1976 Minnesota Twins
Manager: Gene Mauch 17th Season (1st with Minnesota 85-77)
85 W 77 L 743 RS 704 RA 3rd AL West 5.0 GB (Kansas City 90-72)
4.59 RPG (AL = 4.01) 3.69 ERA (AL = 3.52)
.695 DER (9th AL)
All Stars (2) Rod Carew, Butch Wynegar
Franchise (1901-1976) 5576-6078-110; 11-21 Post Season; 11-15 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1976) 1362-1214-6; 3-10 Post Season; 3-4 WS
Though it had been seven years (and two Twins managers) since Billy Martin led the Twins to the first ever AL West Division title, he was still considered the standard by which all Twins managers would be compared. So it wasn’t surprising when Calvin Griffith set out to replace Frank Quilici before the 1976 season many fans and writers were looking for someone who would fill the significant shoes left by Martin those years ago.
Griffith looked outside of the organization and landed the most experienced manager he could find. Gene Mauch had 16 seasons under his belt when he became the seventh manager of the Minnesota Twins. All of his prior experience had been in the National League with Philadelphia (1960-1968) and Montreal (1969-1975). Mauch was given something that none of the six previous Twins’ managers had: job security. Calvin Griffith signed him to a three-year deal.
“I knew he was the man I wanted.” said Griffith, “I felt that we needed someone who would be tougher with our players. I felt we needed someone from outside our organization. I like the way Gene handled his teams in spring training. There was no loafing.”
When asked if the three-year deal meant that Mauch would be with the Twins for three years, Griffith responded with “no comment.”
The big news during the 1976 season was the Bert Blyleven trade (covered in detail in part two) and the team’s best record since 1970. The Twins finished with 85 wins thanks to their offense, the most prolific run-scoring offense in the American League in 1976. Unlike the Twins teams of the 1960’s who would home run their way to victory, this version of the Twins did not use the long ball. They totaled just 81 home runs, 8th in the American League. This version of the Twins scored runs by getting on base (AL leading .339 OBP as a team) and with their speed (51 triples – 2nd in the AL, 146 stolen bases – 5th in the AL).
Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1976
C Butch Wynegar .260/.356/.363 10 HR 0.8 BFW 20 WS 21 FRAR 6.1 WARP3
The Twins took a prep catcher, Butch Wynegar, in the second round of the 1974 amateur draft. Harold Delano Wynegar, Jr was a switch-hitter who earned the nickname “Butch” due to his chubby frame as an infant. On his way to the majors, Wynegar won the Appalachian League batting title in his first professional season with a .346 batting average. His success continued for the next few years and, despite the Twins’ organization attempts to keep him in the minor leagues for seasoning, Wynegar’s performance would not allow them to do so. He made his debut in the 1976 season and made an immedate impact in the majors. At the age of 20, Wynegar made the American League All Star team and was named TSN’s AL Rookie of the Year following the season.
1B Rod Carew .331/.395/.463 9 HR 2.7 BFW 30 WS 11 FRAR 9.2 WARP3
The long awaited move for Rod Carew finally came in 1976. After years of speculation by the media, Carew made the change from second base to first base. At the age of 30, Carew seemed to be on top of the world. Prior to the 1976 season, he signed a three year contract with the Twins and was set for his seemingly inevitable run at a fifth consecutive AL batting title. What Bob Fowler from TSN had called baseball’s only “sure bet” in the spring didn’t pan out as Carew finished third in the batting race behind a pair of Royals; George Brett and Hal McRae. Still, Carew finished fifth in AL MVP voting and made his 10th consecutive All Star team.
The batting race in 1976 was fascinating and controversial. It came down to the final day. Coincidentally, the Royals and the Twins were playing in Kansas City for the final series of the season so all three contenders were playing on the same field. Prior to game 161, Kansas CIty had already clinched the division, so Brett and McRae both were benched in preparation for the playoffs. During the warm ups for Game 2, McRae made a comment to Carew, as reported in TSN, saying “No way you’re going to win another title. We’re going to walk you the next two games and George and I aren’t going to play.” When Gene Mauch caught wind of this he approached Whitey Herzog and the two managers agreed there would be no intentional walks of the three contenders in the last two games. With McRae percentage points ahead of teammate George Brett, Carew went 3-for-4 to pull within two points of the leaders, meaning that Brett and McCrae would have to play on the final day to try and ensure a batting title.
All three had success on the final day, but George Brett won the title when his blooper was misplayed by Steve Braun in left field. Braun let the ball bounce over his head for an inside-the-park home run that ended Brett’s season at .333 thanks to a 3-for-4 afternoon. McCrae went 2-for-4 but grounded out in his final at bat. McCrae angrily accused Braun of delibrately misplaying the ball, and initially suggested that his race might have been a factor, but later backed off that statement. Carew went 2-for-4 that day as well to finish third in the batting race.
2B Bob Randall .267/.317/.328 1 HR -0.2 BFW 12 WS 14 FRAR 2.9 WARP3
Randall made his major league debut at the age of 28. He was drafted by the Dodgers in 1969 and spent seven seasons with various minor league teams prior to his debut as the Twins’ regular second baseman.
SS Roy Smalley .271/.353/.344 2 HR 2.5 BFW 14 WS 30 FRAR 5.6 WARP3
Smalley was a product of USC and the first overall pick in the 1974 amateur draft. He had played just over 100 games with the team that drafted him, the Rangers, when he was traded to the Twins as part of the Bert Blyleven deal. Smalley had been a bit of a disappointment early on in Texas, but had been trying to learn a new position (2B) after playing shortstop most of his life. Even with the slow start, at age 23 Smalley seemingly had a lot of promise. Though Minnesota was a new place for Smalley, there was at least one familiar face. He was now playing for his uncle, Gene Mauch. Mauch installed Smalley at shortstop, a position he manned for the rest of the decade in Minnesota.
3B Mike Cubbage .260/.344/.371 3 HR 1.2 BFW 12 WS 19 FRAR 4.3 WARP3
Cubbage was another product of the Blyleven trade. Like Smalley, Cubbage was young (25 years old) and seemed to have a great career ahead of him. At one time, Cubabge was conisidered the top hitting prospect in the Rangers’ system. The left-handed hitter was also valuable because of his versatility on defense, Cubbage could play at second or third. Cubbage, considered to be a “throw-in” at first, quickly became the Twins’ regular third basemen. On August 10 in Baltimore, Cubbage had the distinction of being the only Twin to get a hit off of Jim Palmer.
LF Larry Hisle .272/.335/.394 14 HR 1.2 BFW 19 WS 32 FRAR 7.8 WARP3
Hisle’s numbers were down a bit from the previous two years, but he was still a very valuable member of the Twins, finishing first or second on the team in many offensive categories (Rod Carew was the leader in most). On June 4, he became the seventh player in franchise history to hit for the cycle in a game. With all of his success, Hisle was very disappointed that Calvin Griffith offered a low-ball contract after the season was over.
CF Lyman Bostock .323/.364/.430 4 HR 1.6 BFW 19 WS 13 FRAR 6.0 WARP3
While solid in his rookie season, Bostock broke out in his sophmore campaign, earning the owner’s award for most improved Twin in 1976. Bostock attributed his success to his uncle. In the midst of a slump during the 1975 season, Bostock visited his uncle looking for sympathy. Instead of sympathy, Bostock’s uncle gave him a tongue-lashing about his frequent arguments with umpires and hot dog attitude on the field. The encounter changed Bostock, and the difference was noticable not only in his attitude, but in his success on the field. On July 24, less than two months after his teammate hit for the cycle, Bostock did the same, becoming the eighth man in franchise history to hit for the cycle.
RF Dan Ford .267/.323/.457 20 HR 0.2 BFW 18 WS 4 FRAR 5.1 WARP3
Disco Dan was another among the Twins’ hitters who improved his performance from the year before. Ford also had the distinction of being the first player to hit a home run in the newly-remodeled version of Yankee Stadium.
DH/1B Craig Kusick .259/.344/.432 11 HR 0.9 BFW 10 WS 1 FRAR 2.7 WARP3
DH/OF/3B Steve Braun .288/.384/.353 3 HR 1.3 BFW 16 WS 7 FRAR 4.7 WARP3
Kusick and Braun essentially ended up platooning in the DH role, with Tony Oliva playing when he was able. With Oliva retired and Braun left unprotected and drafted by Seattle in the expansion draft, the DH job would be Kusick’s alone in 1977.
DH Tony Oliva .211/.234/.260 1 HR -1.0 BFW 0 WS 0 FRAR -0.7 WARP3
To say that Oliva’s final season was forgettable would be an understatement, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was one of the franchise’s all-time great players. In 15 seasons, all with the Twins, Oliva posted the following numbers:
.304/.353/.476 131 OPS+ 220 HR 135 FRAR 66.7 WARP3
After 15 years and seven knee surgeries, Oliva was forced to retire at the age of 37. Take away the knee problems and is difficult to argue that Oliva does not belong in the Hall of Fame.