The Franchise 1995 (Position Players)

March 19, 2014

C Matt Walbeck -0.1 WAR
C Matt Merullo -0.2 WAR
It wasn’t difficult for Walbeck to improve on his 1994 numbers. He improved greatly (from 37 OPS+ to 61 OPS+) but still managed to be one of the worst-hitting regular players in the league. Matt Merullo was Carlton Fisk’s back up in Chicago in the early part of the 90’s, and became Scott Erickson’s personal catcher for much of the 1995 season.

1B Scott Stohoviak 0.2 WAR
1B Dan Mastellar -0.9 WAR
1B Dave McCarty -0.2 WAR
Kent Hrbek left some big shoes to fill, and the organization didn’t have much to fill them with at first base in 1995. The hope was that 1991 1st round draft pick McCarty would pan out, but after struggling early in the season he was traded to Cincinnati where he played a few weeks in the minor leagues before being traded to San Francisco.

2B Chuck Knoblauch 6.7 WAR
Against the backdrop of a terrible team, Chuck Knoblauch quietly had his breakout season at the age of 26. It was hands down his best season so far, and is likely only surpassed by his 1996 numbers in Knoblauch’s career. Yet, when covered in the media, Knoblauch was either the subject of trade rumors, or asked to comment on where he thought Kirby Puckett would play in 1996.

SS Pat Meares 2.8 WAR
SS Jeff Reboulet 2.6 WAR
Both of these players had career years with the Twins in 1995, Meares at age 26, Reboulet at 31.

3B Scott Leius 0.4 WAR
Leuis had his greatest success as a Twin when he was platooned with Mike Pagliarulo in 1991. Throughout his six seasons with the Twins, Leius was consistent in that he didn’t hit right-handed pitching well, but was very good against lefties.

LF Marty Cordova 3.3 WAR
Cordova followed up his ROY season with an impressive sophomore effort. Unfortunately for the Twins he wouldn’t see success like this again until he was in an Indians uniform in 2001.

CF Rich Becker -0.7 WAR
Becker played a handful of games the previous two seasons, but got his first shot as a regular in 1995 after Alex Cole broke his leg early in the season. His first full season was pretty bad.

RF Kirby Puckett 3.1 WAR
Puckett was still the face of the Twins at the age of 34 and had another very good season. His announcement that he would be fulfill his two option years with the Twins was expected, and only slightly shared the spotlight with the broken jaw that Puckett had suffered from a Dennis Martinez fastball at the end of the season. All signs pointed to another productive season from the team’s star in 1996. As it turned out, that Martinez pitch was the last regular season pitch that Puckett would see.

Even though his career was cut short, Kirby Puckett was enshrined in Cooperstown in 2001. He died in 2006 at the age of 45. There were a lot of post-playing career issues that tend to tarnish Puckett’s reputation, but on the field he was the star player on a team that won two World Series, and one of the most enjoyable players for a fan to watch.

DH Pedro Munoz -0.1 WAR


The Franchise 1995 (Part 1)

March 17, 2014

1995 Minnesota Twins

Manager Tom Kelly 10th season (10th with Minnesota 707-707)
56 W 88 L 703 RS 889 RA 5th AL Central 44 GB (Cleveland 100-44)
4.88 RPG (AL = 5.06) 5.76 ERA (AL = 4.71)
.684 DER (10th AL)

All Stars (1) Kirby Puckett

Franchise (1901-1995) 6987-7623-110; 27-29 Post Season; 19-21 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1995) 2769-2759-6; 19-18 Post Season; 11-10 WS

When Major League Baseball opened spring training in February 1995, there still was no settlement. Players invited to Twins (and other) camps were a combination of minor league players and replacements. The Twins were among the few teams that used primarily replacement players in spring training. Many teams used primarily minor league players, which “perplexed” the Twins’ organization according to reporter Scott Miller, who quoted manager Tom Kelly:

I don’t understand it, but I guess everyone has their own agenda.

Part of the problem for the Twins was that, had the season started as scheduled, 10 of their first 12 games were scheduled against teams that would not be fielding replacements (Baltimore’s owner Peter Angelos refused to play games with replacements, and Toronto had a law that did not permit the use of replacement workers during a strike). Despite all of the uncertainty, it looked as though baseball would be played on April 3 until some last minute negotiating finally brought the strike to an end, officially on April 2, one day before the season was to start.

The season was delayed three weeks and fan backlash was huge around baseball, including in Minnesota where attendance dropped from an average of 23,704 fans per game in 1994 to just 17,338 in 1995. In the Twins’ case, it didn’t help that the team’s winning percentage was only .389 (which translates to a 97 or 98 loss season, much like the 2011-2013 seasons for the Twins). There were a few bright spots, including very good seasons from Kirby Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch and a Rookie of the Year award for Marty Cordova, but overall 1995 was a forgettable year for the Twins.


The Franchise 1994 (Part 2)

March 14, 2014

Pitchers

SP Kevin Tapani 2.1 WAR
SP Scott Erickson 0.5 WAR
These two were widely assumed to be the future of the Twins’ pitching staff in the early 90’s, and conventional wisdom said both would bounce back from sub-par 1993 performances to regain status as two of the top pitchers in the league. The problem with conventional wisdom, of course, was the Tapani had actually been pretty consistent in every category except for wins/losses, and the expectations surrounding Erickson were inflated due to his outlying 1991 season. Tapani’s 11-7 record in 1994 was enough to be perceived as comeback season even though the underlying numbers were very similar to 1993. Erickson didn’t compile quite as many losses, so his season was considered a success as well, even though it looked a lot like 1993 as well. Both pitchers were the subject of numerous trade rumors, but both remained Twins into 1995.

SP Jim Deshaies -1.3 WAR
The Twins dealt Deshaies towards the end of the 1993 season but resigned with the Twins in the off season. At age 34, however, Deshaies had nothing left in the tank, and fell off dramatically from a league average pitcher in 1993 to one of the worst regular starters in the league in 1994.

SP Pat Mahomes 1.9 WAR
23-year-old Pat Mahomes was a bright spot for the Twins pitching staff in 1994. Despite this, he was still thought to be a few years from his prime. Mahomes walked more batters than he struck out (62 BB, 53 K), and allowed 22 home runs in 120 innings pitched, so in some ways his 1994 season was more a function of luck. It would also turn out to be his best career season. In August, Mahomes was in a car accident

SP Carlos Pulido 0.2 WAR
The fifth spot in the rotation was filled by rookie Carlos Pulido, who stayed in the rotation partially due to injuries and partially due to the fact that there weren’t many options. Pulido wouldn’t surface in major league baseball again until he made a few appearances for the Twins in 2003 and 2004.

CL Rick Aguilera 0.5 WAR
Aguilera continued to be one of the premier closers in baseball despite the fact that trade rumors continued to follow him wherever he went. For his part, Aguilera said that he was happy in Minnesota. He liked the coaching staff and wanted to continue to play with the Twins.

RP Carl Willis -1.2 WAR
RP Mark Guthrie -1.2 WAR
RP Mike Trombley -0.4 WAR
To set up Aguilera, the Twins figured that these three, who had been solid performers for several years, would continue to have success. All three fell off a cliff in 1994. Willis pitched 2/3 of an inning with the Twins in 1995 before retiring. The Big Train served as Cleveland’s pitching coach for a long time, and was just recently relieved of his duties as Mariners pitching coach.


1998: Spring Training Notes

March 13, 2014

March 1998

The two major stories coming out of the winter were the threat that the team may leave Minnesota and the Chuck Knoblauch trade.

In the fall following the 1997 season, the Carl Pohlad signed a letter of intent to sell the team to North Carolina businessman Don Beaver. The sale would be voided if funds were approved by the Minnesota Legislature for a new stadium, but if finalized, the team was destined to move to North Carolina. Several deadlines had come and gone by the time players reported for spring training, but the future of the team remained up in the air, and it was assumed by many that 1998 would be the final season for the Twins in Minnesota.

It was against this backdrop that the Terry Ryan began shopping the team’s best player. Knoblauch trade rumors had been a staple of hot stove talk in Minnesota for several years, but things finally heated up as both player and organization amped up efforts to trade. Initially, it appeared that Ryan might be asking too much for the second baseman. As the winter wore on, two teams that seemed most interested, Cleveland and Atlanta, backed out. Both said Ryan was asking for too much.

Ryan remained confident that a deal could be made before camp opened, and the focus shifted to the New York Yankees, who reportedly had been making a run at Randy Johnson. The deal was finalized in early February. The Twins received Eric Milton, Brian Buchanan, Cristian Guzman, and Danny Mota. It was expected that Milton and Buchanan had the best chance of making an immediate impact for the Twins. Milton, in fact, had a very good spring.

On the field, the news surrounded the new lead off hitter, Otis Nixon, and the status of Paul Molitor’s shoulder. Despite the fact that he was 39 years old, it was expected that Nixon would fill the leadoff role and steal some bases for the Twins. 41-year-old Molitor was recovering from double-hernia surgery in the offseason, but also had a slight tear of the left labrum. Molitor made his way into the lineup slowly, but was ultimately ready for Opening Day.


1995: Shane Mack goes to Japan

March 11, 2014

Shane Mack was set to make a run at free agency after the 1994 season, and had baseball moved on as usual he was likely tomack make a killing. The 30-year old had been with the Twins for five seasons by then. During that time, Mack was one of the best players on a Twins team full of stars as evidenced by his .305/.375/.479 slash line and combined 130 OPS+. Unfortunately, the strike happened, and Mack took his skills to Japan.

It is hard to blame him in retrospect. In January 1995, when Mack signed with the Yomiuri Giants, it was unclear if there would even be a 1995 season in the States. While the owners and players were actively damaging business in MLB, things were booming for Japanese baseball. Mack signed a two-year contract for $8.1 million, about $1 million more per year than the highest offer from the Twins (an offer that was pulled off the table in negotiations between team and agent). The contract Mack did sign was, at the time, the richest in the history of Japanese baseball.

Mack was not the first major league player to seek greener pastures during the strike. Just a month earlier, Julio Franco signed a two-year deal with the Chiba Lotte Mariners for a reported $7 million. Franco, who spent the 1994 season with the White Sox, Franco negotiated an opt out clause, however, and was able to return to the U.S. to play for the Cleveland Indians for the 1996 season.

In February, the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks signed Kevin Mitchell for $4 million for 1995 plus an option year, making Mack’s tenure as the Japanese salary king just over a month long.

There isn’t much information about Mack’s time in Japan. It seems that his team played in front of a packed house at a 60,000 seat stadium. In the two years, Mack had a .284/.356/.463 slash line with 42 home runs.  Notably, Mack shared the outfield with a 21-year-old Hideki Matsui and the team won the Japan Central League in 1996.

Mack returned to the States for the 1997 season. He finished his career with the Red Sox, A’s, and Royals over the course of the 1997 and 1998 seasons.


The Franchise 1994 (Part 1)

March 10, 2014

1994 Minnesota Twins

Manager: Tom Kelly 9th Season (9th with Minnesota 651-619)
53 W 60 L 594 RS 688 RA 4th AL Central 14 GB (Chicago White Sox 67-46)
5.26 RPG (AL = 5.23) 5.68 ERA (AL = 4.80)
.673 DER (12th AL)

All Stars (2) Chuck Knoblauch, Kirby Puckett

Franchise (1901-1994) 6931-7535-110; 27-29 Post Season; 19-21 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1993) 2713-2671-6; 19-18 Post Season; 11-10 WS

1994 was a remarkable year around baseball. While the MLB celebrated history by commemorating the 125th anniversary of the founding of organized professional baseball, it also moved forward with a few of Bud Selig’s more notable changes to the game. Both leagues were realigned into three divisions each, and the 1994 baseball post season was set for an eight-team format that would include a wild-card team from each league. That of course, did not come to pass. Instead, the game actually set itself back several years by shutting down in early August due to a player’s strike.

The baseball that was played seemed to be a different brand. In 1993, the AL averaged 4.71 runs per game. That number ballooned rather suddenly to 5.23 runs per game. When the National League’s numbers were included, teams were scoring at their highest rates since 1936. Teams averaged 1.03 home runs per game, up from 0.89 a year before, and the most in the history of the game save the outlying 1.06 in 1987.

The Twins’ offense, still primarily a mix of veterans from the franchise’s two trips to the World Series, kept pace in scoring, but struggled keeping other teams from scoring. General Manager Andy MacPhail indicated that he expected the team would struggle for a few years before once again becoming competitive. There was some hope that the team might make one more run with the Hrbek-Puckett team, but it was not to be.

C Matt Walbeck -0.7 WAR

He won’t hit like Brian Harper, but the Twins are happy with his work ethic, his attention to detail behind the plate, hit intelligence, arm, his ability to block pitches and the fact that he appears savy beyond his 24 years.

So said Jim Souhan in his preview of the 1994 season. Walbeck did not hit like Harper. Among qualified batters, he was dead last in both batting average (.204) and slugging percentage (.284).

1B Kent Hrbek -0.2 WAR
Though the official announcement was not made until after the work stoppage, it was no secret that 1994 was going to be Kent Hrbek’s last season. Tom Kelly alluded to it when he refused to bench Hrbek during a mid-season slump (though the lack of solid options at first may have had something to do with Kelly’s decision). Despite season-long struggles with various injuries, Hrbek ended his career on a high note, streaking in his last 33 games with a .297/.361/.458 slash line.

The Bloomington native played all of his major league games with the Minnesota Twins. At the time of his retirement, Hrbek had the record for the most indoor home runs in baseball history with 166. Additionally, he still is the historical leader in “Hardware Hank” home runs with 34 balls hit into the upper deck seats in right field of the Metrodome.

2B Chuck Knoblauch 4.1 WAR
Knoblauch had his best season to date in 1994, and he was in the conversation, with Carlos Baerga and Roberto Alomar, as the best second baseman in the American League. There were some whispers at the end of the season that the Twins might try Knoblauch at shortstop, the position he played at Texas A&M, to make room for first round draft pick Todd Walker in a couple of years.

SS Pat Meares 0.4 WAR
The Twins brought rookie Denny Hocking into training camp to try and push Meares, but the job was always going to belong to Pat, who improved his offense from the year before but continued to be suspect in the field.

3B Scott Leius 0.9 WAR
Leius recovered from the torn rotator cuff that erased all but a small portion of his 1993 season to play every day at third base for the Twins.

LF Shane Mack 3.9 WAR
With Chuck Knoblauch figuring in the team’s future plans, and Puckett and Hrbek retiring, Shane Mack was the focus of most of the trade rumors during the 1994 season. This was the last of Mack’s five very good seasons with the Minnesota Twins, and probably his best. He set career highs in all of the slash stats and was set for a big pay day as a free agent after the season. As the strike extended into 1995, however, the rumors that the Twins would resign Mack proved to be premature as the former All Star signed with the Yomiuri Giants to play baseball in Japan. Mack spent his 26-30 year-old seasons with the Twins, and rather quietly compiled a .309/.375/.479 line.

CF Alex Cole 1.8 WAR
The Twins signed Cole for the purpose of having a classic lead off hitter on the roster. He performed well for the team in 1994, but had a reputation for making mistakes, particularly on the base paths.

RF Kirby Puckett 3.7 WAR
Though he continued losing steps in the field, Puckett was still a force at the plate in 1994. With the strike looming, much of the talk around Puckett was how much time he would lose in his quest for 3,000 hits.

DH Dave Winfield 0.1 WAR
42-year-old Dave Winfield was a victim of a combination of injuries and an organizational youth movement in 1994. He appeared in only 77 games in 1994 and it was clear that if he was going to play another season, which was his desire, it would be elsewhere. Winfield signed with Cleveland in 1995, his final season. Though he spent only two seasons with the Twins, the St. Paul native made memories by getting his 3,000th hit while he was with his hometown team.

OF Pedro Munoz 0.6 WAR

IF Jeff Roboulet 0.8 WAR


The Franchise 1993 (Part 2)

April 18, 2012

Roster/Stats (Pitchers)
Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1993

SP Kevin Tapani 12-15 4.43 ERA 98 ERA+ 1.32 WHIP 3.71 FIP 2.8 WAR
Kevin Tapani in 1993 looked very similar to Kevin Tapani in 1992, the main difference that he essentially flipped his won/loss record. Accordingly, everybody wondered what had happened to Tapani.

SP Scott Erickson 8-19 5.19 ERA 84 ERA+ 1.50 WHIP 4.05 FIP 1.0 WAR
Erickson came into his final two starts of the 1993 season with the chance to join Pedro Ramos (1961) in the Twins’ 20-loss club. He earned a no-decision in both, including a 6 1/3 inning effort at Fenway Park in a Twins’ loss. He still ended the season with a league-worst 19 losses, but gained some credit from Tom Kelly for “being competitive enough to stare down 20 losses.”

SP Willie Banks 11-12 4.04 ERA 107 ERA+ 1.54 WHIP 4.09 FIP 2.4 WAR
Banks had some success in his first full season in the majors, and may have been the best of the Twins rotation in 1993. Still, the former first round pick was not developing as quickly as the Twins would have liked, so his success meant that his trade value peaked. The Twins sent him to Chicago in exchange for Matt Walbeck and Dave Stevens. As it turned out, 1993 was Banks’ best career season. He bounced around the league playing for six different teams. Banks became a somewhat effective bullpen arm, but never reached the promise that he seemed to have as a first round pick.

SP Jim Deshaies 11-13 4.41 ERA 99 ERA+ 1.25 WHIP 4.92 FIP 2.6 WAR
Jim Deshaies had been a very effective starter for the Houston Astros in the latter part of the 1980’s, but was considered a reclamation project when the Twins signed him as a free agent after the 1992 season. By mid-season, Deshaies was considered the most reliable starter in the rotation. Deshaies’ success led to a late August trade with the contending San Francisco Giants in which the Twins picked up three players, to most recognizable of which was reliever Aaron Fultz who, at the time, was still seven years away from his major league debut. Immediately after the season ended, Deshaies became a free agent and ultimately signed to return to Minnesota for the 1994 season.

SP Eddie Guardado 3-8 6.18 ERA 70 ERA+ 1.68 WHIP 4.97 FIP -0.6 WAR
When Pat Mahomes started the season 0-5 with an 11.29 ERA, the Twins looked to 22-year old Eddie Guardado to fill in the final spot in the rotation. Guardado was drafted by the Twins in the 21st round of the 1990 draft. His 16 starts in 1993 would represent over half of his career starts when his career ended 17 years later.

CL Rick Aguilera 4-3 3.11 ERA 140 ERA+ 1.02 WHIP 3.60 FIP 2.3 WAR
While the rest of the team struggled, the one area in which the Twins were set was at the closer position. There were plenty of rumors at the end of the season – the Atlanta Braves were the most often mentioned team, but Aguilera would return to the Twins for 1994.

RP Mike Trombley 6-6 4.88 ERA 89 ERA+ 1.50 WHIP 4.36 FIP 0.1 WAR
RP Mike Hartley 1-2 4.00 ERA 109 ERA+ 1.50 WHIP 3.82 FIP 0.8 WAR

RP Carl Willis 3-0 3.10 ERA 141 ERA+ 1.25 WHIP 2.80 FIP 1.3 WAR
RP Larry Casian 5-3 3.02 ERA 145 ERA+ 1.28 WHIP 2.92 FIP 1.1 WAR
The bullpen was stretched by a starting staff that pitched just five complete games all season, but ended up being a relative strength for a fairly bad team.


The Franchise 1993 (Part 1)

April 11, 2012

1993 Minnesota Twins

Manager: Tom Kelly 8th Season (8th with Minnesota 598-559)
71 W 91 L 693 RS 830 RA 5th AL West 23 GB (Chicago White Sox 94-68)
4.28 RPG (AL = 4.71) 4.71 ERA (AL = 4.32)
.679 DER (14th AL)

All Stars (2) Rick Aguilera, Kirby Puckett

Franchise (1901-1993) 6878-7475-110; 27-29 Post Season; 19-21 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1993) 2660-2611-6; 19-18 Post Season; 11-10 WS

The Sporting News ran mid-season report on the Twins in July:

What went wrong? The Twins played poorly in all phases of the game during the horrific first half. They set a major league record by going 85 games into a season without a complete game and had the worst ERA in the AL from late April to the All-Star Break…

Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani, the two starters the Twins were counting on, were 8-20…

Though the fielding has been statistically solid, there has been numerous miscommunications among rookies who have filled in because of so many injuries. Even veterans have made basic mistakes in the field.

In retrospect 1993 signaled the beginning of the dark ages at Metrodome. While the Twins expected to contend based on past performance of their main players, age was catching up to many of the stars who had helped the team win two World Series in the previous seven seasons. The rookies who came in to replace them, however, were not quite up to the task.

C Brian Harper .304/.347/.425 12 HR 107 OPS+ 2.3 WAR
1993 Proved to be Harper’s last season in a Twins uniform. The Twins, in what was described by Andy MacPhail as a financial decision as opposed to a baseball decision, decided not to pick up Harper’s option year. He landed in Milwaukee as a part time option in 1994, and returned for two appearances with the A’s after the strike. In six years with the Twins, Harper batted .306/.342/.431 with a 110 OPS+, not to mention a World Series ring.

1B Kent Hrbek .242/.357/.467 25 HR 120 OPS+ 1.8 WAR
OF-1B Dave McCarty .214/.257/.286 2 HR 46 OPS+ -3.2 WAR
Hrbek’s numbers were up a bit from 1992, but his body suffered through another injury-plagued season. Though the signs of physical breakdown were evident, there did not seem to be a clear successor for Hrbek in the organization. The Twins had hoped that McCarty could step in, but the numbers from his first season weren’t promising.

2B Chuck Knoblauch .277/.354/.346 2 HR 90 OPS+ 2.8 WAR
Knoblauch’s numbers in 1993 looked almost identical to his Rookie-of-the-Year numbers from two years prior, but expectations had been adjusted and it was considered a disappointing season.

SS Pat Meares .251/.266/.309 2 HR 55 OPS+ -0.7 WAR
The Twins initially let Greg Gagne go thinking that Scott Leuis would take over, but a torn rotator-cuff suffered by Leuis in May meant that rookie Pat Meares would be the very day shortstop by default. Meares got off to a good start, but appeared over matched in his first major league season.

3B Mike Pagliarulo .292/.350/.423 3 HR 108 OPS+ 1.4 WAR
The Twins unloaded Pagliarulo in August for a player to be named later. Pagliarulo got to finish the season with a team that was in contention, and the Twins ended up getting Erik Schullstrom who would hang around in the bullpen for the Twins in 1994 and 1995. Pagliarulo finished his career in 1995 with the Texas Rangers.

LF Shane Mack .276/.335/.412 10 HR 100 OPS+ 1.1 WAR
Mack’s production was down a but due in part to injuries. Though there was a lot of speculation that the Twins might want to unload him in the offseason for financial reasons. Mack ended up signing a one-year deal to play in 1994, with an extra quarter-million promised by the Twins if he was traded mid-season in 1994.

CF Kirby Puckett .296/.349/.474 22 HR 120 OPS+ 0.5 WAR
With all of the contract speculation out of the way, the new discussion surrounding Minnesota institution Kirby Puckett was how long he would remain in center field. The WAR numbers tell the story: according to B-R, Puckett was worth 3.5 wins with his bat, but worth -3.0 in the field. He played 47 games in right field in 1993, but by 1994 Puckett was a full time right fielder.

RF Pedro Munoz .233/.294/.393 13 HR 83 OPS+ -2.3 WAR
Munoz was one of the many Twins  plagued by injury throughout the 1993 season. He would rebound in 1994.

DH Dave Winfield .271/.325/.442 21 HR 105 OPS+ -0.2 WAR
The Twins acquired 41-year-old Minnesota native Dave Winfield in an attempt to replace Chili Davis as the team’s power-hitting designated hitter. Winfield had an very good season considering his age, and his pursuit of 3,000 hits was probably the highlight of the season.

UT Jeff Reboulet .258/.356/.304 1 HR 80 OPS+ 1.8 WAR
IF Chip Hale .333/.408/.425 3 HR 125 OPS+ 1.5 WAR
UT Gene Larkin .264/.357/.347 1 HR 91 OPS+ 0.0 WAR


1996: An April Fool’s Joke on the Twins

April 2, 2012

April 2, 1996

The second game of the 1996 regular season provided one of the most unique stolen bases in major league history. The play itself was unspectacular. Up by 3 in the top of the 9th inning, the Tigers called for a hit-and-run with one out and Melvin Nieves at the plate. On a 3-2 delivery by Twins pitcher Dan Naulty, the runner at 1st base took off. Nieves offered at the pitch but failed to make contact. Catcher Greg Myers fired to second base, but the throw nicked the runner’s batting helmet and kicked off the heal of shortstop Pat Meares’ glove, allowing the runner to slide safely into second for a stolen base.

What was remarkable about the play, however, was that it ended the longest recorded streak of games played without a stolen base. The runner had been involved in 1,096 games prior, and was 0-for-5 in stolen base attempts. The runner was also listed anywhere between 230 and 250 pounds, though most observers thought he was closer to 300. After the game, Cecil Fielder suggested that maybe his manager would start moving him more often now that he had a stolen base under his wings. He may have been on to something, because later that season he successfully stole his second base, the last of his career.


1996: Puckett’s Last Game

March 28, 2012

Originally posted in March 2007

March 28, 1996
The concern over Kirby Puckett in the spring of 1996 was starting to change to optimism. Puckett took a Dennis Martinez pitch to the jaw at the end of the 1995 season, and there was some fear among Twins’ fans that Puckett may never be the same. Spring training 1996 was a chance for Puckett to show that he was the same hitter he had always been. The spring numbers seemed to foreshadow another great season for Puckett. That all changed one day before the team planned to break camp.

On Thursday morning, March 28, Puckett woke up with a strange spot in the middle of his vision on the right side, and everything seemed just a bit blurry. From Jim Souhan’s story a few days later in the Star Tribune:

Puckett sounded doubtful that he will be able to play on Monday, when the Twins will open the season at the Metrodome against the Detroit Tigers.

“My right eye is my dominant eye,” he said. “If it was my left eye, then I think I’d be able to hit. But I need my right eye. I can’t hit right now. I’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

Puckett was placed on the 15-day disabled list, and all indication suggested that he would return when that time was up, April 12. As the date approached, it became more clear that Puckett’s vision problem was not going away as soon as expected.

The saga played out through the first half of the Twins’ 1996 season. Puckett was eventually diagnosed with glaucoma, and the severity was such that he ultimately retired from baseball in July.

Sources:

Baseball Library

Souhan, Jim. “Vision problems might keep Puckett from Twins’ opener” Star Tribune 3/29/1996.