Retired numbers: Minnesota Twins

The Washington years are ignored, but recent heroes deserve a look

It has been little noted, but this is a milestone year for the Minnesota Twins — the franchise’s 61st season in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

That means the Twins have finally exceeded the age of their previous incarnation, the Washington Senators of 1901 to 1960.

Those ancient Senators were famously inept, finishing last or next to last in the American League in 40% of their seasons (24 of 60), while winning only one world championship. Yet they employed some marvelous players, led by the immortal Walter Johnson, considered by many to be the greatest pitcher ever.

Things have gone a bit better since the club relocated to the Midwest. The Twins have qualified for the playoffs 14 times and have won three American League pennants. Two of those glorious seasons ended with World Series trophies.

The Twins freely celebrate the second half of their history. They have retired the numbers of eight former pitchers and managers, as we shall see in this, the 28th installment of my every-other-Friday review of each club’s honors.

But those distant Washington stars have been ignored, and there are several Twins who seem to be worthy of consideration. Could additional numbers be destined for the wall at Target Field?

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Twins’ numbers already retired

Here, in numerical order, are the eight Twins whose numbers have been pulled from circulation. And yes, they were all Twins. There aren’t any Senators in the bunch, with one partial exception immediately below.

No. 3 Harmon Killebrew is the only honoree with any links to the club’s Washington roots. The first and third baseman played seven years in the nation’s capital, then 14 in Minnesota, totaling 21 seasons (1954-1974). Killebrew led the American League in home runs six times and won the Most Valuable Player Award in 1969. His 559 home runs dominate the franchise’s all-time list. Nobody else has more than 293.

No. 6 Tony Oliva spent his entire 15-year career (1962-1976) as Minnesota’s right fielder and designated hitter. He arrived with a bang, winning the AL’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1964, when he paced the league with a .323 batting average. He won two additional hitting crowns in 1965 and 1971.

No. 7 Joe Mauer (2004-2018) was born in St. Paul and eventually played 1,858 games in a Twins uniform, trailing only Killebrew’s Minnesota total of 1,939. The catcher posted the league’s best batting averages in 2006, 2008, and 2009, winning an MVP trophy on the latter occasion. Mauer’s 2,123 hits rank fourth in the franchise’s entire history — and second during its Minnesota years.

The overall managerial record of No. 10 Tom Kelly is deceptively unimpressive, with 1,244 losses outnumbering his 1,140 wins over 16 seasons with the Twins (1986-2001). But what most fans remember are the world championships that Kelly secured for Minnesota in 1987 and 1991, both in exciting seven-game World Series.

No. 14 Kent Hrbek is a Minneapolis native who played 14 seasons at first base for the Twins (1981-1994). He finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1982 and second in the MVP count two years later. Hrbek ranks second in Washington/Minnesota history in home runs (293), sixth in slugging average (.481), and ninth in games played (1,747).

No. 28 Bert Blyleven (1970-1976, 1985-1988) won 149 games for the Twins, putting him third among all of the franchise’s pitchers since 1901. He also ranks second in strikeouts (2,035), third in shutouts (29), and fourth in starts (345). Walter Johnson, of course, is No. 1 in all of those categories.

No. 29 Rod Carew won seven AL batting titles during his 12 seasons with the Twins (1967-1978), capped by a .388 mark in 1977, the year he won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. The second baseman still boasts the highest career batting average (.334) and on-base percentage (.393) in the 121-year history of the Washington/Minnesota franchise.

No. 34 Kirby Puckett rapped 2,304 hits for the Twins (1984-1995), leading the American League four times in that statistical category and once in batting average (.339 in 1989). The center fielder never won an MVP Award, though he finished among the top seven votegetters seven times.

Twins’ candidates for retired numbers

I could start with seven Hall of Famers who were prominent players or managers — or sometimes both — during the franchise’s six decades in Washington: Joe Cronin, Goose Goslin, Walter Johnson, Bucky Harris, Heinie Manush, Sam Rice, and Early Wynn. Not one of them has had his number (or a numberless jersey) retired by the franchise.

It would be a waste of time to pursue the matter further. The club has not deigned to honor the magnificent seven, and there’s no reason to anticipate a change of heart at this late date.

But there are a few potential candidates who starred after the Senators moved to the Twin Cities. Here’s a look at eight of them:

No. 4 Bob Allison (1958-1970) quickly established himself as a budding star, winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1959. The outfielder never quite fulfilled his promise, though he did join Killebrew and Hrbek as the only Twins to hit more than 250 home runs — in his case, 256. Allison was a feared slugger in his time, launching at least 29 homers in five seasons.

No. 8 Gary Gaetti (1981-1990) was a solid third baseman, so skilled in the field that he won four Gold Gloves while with Minnesota. He also surpassed 20 homers and 75 RBIs on five occasions, peaking at 34 and 108 in 1986. Gaetti sits eighth on the franchise’s all-time home-run list at 201.

No. 17 Camilo Pascual split his 13 years with the club (1954-1966) almost equally — pitching seven years in Washington, six in Minnesota. He was named to five All-Star squads between 1959 and 1964, going 100-66 over that span. Pascual ranks second on the club’s overall list for shutouts (31), third for strikeouts (1,885), and fifth for wins (145).

No. 22 Brad Radke amassed 45.3 wins above replacement in Minnesota, the highest WAR for any Twin whose number has not been retired. Radke pitched his entire 12-year career in Minnesota (1995-2006). He finished with 148 wins, putting him fourth in the team’s all-time rankings. And he’s fifth in strikeouts at 1,467.

No. 36 Jim Kaat (1959-1973) won 190 games for the franchise, the second-highest total in club history. The lefthanded pitcher’s first victory came in Washington, the other 189 after the transfer to Minnesota. Kaat also ranks second among all Senators and Twins in starts (433), and fourth in shutouts (23) and strikeouts (1,851).

Joe Nathan wore the same number as Kaat, No. 36, during his seven seasons in Minnesota (2004-2009, 2011), but his role was different. Kaat was the durable starter, Nathan the dependable reliever. The latter piled up 260 saves for the Twins, the most in the team’s history. He was named to four All-Star teams during his run in Minnesota.

No. 48 Torii Hunter flashed a combination of power and speed during his 11 years with the Twins (1997-2007). He is one of eight Washington/Minnesota batters to exceed 200 home runs, reaching double digits in both homers and stolen bases in five seasons. But his skill in center field was his notable feature, bringing seven straight Gold Gloves from 2001 to 2007.

No Minnesota pitcher has ever been as dominating as No. 57 Johan Santana (2000-2007), who averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings in a Twins uniform. That’s the highest ratio in franchise history. Santana won a pair of Cy Young Awards (2004 and 2006), leading the American League in earned run average and strikeouts in both of those seasons.

The outlook

The message is clear: The Washington years simply didn’t happen. Walter Johnson will never receive formal recognition in Minnesota, leaving him with the consolation of perpetual international glory.

But what of the former Twins listed above?

All admittedly seem deserving of consideration, though none has an overly compelling case. Allison and Gaetti were solid players, but did they really attain greatness? Pascual, Radke, and Kaat were strong pitchers, but don’t their stats almost seem interchangeable?

One other point: Some teams dawdle for years, but the Twins have been unusually prompt in holding retirement ceremonies. Killebrew and Hrbek received their honors a year after wrapping up their careers, while Carew and Puckett waited only two years.

That leads to the assumption that the three most recent candidates — Nathan, Hunter, and Santana — have the best chances of seeing their numbers retired. The first two are considered to be borderline Hall of Fame candidates, helping their causes a bit.

If either eventually makes it to Cooperstown, that’s when the ceremony is likely to be scheduled.

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