Thursday, October 17, 2013

August 1- Minnesota Twins

One would think of all the hats in my collection this would have been one of the easier ones to track down. Nope! If my memory serves me correct it took me about three years of combing various Web sites, Ebay and Lids locations in order to find an authentic one. Now, over my ridiculously exhaustive search I did come across a few “Genuine Merchandise” versions (replicas), but this bad boy was a diamond in the rough that I somehow found at the Lids in Union Square in downtown Manhattan. Clearly all of the best caps are displayed there because I definitely picked up some gems every time I went there.

It was a bit of mystery to me as to why this cap would have been so hard to track down, but then again, I can be pretty picky at times. I for one have always preferred the Major League Baseball logo on the back of the hat, a token which was only added to caps starting in 1993. 

As in the case of this cap the logo wasn’t added until 2009 when the Minnesota Twins wore it as a home alternate cap. The Twins first used this for all of their home games from 1976-1986 where it and the all-navy “TC” cap that I wrote about on February 15th were replaced with the “M” logo cap that I wrote about on January 21st. The move proved to be one of those rare uniform changes that brings immediate success as the Twins hoisted their first World Series championship since 1924 when they were still the Washington Senators.

In my research I found a bit of a conflicting story about its first use. The vintage MLB clothing company Brand ’47 has the year 1973 marked on most of its franchise caps, as did a few other Web sites. The only problem with this is that in almost every photo I found, whether it was baseball cards, game photos or even the team photo, this cap wasn’t used. No, the first arrival of this cap via photo didn’t arrive until 1976 as I previously mentioned as shown in the photo below.

Now, I can see where in a black and white photo one might not be able to tell; however, it’s easy to notice how the shade of the cap matches with the “TWINS” emblem across the chest, which was red at the time and contradicts the navy blue shirts of the trainers and equipment managers. This trait becomes even clearly in the team photo from 2009.

Like I said, I looked deep into most photo archives and couldn’t find anything until I came across the Web site where they have all the team photos dating back to 1961, their first year as the Twins. Check the link if you don’t believe me as the team also wore the red caps from 1977-1982 and 1984-1986. I could be wrong about 1983, as it might also have to do with the lighting and it being in black and white, but it looks like a few guys are wearing red and other navy blue. Either way, red was the home color that year.

Keeping in the theme of the red cap I have elected to mark it up with numbers and a date from the original time from of when this cap was used. Nothing personal against the 2009 team who won their division on an extended day of the season (game 163) against the Detroit Tigers, but there’s just too much good stuff that happened within the other 11 years to pass up.

#14- To those familiar with the Twins legacy, this is an easy number to remember. But for those who only know about Hall of Fame legacies, this is a name you should learn. Ken Hrbek, a product of Bloomington, Minneapolis, was drafted in the 17th round of the 1978 draft. The interesting part about the timing is that, as a first baseman, he had some pretty big shoes to fill as Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew were the only names were noting to have played the position in the team’s history. Carew was traded before the 1979 season, so Hrbek was one of two possible candidates being groomed for the position. Hrbek made his major league debut on August 24, 1981 at Yankee Stadium, hitting a game-winning home run in the 12th inning off New York reliever, and future Twin, George Frazier.

After his cup of coffee at the end of the '81 season, Hrbek would make the team out of spring training and come into his own in 1982, playing well for Twins manager Billy Gardner. That season Hrbek would etch his name into the Twins’ legacy as he finished the year with a .301 average, 23 home runs and 92 RBI. As great as his accomplishment were during his rookie season, he still only managed to finish in second place for the Rookie of the Year award one step ahead of Wade Boggs and one spot behind some washout named Cal Ripken, Jr. Not sure what happened to either of those guys. Hrbek also locked up a trip to the All-Star Game that year, the only appearance of his career.

1983 proved to be a stellar sophomore season for Hrbek, but it was in 1984 that he had the best of his career. In ’84 Hrbek finished the year with a career-high .311 average, 27 home runs, a career-high 174 hits and a career-high 107 RBI. Somehow Hrbek didn’t gain an invitation to the All-Star Game, not to mention he once again finished as the second fiddle when it came to the American League MVP vote. That year Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Willie Hernandez won the MVP as well as the Cy Young Awards outright. The Tigers ended up winning the World Series that year as well.

Hrbek started and finished his 14-year career right where he started, in his home state in front of the people who had cheered him on since his high school days. The most notable contribution Hrbek gave back to the Twins fins were the two World Series Championships they won in 1987 and 1991. One the first run Hrbek finished the season with a career-high 34 home runs, but his most memorable came during Game 6 when he hit a grand slam off of St. Louis Cardinals reliever Ken Dayley, which shifted the momentum in favor of Minnesota who would win the Series in seven games. In 1991 Hrbek’s bat isn’t what most remember from that World Series run, rather the now infamous first base clash he had with Atlanta Braves’ left fielder Ron Gant in Game 2. Here’s the play if you don’t remember. Hrbek was a hero in Minnesota and public enemy number one in Atlanta. The Twins would win the Series again in seven games thanks to great pitching from Jack Morris and clutch hitting from Kirby Puckett. Hrbek was one of seven Twins to be part of both World Series teams. The other six were Puckett, Randy Bush, Greg Gagne, Al Newman, Gene Larkin and Dan Gladden.

Frequently injured (though seldom seriously), Hrbek retired after the players strike in 1994, citing his nagging injury problems and desire to spend more time with his wife and daughter. Kent Hrbek's number 14 was retired by the Twins in 1995, becoming at the time only the fourth (along with Killebrew, Carew, and Tony Oliva) in franchise history. Hrbek was also inducted into the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He was also one of few players then (which is even rarer today) who played out his entire career with only one team.

#28- It’s a rare quality for anyone to have a professional baseball career for more than seven years, but Bert Blyleven was able to hang onto a playing career for 22-strong. Born in the Netherlands, but raised in Garden Grove, California, his father moved the family to Melville, Saskatchewan, Canada when Blyleven was two years old, and then to Southern California when he was age 5. He became interested in baseball as a young boy watching Sandy Koufax pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers and listening to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett announce the Dodgers' radio broadcasts. Blyleven was quoted as saying, “My dad built me a mound in the backyard with a canvas backdrop over our horseshoe pits, and I would go back there and just throw and throw and throw until I developed it, and it became my curveball. And I could throw it over at any time, any count.” Blyleven starred on the Santiago High School baseball team, also running cross country to build up his stamina and leg strength. He was drafted straight out of high school by the Twins in the third round in 1969, where after only 21 minor league starts he found himself called up to the Majors at age 19 on June 2, 1970. In his first season, his sharp curveball helped him to ten victories and he was named AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News.

For six-and-a-half years Blyleven was the ace the Twins needed; however, he was blamed by the fans for the team’s failures. Blyleven won at least 15 games every season from 1971-1975; unfortunately, he also lost at least 15 games every season from 1971-1974. What’s even more unusual is that Blyleven never posted an ERA above 3.00 from 1971 until the moment he was traded to the Texas Rangers in the middle of the 1976 season. In 1973 Blyleven went 20-17 with a 2.52 ERA, 258 strikeouts and nine shutouts. The wins, ERA, strikeouts and shutouts were all career bests, but they were only good enough to give Blyleven his first All-Star Game appearance, a seventh place finish for the AL Cy Young and a 26th place finish for the MVP. Yah, times were pretty crazy back in the 70s.

After Blyleven was traded to the Rangers in ’76. He pitched well with the Rangers, having a 2.76 ERA in his first season and throwing a no-hitter against the California Angels on September 22, 1977, just two weeks after being sidelined with a groin injury. His 2.74 career ERA with the Rangers remains the best in team history. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates the following year as part of a four-team trade which is way to long to list the ins and outs. In short, Blyleven won his first World Series ring with the Buccos in 1979 behind a 12-5 record and a 3.60 ERA in 37 games started. Once again, the 70s were crazy time. At the end of the 1980 season Blyleven was traded again to the Cleveland Indians where he would have a stellar third place finish for the Cy Young in 1984 and an equally as noble 1985 season where he was traded back to the Twins and still finished with his second, and final All-Star Game appearance and another third place Cy Young finish behind a league-leading 206 strikeouts, league-leading 24 complete games, league-leading five shutouts and a league-leading 293 2/3 innings pitched. If you’ll learn anything by the end of this post it’s that pitchers these days have it pretty easy.

Blyleven would play three more years with the Twins all the way until the end of the 1987 season where he would earn his second World Series ring. At the end of the 1988 season, his worst statistical season, he was granted free agency by the Twins and was almost immediately picked up by the Angels. In his first year in Anaheim Blyleven had a bounce-back season going 17-5 with a 2.73 ERA, a league-leading five shutouts and 131 strikeouts. Blyleven finished the season in 13th place for the AL MVP and fourth place for the Cy Young. Blyleven would play two more seasons with the Angels before hanging it up at the end of the 1992 season.

After his first year of eligibility in 1998, Blyleven was widely considered to be the best eligible pitcher not yet in the Baseball Hall of Fame. According to Matt Welch of Reason Magazine, "there had long been a strong case that the Dutch-born curveballista was the most deserving player on the outside of Cooperstown looking in." Still, it was not until his 14th year of eligibility in 2011 that he was elected, with 79.7% of the vote. He currently ranks 5th all-time in Strikeouts, 9th all-time in Shutouts, and 27th all-time in Wins. At the time of his election he was the only eligible member of the 3000 strikeout club, and the only person with 50 or more shutouts, not in the Hall of Fame.

Blyleven received only 17.55% of the vote for Hall of Fame admission in 1998 (first year of eligibility), and his vote total dropped to 14.1% the following year. No player who had debuted on the ballot since 1970 had a vote total that low and later won election to the Hall. However, columnist Jayson Stark stated that "no player has ever — and again, that word is 'ever' — had his Hall of Fame candidacy helped more by the sabermetrics boom than Blyleven." Specifically, according to Welch, "the president and chief investment officer of Lederer & Associates Investment Counsel in Long Beach, California, a guy by the name of Rich Lederer, began spending some of his off-hours writing analysis on the Interwebs about Blyleven's overlooked case." Blyleven was finally inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2011 after receiving 79.7% of the vote on his 14th attempt. "It’s been 14 years of praying and waiting,” he said. "I thank the baseball writers of America for; I’m going to say, finally getting it right." Blyleven was the first Dutch-born player inducted, and his Hall of Fame plaque depicts him with a Twins cap.

In 1996, Blyleven became a color commentator for the Twins. Blyleven's commentary is occasionally risqué for a baseball broadcast, but provides interesting and friendly conversation between him and play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer. One of his trademarks is circling fans with the telestrator on screen. Fans, both at home and at road games, carry signs to the games saying "Circle me Bert." This has led to a fundraising campaign with the Parkinson's Foundation and a sponsorship with the Minnesota Lottery.

8/1/86: This is one of the more fascinating days in Twins history for a number of reasons. The Twins were at home hosting my beloved Oakland Athletics as the Twins were holding their 25th Anniversary celebration. That’s one reason. Blyleven was on the mound with 2,992 strikeouts under his belt, facing one of the better power hitting teams of that 1980s. In front of a crowd of a little more than 14,000 people Blyleven struck out Mike Davis for his 3,000 career strikeout and still had time to drop seven more batters on his way to a career-high 15 strikeouts in one game. Not to mention, Blyleven also got the complete game. Now, what would a game be without a little bit of offense? In order of his five at-bats Puckett hit a triple in his first, flew out in his second, hit a ground rule double in his third, a single in his fourth and a home run in his final at-bat to become the seventh player in Twins history to hit for the cycle.

What’s even crazier about this date, August 1st, is that it also marks another unusual time in Minnesota history. In 2007 the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis. Due to how many people were at the game the Twins elected to play the game that night against the Kansas City Royals, but postponed the game the following night. What I wouldn’t find out until six years later is that my girlfriend, Angie, was in Minneapolis, visiting friends from Wisconsin, and happened to still be in town for when the Twins played the Indians two days later.

No comments:

Post a Comment