After reviewing some of the top players to wear a Minnesota Twins uniform in the 1960s and 1970s in past weeks, this week we will be jumping to the 1980s. Today we start with the top hitters of the 1980s, many of who helped the Twins to their first World Series championship.
The 1960s presented Minnesota baseball fans with a new team, the Twins, and those teams provided some really good baseball for most of the decade. There were so many great players.
The 1970s presented Minnesota Twins fans with a lot of mediocrity. Rod Carew and Bert Blyleven put up Hall of Fame caliber numbers, but other than that, there were some strong single seasons, and a few players had two or three quality seasons.
The 1980s Twins teams began really bad. Really bad. However, a young core of players were developing into a team that brought the first World Series title to Minnesota... and then a second four years later. There were several Twins Hall of Famers, and one MLB Hall of Famer in that group. The Twins of the second half of the decade could certainly hit.
Below you'll find my choices for a Twins All-Decade lineup. A couple of the choices were difficult and will likely cause some discussion. Some were quite easy.
C - Tim Laudner (1981-1989)
734 games, .225/.292/.391 (.682) with 97 doubles, 77 homers, 263 RBI.
Laudner went to high school at Park Center, in Brooklyn Park (MN), and went to the University of Missouri. In 1979, the Twins made him their third-round pick. In 1981 he hit 42 homers at Double-A Orlando before the Twins called him up late in the year and he added two more. While he never hit, he was the team’s regular catcher for most of the decade. In the 1987 postseason, he was referred to as “Buck-Ninety” because he hit just .191 on the season. He hit .318 with a double and a homer in the World Series. He then was named an All-Star in 1988.
1B - Kent Hrbek (1981-1989)
1,156 games, .290/.368/.496 (.864) with 224 doubles, 201 homers, 724 RBI.
The Twins made Hrbek their 17th-round pick in 1978 out of Bloomington (MN) Kennedy High School. He made his debut in August 1981. In 1982, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting (to some Ripken guy who played in Baltimore). As a 22-year-old, he also played in his first (and only, by choice) All-Star Game. In 1984, he hit .311/.383/.522 (.906) with 27 homers and finished second in MVP voting. He hit over 20 homers in seven seasons in the ‘80s. In 1987, he hit a career-high 34 home runs. He added a home run in both the ALCS and the World Series in 1987.
2B - John Castino (1980-1984)
518 games, .277/.329/.398 (.727) with 73 doubles, 36 homers, 197 RBI.
Castino’s career was cut short by major back issues. He debuted and was the co-Rookie of the Year in 1979. However, he played most days for the first four seasons of the 1980s. His best season was 1980 when he hit .302 with 17 doubles, seven triples and 13 home runs. He had another strong season in 1983, hitting .277 with 30 doubles and 11 homers. However, after just eight games in 1984, his career was done.
3B - Gary Gaetti (1981-1989)
1,207 games, .259/.311/.445 (.757) with 225 doubles, 185 homers, 673 RBI.
Does anyone else feel that Gary Gaetti is a little underrated in Twins history? He is overshadowed, to some degree, by Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett. Gaetti debuted late in the 1981 season and became the team’s regular third baseman the following year. He was an All-Star in both 1988 and 1989, and was better in 1986 (34 homers, 108 RBI) and 1987 (31 homers, 109 RBI). He hit 19 or more homers in seven of the eight seasons in the 1980s. In addition to hit offensive prowess, Gaetti won four straight Gold Glove Awards between 1986 and 1989.
SS - Greg Gagne (1983-1989)
717 games, .250/.294/.396 (.689) with 115 doubles, 47 homers, 216 RBI.
Early in the 1982 season, the Twins traded their shortstop Roy Smalley to the New York Yankees. One of the players who came to the Twins in the deal was their shortstop for most of the rest of the decade, Greg Gagne. Gagne played 12 total games for the Twins between 1983 and 1984, but in 1985 he became the team’s regular shortstop. With Gagne, there wasn’t a lot of offense. However, in 1987, he hit .265/.310/.430 (.740) with 28 doubles, seven triples and ten homers. While not a great base stealer, Gagne had great speed. He also was a very good defensive shortstop.
LF - Gary Ward (1980-1983)
407 games, .284/.332/.463 (.795) with 80 doubles, 51 homers, 218 RBI.
Ward originally signed with the Twins in August of 1972. It was a slow process up the ladder. He spent 1975 and 1976 in Double-A. He spent 1977-1980 in Triple-A. He played a combined 23 big league games between 1979 and 1980. In 1981, he became an everyday player and remained with the team until a trade to Texas following the 1983 season. In 1982, he hit .289 with 33 doubles, seven triples and had career-highs with 28 homers and 91 RBI. In 1983, he played in his first All-Star Game and hit a career-high 34 doubles. He continued to play through the 1990 season.
CF - Kirby Puckett (1984-1989)
924 games, .323/.357/.469 (.826) with 197 doubles, 96 homers, 506 RBI.
Puckett was the third overall pick in the January phase of the draft. Two years later, he was in the big leagues. He came up as a speedy centerfielder and grew into one of the game’s most feared overall hitters and a first-ballot Hall of Famer after his 12- year career. In the 1980s, he had 199 or more hits in every season but his rookie year (when he had 165 hits in 128 games). In 1986, his power emerged with a career-high 31 homers. He was an All-Star each season starting in 1986. He won four Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers in the decade (and more in the 1990s). In the ‘80s, he led the league in hits three times and in batting average in 1989 at .339. He had hit .356 in 1988 and finished runner up. He finished in the Top 6 in MVP voting four straight years from 1986 through 1989.
RF - Tom Brunansky (1982-1988)
916 games, .250/.330/.452 (.782) with 154 doubles, 163 homers, 469 RBI.
“Bruno” had been the 14th overall pick in the 1978 draft by the California Angels. In May 1982, he came to the Twins in a trade involving Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong. He immediately became the Twins primary right fielder and a leading source of power for the team. He was really quite consistent. He hit between .240 and .260 most years. He hit 21-30 doubles each year. He hit between 20 and 32 homers each year (32 in both 1984 and 1987). He represented the Twins in the 1985 All-Star Game at the Metrodome. Traded to the Cardinals after just 14 games in 1988.
DH - Roy Smalley (1980-1982, 1985-1987)
575 games, .263/.354/.416 (.770) with 88 doubles, 59 homers, 221 RBI.
Smalley began the 1980s as the Twins shortstop, coming off of his 1979 All-Star season. Between 1980 and 1981, he hit .274/.364/.415 (.779). As mentioned above, he was traded to the Yankees just four games into the 1982 season. He returned to the Twins before the 1985 season and was the team’s primary DH all three seasons, averaging 127 games played. Over those three seasons, he hit a combined .258/.350/.419 (.768) and willingly took on a lesser role late in the 1987 season as the Twins made their way toward their first World Series title.
Twins All-Decade Team, the '60s (The Hitters)
Twins All-Decade Team, the '60s (The Pitchers)
Episode 15: Get t o Know the 1960s Twins (with Dave Mona)
Twins All-Decade Team, the '70s (The Hitters)
Twins All-Decade Team, the '70s (The Pitchers)
Episode 16: Get to Know the 1970s Twins (with Patrick Reusse)
Twins All-Decade Team: the '80s (The Hitters)
Twins All-Decade Team: the '80s (The Pitchers)
Episode 17: Get to know the 1980s Twins (with TBD)