1991 Minnesota Twins
Manager: Tom Kelly 6th Season (6th with Minnesota 437-396)
95 W 67 L 776 RS 652 RA 1st AL West 8.0 GA (Chicago 87-75)
4.79 RPG (AL = 4.49) 3.69 ERA (AL = 4.09)
.710 DER (3rd AL)
All-Stars (4) Rick Aguilera, Scott Erickson, Jack Morris, Kirby Puckett
Franchise (1901-1991) 6717-7312-110; 27-29 Post Season; 19-21 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1991) 2499-2448-6; 19-18 Post Season; 11-10 WS
Minnesota caught lightning in a bottle in 1991. Unlike in 1987, the state’s only other World Series championship, the 1991 team did not advance thanks to a weak division. Quite the contrary, the last place team in the AL West was .500. The Twins were by far the best in a very good division. They got “normal” years from the expected stars- Hrbek, Puckett, etc., but also got some great performances from some unexpected places (the third base platoon, Munoz). The Twins found some long-awaited answers for questions that had lingered – second base, right field, and designated hitter. A couple of key veteran free agents, Jack Morris and Chili Davis, contributed and the young pitching staff, many of whom were acquired in the Frank Viola deal a few years earlier, all seemed to mature at once. In short, everything went right for this team.
Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1991
C Brian Harper .311/.336/.447 10 HR 111 OPS+ 0.7 BFW 15 WS 1.7 WAR
By 1991 it had become automatic that the Twins would get offensive production out of their veteran catcher. Harper had another very good season with the bat, and continued to be an underrated defensive catcher, mainly because he had a weak throwing arm, perhaps the most visible tool of a catcher.
1B Kent Hrbek .284/.373/.461 20 HR 125 OPS+ 0.9 BFW 19 WS 2.4 WAR
While Hrbek had another very good season, his season is probably best remembered for the tackle of Ron Gant in Game 2 of the World Series. The move made Hrbek a villain everywhere but in the upper-Midwest (almost AJ Pierzynski-like). Perhaps my favorite Hrbek moment of 1991, however, was his feud with Hawk Harrelson, the White Sox play-by-play man.
2B Chuck Knoblauch .281/.351/.350 1 HR 91 OPS+ 0.4 BFW 20 WS 2.3 WAR
Tom Herr, Wally Backman, Fred Manrique, and Nelson Liriano. The Twins had a long line of failed second basemen since their first World Series win in 1987. Things were different in 1991. For the first time in a long time, the Twins felt they had an in-house option at second base. Chuck Knoblauch was the 25th pick overall in the 1989 draft out of Texas A&M. Knoblauch played every inning of the team’s first 11 games, and was upset when Tom Kelly gave him a rest in game 12. “I know when I’ll need a rest, and I figure it will be around October 4.” said Knoblauch. Hiss .351 OBP was impressive for a rookie, but a lot of Knoblauch’s value came from his defense. With Gagne next to him, the Twins had one of the best double play combinations in baseball, and perhaps the best defensive infield in the game.
SS Greg Gagne .265/.310/.395 8 HR 90 OPS+ 0.6 BFW 12 WS 2.1 WAR
Gagne went 76 consecutive games without an error in 1991, one of the most steady performances from a very consistent shortstop. He also hit a three-run home run in Game 1 of the World Series.
3B Mike Pagliarulo .279/.322/.384 6 HR 91 OPS+ 0.9 BFW 9 WS 2.5 WAR
3B Scott Leius .286/.378/.417 5 HR 116 OPS+ 0.7 BFW 8 WS 1.7 WAR
One man played first base for the Twins for the bulk of the preious decade. When Gary Gaetti left after the 1990 season, the Twins had a pretty large hole to fill. It was perhaps no surprise that the team looked to two men to fill the role. Mike Pagliarulo had put up some pretty large power numbers with the Yankees in 1986 and 1987, but had fallen on some hard times and signed with the Twins in what might have been his last shot. The right-handed part of the platoon, Scott Leuis, was drafted by the Twins in the 13th round of the 1986 draft. His first major league experience came as a September call up for a last place team. The combination of Pags and Leius performed better than anyone could have predicted. Both were very good defensively, but the offensive production was one of the pleasant surprises of the 1991 season.
LF Dan Gladden .247/.306/.356 6 HR 80 OPS+ -1.7 BFW 7 WS 0.4 WAR
Gladden came full circle in 1991. He had his worst season since 1987, but once again seemed to get a lot of credit for team success. The emergence of Pedro Munoz, however, meant that the front office wasn’t as keen on Gladden as an everyday left fielder. He would be 34 years old in 1992, and he was seeking a multi-year seven-figure deal. Gladden and the Twins parted ways following the 1991 World Series. He went on to have a couple of productive years with the Tigers, then finished his playing career in Japan. The last memory most Twins fans have of Gladden is the trot home to score the World Series winning run.
CF Kirby Puckett .319/.352/.460 15 HR 119 OPS+ 1.3 BFW 21 WS 3.7 WAR
The Sporting News described 1991 as a “normal” season for Puckett, who had been putting up such big numbers for so many years that his batting lines had become an expectation. With team success came individual recognition. Puckett once again won the AL Gold Glove in the outfield (despite the fact that Tom Kelly had somewhat quietly started the process of moving him to right field) and finished seventh in AL MVP voting. Puckett’s seasons, and really his career, was highlighted by his performance in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.
RF Shane Mack .310/.363/.529 18 HR 140 OPS+ 2.1 BFW 20 WS 4.9 WAR
Somewhat lost in the shuffle of all the great performances in 1991, it is difficult to overstate Shane Mack’s contributions to the 1991 team. One of the major differences between him and some of the other players was that 1991 was not an outlier for Mack. He was one of the team’s best performers the year before, and would continue to be for the next three years. The big change for Mack in 1991, however, was power. He had 12 career home runs in almost 800 major league plate appearances prior to 1991.
DH Chili Davis .277/.385/.507 29 HR 141 OPS+ 2.5 BFW 22 WS 3.3 WAR
8, 8, 3, and 5. Those numbers represent the season home run total for the top Twins designated hitter from 1987 to 1990. Chili Davis, a key free agent signing in the off season, obliterated those numbers. His performance in 1991 still stands as the best season for a designated hitter in team history.
OF/1B Gene Larkin .286/.361/.373 2 HR 100 OPS+ -0.8 BFW 4 WS 0.9 WAR
It is interesting that Gene Larkin doesn’t get the “World Series hero” credit that Kirk Gibson does. Like Gibson, Larkin limped to the plate dramatically and won a World Series game with his bat. I suppose the major difference is that Gibson was his league’s MVP in 1988, while Larkin was a solid yet unspectacular role player for the 1991 Twins whose feat remains, for better or worse, overshadowed by what his teammate did the night before.
IF Al Newman .191/.260/.211 0 HR 30 OPS+ -2.3 BFW 4 WS -1.2 WAR
Newman was clearly well-liked, because with the numbers he posted in 1991 it is amazing that he got as much playing time as he did. Even more amazing is the fact that a 30 OPS+ guy was able to sign as a free agent with the Texas Rangers and earn almost 300 plate appearances the following season.
OF Pedro Munoz .283/.327/.500 7 HR 121 OPS+ 0.6 BFW 6 WS 0.3 WAR
The Twins acquired Pedro Munoz as almost an after-thought in their attempt to fill the second base hole in 1990. While Nelson Liriano was a bit of a bust, they had a player in Pedro Munoz. The 22-year-old was able to fill in both in right and left field. He performed well enough to earn an every day job in 1992.
OF Randy Bush .303/.401/.485 6 HR 140 OPS+ 0.6 BFW 6 WS 0.9 WAR
Bush thrived in the late-inning pinch hitter role. He had some big hits in 1991, which might be his best season.
C Junior Ortiz .209/.293/.261 0 HR 52 OPS+ -0.8 BFW 1 WS 0.0 WAR
Ortiz became the personal catcher for Scott Erickson, changed his name twice, and overall provided some comic relief from the backup catcher role.