The 1984 Twins seemed to limp into the season coming off a couple of bad years. Through those years, however, the Twins and manager Billy Gardner stuck with a group of young players through some tough play. That strategy paid off in the 1984 season.
In contrast to the image of the team in past years, the ’84 squad was viewed as a loose bunch. Led by Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti, the team was known for “the Hood” and “the Sombrero” as much as for their on-field exploits. The Hood was awarded to the player who most recently struck out three times in a game, the Sombrero to the pitcher who most recently allowed three home runs in a game. Additionally, the team loved pro wrestling, taking particular motivation from Jesse “the Body” Ventura’s claim at a local wrestling show that the team was “second-rate.”
The Twins attempted to prove the future governor wrong, and made a surprise appearance in the AL West race. They entered the final week of the season tied for the lead with Kansas City. Unfortunately, that is where the team’s loose demeanor ended.
Despite losing two out of three in Chicago, the Twins were still in the race entering a four-game series at Cleveland, a team that finished sixth in their division. The Twins lost the first game of the series after entering the bottom of the eighth inning with a 3-0 lead. The next night they outdid themselves. Up 10-0 with Frank Viola on the mound and a chance to extend the season, the Twins blew the lead in what was probably the biggest meltdown in team history. The team had a chance to escape the sixth inning still up 10-5, but a Gary Gaetti throwing error scored three and extended the inning. Gaetti famously remarked that it is “tough the throw to first base with both your hands around your neck.”
Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1984
SP Frank Viola 18-12 3.21 ERA 131 ERA+ 1.16 WHIP 3.92 FIP 2.9 PW 22 WS 4.1 WAR
The whispers that he was rushed to the major leagues followed Viola as he struggled through his first few years pitching for the Twins. That all changed in 1984, when Viola put together a very good season. His ERA was two full runs lower than it had been in either of his first two seasons. Viola was disappointed at the end of the season when he finished short of the 20-win mark, but made the prediction that he would win 20 at some point in his major league career. Viola earned some consideration for the AL Cy Young award, finishing sixth on the ballot.
SP Mike Smithson 15-13 3.68 ERA 114 ERA+ 1.19 WHIP 4.17 FIP 1.5 PW 18 WS 2.3 WAR
SP John Butcher 13-11 3.44 ERA 122 ERA+ 1.31 WHIP 3.83 FIP 1.6 PW 17 WS 2.3 WAR
Butcher and Smithson both came to the Twins in the Gary Ward trade. Though it wasn’t considered a great trade at the time, the two pitchers more than endeared themselves to Twins fans and made the Twins pitching staff as deep as it had been in several years. Smithson, who stood 6′ 8″ tall, was a product of the University of Tennessee. He was originally drafted by the Red Sox but made his major league debut as a Ranger in 1982. Butcher was originally drafted by the Rangers and came up through that system. Both had their best seasons in the major leagues with the Twins in 1984.
SP Ken Schrom 5-11 4.47 ERA 94 ERA+ 1.44 WHIP 4.40 FIP -0.5 PW 6 WS -0.2 WAR
Schrom started the season on the disabled list. Though his shoulder was considered a minor injury and the original plan was for him to pitch in April, Schrom did not make his season debut until the end of May. He never really got going after that, and went into 1985 battling for the fifth starter role.
SP Ed Hodge 4-3 4.77 ERA 88 ERA+ 1.45 WHIP 4.18 FIP -0.5 PW 4 WS -0.6 WAR
Former manager Johnny Goryl liked to talk up the phenomenal young lefty who was in the Twins’ minor league system in 1981 and scheduled to be in the majors in the next few years. Plans changed, however, when Hodge struggled in his first chance at the triple-A level. After spending a little more time in double-A and triple-A, Hodge was ready for the big club, four years after Goryl was out as manager. Hodge struggled in his first appearance in the majors, but looked solid in his next few outings. He was in and out of the rotation due to injuries to other pitchers, so he never really got the chance to pitch regularly. Hodge would not see the major leagues again after 1984.
CL Ron Davis 7-11 4.55 ERA 93 ERA+ 1.45 WHIP 4.26 FIP -0.4 PW 9 WS -0.6 WAR
A year removed from being one of the best stoppers in baseball, Ron Davis had a few more struggles. He didn’t pitch terribly all season, but set a record with 14 blown saves. He seemed to wait for the highest-stake games to have his biggest meltdowns. He blew 14 saves in 1984, but it was the last two that are usually remembered. Davis came to the mound twice in must-win situations in late September and came away with two blown saves and two losses.
RP Pete Filson 6-5 4.10 ERA 103 ERA+ 1.35 WHIP 4.75 FIP 0.2 PW 7 WS 0.5 WAR
RP Rick Lysander 4-3 3.49 ERA 121 ERA+ 1.57 WHIP 3.88 FIP 0.6 PW 5 WS 0.5 WAR
The Twins didn’t have a very deep bullpen after Davis, so they got a lot of work out of their two most reliable arms. Lysander and Filson combined for almost 180 innings, though some of Filson’s came as a spot-starter.