1990: Gaetti hits his 200th home run

Sunday September 23, 1990

On September 20, 1981, September call-up Gary Gaetti played in his first major league game and hit his first major league home run in a game against the Texas Rangers. On the mound for Texas was 33-year-old Charlie Hough.

Nine years and four days later, Gaetti faced Hough again and reached a milestone. From Dennis Brackin’s story in the Strib:

Gary Gaetti is 32 years old, in the midst of a season of discontent. But for a brief moment Sunday he managed to find a link between the present and the glories of days gone by.

The span was bridged by a Charlie Hough knuckleball that Gaetti deposited over the left field fence for a first-inning grand slam. The home run sent the Twins on their way to a victory, 6-4 over the Texas Rangers, in which rookie Scott Erickson gained his fourth straight victory and veteran closer Rick Aguilera his 29th save.

Gaetti’s home run was the 200th of his major league career.

The milestone was welcome relief from a difficult season for both Gaetti and the Twins. After the game, Gaetti was philosophical about the way that his 200th had come against the same pitcher as his 1st:

“I thought about it before the game,” Gaetti said of the prospect of reaching his personal milestone the way it had begun. “It sounds like a nice story for a book or whatever, but you kind of think sometimes that would be too good to be true.”

This has hardly been a season that dreams are made of for Gaetti. He is batting .233, his lowest mark since batting .230 in his first full major league season in 1982. He has made 18 errors, more than the last two seasons combined. He has 15 home runs and a team-leading 81 RBI, but those numbers pale in comparison to his figures in 1986 and 1987, when the third baseman surpassed 30 homers and 100 RBI in successive campaigns.

It has been largely a season of inconsistency that has left manager Tom Kelly puzzled. There are days when Gaetti looks like an All-Star, Gold Glove third baseman, which he was one season ago. There are other days when Kelly wonders about Gaetti’s focus on the game and even whether age might be taking a toll.

“Those thoughts go through your mind, and you wonder,” Kelly said earlier this month. “But you can still see the ability and the talent there. It’s certainly still there.”

Gaetti repeatedly has refused to talk in-depth about this season. He admits he is not happy with the year but offers only that he is “tired of trying to explain everything.”

There are times when the quiet introspection is broken, and the eyes sparkle like days of old. Yesterday was a page from the past, a day of power and clubhouse humor that centered around the team’s third baseman.

“I hit my first one off Hough, and Bushie (teammate Randy Bush) was saying I probably hit my last one off him, too,” Gaetti said, smiling. He appeared genuinely touched about reaching a home-run milestone achieved by only four other players in a Twins uniform: Harmon Killebrew (475), Tony Oliva (220), Kent Hrbek (223) and Bob Allison (211).

“When only a handful of players in Minnesota history have done it, that’s great,” Gaetti said. “I feel a sense of accomplishment knowing the names of the people that are ahead of me, to think that I can consider myself being a part of that group. But look how long it took me to do it. If I keep going at this pace, I might pass (all-time home run leader) Henry Aaron when I’m 60.”

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