986-1989. He also made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger each of those years.
Puckett led the league in hits three straight years, from 1987-1989, and won the batting title in 1989 with a .339 batting average.
Over that four-year span, Puckett had a slash line of .339/.372/.520/.892 and averaged 23 home runs, 39 doubles, five triples, and 12 steals per season.
His best season over that period came in 1988 when he was worth 7.7 Wins Above Replacement and slashed, .356/.375/.545/.920 with 24 home runs, 121 runs batted in, with 42 doubles and a league-leading 234 hits and 109 runs scored.
Hrbek is another Twins' lifer, as he spent his entire fan-favorite career in the Twin Cities. Hrbek only made it to one All-Star game, in his rookie season in 1982, but he was the model of offensive consistency, hitting over .260, and having 40-50 extra base hits every season during the 1980's, including his injury-shortened 1989 season when he only played in 109 games.
Over the eight years he played in the 80's, Hrbek slashed, .291/.369/.498/.867 with an OPS+ of 133, all the while averaging 25 home runs, 27 doubles, and 90 runs batted in.
Hrbek was not one to strike out a lot despite his power, never striking out over 90 times in a season, and he had more walks than strikeouts every season from 1987 to his final year in 1994.
Hrbek's best season came in 1984 when he had a 5.5 WAR and slashed .311/.383/.522/.906 while hitting 27 home runs, 31 doubles, and driving in 107 runs.
After the 1991 season, Hrbek couldn't stay healthy, eventually leading to his retirement in 1994.
The token pitcher on the best-of list for the 1980's is the Twins ace from 1984-1988, Frank Viola.
From 1984-1988, Viola wasn't just the Twins ace but was also one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, finishing in the top 10 in Cy Young voting three times, and winning the award in 1988.
Over that stretch, Viola went 93-56 in 179 starts, with an ERA of 3.46, a FIP of 3.71, a WHIP of 1.232, and 1,261.0 innings pitched. In addition, Viola struck out 865 batters (an average of 173 a season) and threw 40 complete games, with eight being shutouts.
In his Cy Young award-winning season, Viola went 24-7, leading the league in wins, throwing 255.1 innings, and striking out 193, with a 2.95 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.136.
His greatest moment as a Twin, however, came in the 1987 World Series, when he led his team to the title and won the Series MVP. He had two wins during that Series, including his series-clinching, eight inning performance in Game 7, when he gave up only two runs while striking out seven Cardinal hitters.
The Twins traded Viola to the Mets during the 1989 season for Rick Aguilera, Tim Drummond, Kevin Tapani, and David West.
Even though Viola wasn't on the team at the time of the Twins title in 1993, his impact was felt as Kevin Tapani and David West were key members of the starting rotation, and Rick Aguilera was the closer for the Championship team.
Gary Gaetti was a key member of the 1987 World Series team and a steady contributor for the Twins throughout the 1980's.
Over his 10 years with the Twins, Gaetti's offensive numbers were .256/.307/.437/.744 and he hit a total of 252 doubles, 201 home runs, 1,276 hits, and drove in 758 batters.
Over his best four-year stretch for the Twins, from 1986-1989, Gaetti won four gold gloves for his defense at third base and garnered MVP votes three times. He slashed .274/.323/.490/.812 while averaging 28 doubles and 28 home runs per season, and driving in an average of 95 runs.
His best season came in 1986, when he hit .287/.347/.518/.865 and had 34 home runs and 34 doubles while driving in 108 batters.
After the 1990 season, Gaetti left the Twins and played for five other teams before retiring at age 41 in 2000.
The final member of this team was solely known for his power and the common negative statistic that goes with that, strikeouts - lots of strikeouts.
Over his seven years with the Twins, Brunansky struck out 589 times, an averaged of 96 times per season, eclipsing 100 times twice.
However, over that same time period, Brunansky hit 162 home runs and drove in 463 runs, or an average of 27 and 77 per season to go with 26 doubles per season, and a slash line of .251/.331/.455/.786
His best season, by my estimation, came in 1987, when Brunansky hit 32 home runs and 22 doubles, while driving in 85 runs, slashing .259/.352/.489/.841 and walking 74 times.
In the 1988 season, after only playing in 14 early-season games, Brunansky was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Tommy Herr. From that point on, Brunansky played for another two teams before retiring in 1994.
Later this week I'll take a look at the best Twins of the 1990's. You know that Kirby Puckett will be on the list, but who else will make it? Hint: One player got the yips after his time in Minnesota.