1979 Minnesota Twins
Manager: Gene Mauch 20th Season (4th with Minnesota 324-323)
82 W 80 L 764 RS 725 RA 4th AL West 6.0 GB (California 88-74)
4.72 RPG (AL = 4.67) 4.16 ERA (AL = 4.23)
.681 DER (13th AL)
All Stars (1) Roy Smalley
Franchise (1901-1979) 5815-6324-110; 11-21 Post Season; 11-15 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1979) 1601-1460-6; 3-10 Post Season; 3-4 WS
The Twins lost a future Hall of Famer when Calvin Griffith made the deal that sent Rod Carew to California, and many expected the 1979 Twins to look like the 1978 version of the team that was 19 games out of first place. It was a bit of a surprise with a mix of young and unproven players that the Twins were in contention deep into the 1979 season. The new additions of Ken Landreaux, Ron Jackson, and Jerry Koosman were all keys to the team’s success. They hung around almost the entire summer, and were within two games on several occasions. On September 22, with seven games left, the Twins were only two games out of first place. The team went on to drop six of their last seven, making the final standing look a lot less impressive than it probably was.
Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1979
C Butch Wynegar .270/.363/.351 7 HR 91 OPS+ 0.8 BFW 17 WS 47 FRAR 4.1 WARP3
Wynegar’s bat recovered from a difficult season in 1978, but his main value remained as one of the better defensive catchers in the league.
1B Ron Jackson .271/.337/.429 14 HR 102 OPS+ 0.5 BFW 14 WS 17 FRAR 1.2 WARP3
Jackson came to the Twins in the deal that sent Dan Ford to the California Angels. He had played outfield, third base, and first base in California, but found a home as the regular first baseman for the Twins. The Birmingham, AL native added some pop to the Twins’ lineup and, at the age of 26, appeared to have the potential for even more.
2B Rob Wilfong .313/.352/.458 9 HR 114 OPS+ 3.3 BFW 18 WS 16 FRAR 2.2 WARP3
Wilfong played sparingly as a backup for the Twins in 1977 and 1978. He finally got the chance to start in 1979. In addition to a reputation as a solid defender, he had his best offensive season in 1979, including a league-leading 25 sacrifice hits.
SS Roy Smalley .271/.353/.441 24 HR 110 OPS+ 5.6 BFW 24 WS 33 FRAR 4.0 WARP3
Smalley actually had a slightly worse season than he did in 1978, but began to get recognition for the fact that he had become one of the better shortstops in baseball. From Jim Kaplan’s article in the May 14, 1979 issue of SI:
Though it passed almost without notice, Roy Smalley was the league’s best at his position in 1978, when he hit .273, drove in 77 runs and led all shortstops with 19 homers, 287 putouts and 121 double plays. After undertaking an off-season weight program himself—it was suggested by a Los Angeles friend, Ron Klemp—Smalley started 1979 even hotter. He considers himself a step and a half faster in the field this year; at the plate he says he’s hitting for distance without trying to pull. “The bad things you hear about weights—tightness, decreased flex and speed—aren’t true as long as you keep playing your sport,” Roy Smalley says. “I bet that all world-class athletes have used weights. Even sprinters must have tremendous upper-body strength. And you can’t separate the physical from the psychological. As you get stronger, you think more positively.”
Though the pace he set at the beginning of the season slowed, Smalley went to his first (and only) All Star Game in July and actually garnered some MVP votes at the end of the season.
3B John Castino .285/.331/.397 5 HR 93 OPS+ 0.2 BFW 9 WS 7 FRAR -0.3 WARP3
Drafted by the Twins in 1976, Castino turned some heads in his rookie season, enough to tie with Toronto’s Alfredo Griffin for the AL Rookie of the Year Award at the end of the season. Also on the short list for AL ROY, a Yankee reliever by the name of Ron Davis.
LF Bombo Rivera .281/.324/.392 2 HR 90 OPS+ 0.1 BFW 5 WS 15 FRAR 0.8 WARP3
This was the only time in Rivera’s major league career that he was a regular all season. In 1980 he missed a chunk of the season due to broken kneecap suffered in April and returned to his role as outfield backup. Though signed by the Kansas City Royals, he only appeared in two games prior with the team in 1982 before his major league career was over, though he continued to be a regular in the Puerto Rican leagues through the 1980’s. Rivera had the most on field success of his career in the mid-1980’s in Japan, where he became a power hitter for Kintetsu. He retired from baseball after the 1989 season.
CF Ken Landreaux .305/.347/.450 15 HR 111 OPS+ -0.9 BFW 16 WS -2 FRAR 0.1 WARP3
Landreaux was the best player in the package that the Twins got for Rod Carew. He was the minor league player of the year in 1977, and though he had a tough time as the fourth outfielder in his first major league season with the Angels, Landreaux was considered a very good prospect. Landreaux started the season in left field, but slid over to start the bulk of the season in center field.
RF Hosken Powell .293/.360/.379 2 HR 97 OPS+ -0.6 BFW 8 WS 3 FRAR 0.0 WARP3
Powell improved on his numbers from his rookie season, but unfortunately for the Twins and for Powell it would turn out to be the best season of his career.
DH Jose Morales .267/.319/.335 2 HR 75 OPS+ -0.9 BFW 1 WS 0 FRAR -0.6 WARP3
DH/OF Glenn Adams .301/.350/.420 8 HR 104 OPS+ -0.6 BFW 8 WS -2 FRAR 0.1 WARP3
The left-handed portion of the Twins’ DH platoon was a much better hitter, but he was used solely against right-handed pitchers. In fact, Adams had only 10 plate appearances against left-handed pitching all season.
OF/DH Willie Norwood .248/.299/.385 6 HR 81 OPS+ -1.3 BFW 4 WS 3 FRAR -1.0 WARP3
IF Mike Cubbage .276/.371/.350 2 HR 93 OPS+ -1.1 BFW 5 WS -3 FRAR -0.8 WARP3
A couple of former starters rounded out the Twins’ bench in 1979. Neither had much success to come in the majors.