Minnesota Twins (1961-Present)
Washington Senators (1901-1960)
Also known as the Washington Nationals
American League Champion: 1924, 1925, 1933, 1965, 1987, 1991
World Series Champion: 1924, 1987, 1991
Washington was awarded one of the original eight franchises in the American League. The nation’s Capital had been abandoned by the National League in 1900, even though the town had supported a Major League franchise for many of the years between 1871 and 1899. Their first bite at the apple was 1871, when the Washington Olympics competed in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players for the first three years. Washington waited 11 years before they fielded a team in the American Association in 1884, but that team failed to complete the season, finishing at 12-51. The National League put a team there in 1886. This team too was dismal, finishing last or next to last in all of the four seasons. The floundering American Association tried again in their final season (1891), and then with that League’s collapse, the National League invited the city back in 1892. The effort again failed, the franchise was expelled from the National League in their consolidation following the 1899 season. Their best record in those eight years was 61-71 in 1897.
This was the history the American League was attempting to change in 1901. At first, It didn’t work too well. Then in July of 1907 they signed a pitcher out of Weiser, Idaho, who was pitching for the Weiser team in the Idaho State League, but also working for the local telephone company. The Senators immediately put him in the rotation, and American League batters had never seen anything like it. In August of 1907, Walter Johnson faced the Detroit Tigers and Ty Cobb for the first time. “The first time I faced him, I watched him take his easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn’t touch him, every one of us knew we met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park,” said the “Georgia Peach”.
While Johnson moved Washington into contention, they did not win until Johnson was 36. They won the only two American League Championships not won by Babe Ruth’s New York Yankees between 1921 and 1928. In 1924 and 1925 the Senators participated in two of the most competitive World Series in history, both going to a decisive seventh game, winning Game 7 in 1924, 4-3 in 12 innings. They blew the lead in the late innings of Game 7 in 1925 to the Pittsburh Pirates, 9-7.
The franchise continued to struggle in Washington, when Clark Griffith passed away in 1955, his son Calvin began his search for greener pasture. He found it and despite the objections of the power structure in Washington, moved his team to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1960. The American League immediately put an expansion team back in the Nation’s Capital in 1961, but that franchise also failed, and has since become the Texas Rangers.
After the move to Minnesota the team was one of the American League powers until the free agency era began in the 1970s. Owner Calvin Griffith refused to participate in the new reality and the team descended into their “Twinkie” stage. Griffith sold the team in 1984 and they moved back towards respectability. They won two unexpected World Series Titles in 1987 and 1991, then fell into another stretch of not being competitive. Coming out of it when they hired Ron Gardenhire to manage the team. They’ve won six American League Central Championships since 2000, but remain weak financially, always leaving themselves unable to keep their young players. Financially, one of the weaker franchises in baseball, but in the middle of the pact in their ability to field a competitive team, rumors always follow them about their next move.
[A note before we rate the Washington/Minnesota Players. Some of the best players in franchise history played multiple positions during their time with the team. After the move to Minnesota mostly. Harmon Killebrew played 471 games in left field, 791 games at third base, and 969 games at first. Rod Carew was at second base 1128 times and first base 465 times with the Twins. Joe Mauer was a catcher 921 times and first baseman 603 times. Cesar Tovar played every position on the field, as an outfielder he played 469 in center, 394 in left, 207 in right, but he also performed in the infield with 227 games at third base, 215 at second, and 77 as a shortstop. This makes where to put these players a tough decision. If we make Rod Carew a second baseman that eliminates Buddy Myer from consideration, but if we move Carew to first, we then include Myer, but freeze out Mickey Vernon or Joe Judge or Kent Hrbek. It really complicates the evaluations, and we have to do it with at least four players.]
Joe Mauer (2004-2018) is easy. He is clearly the greatest catcher in Franchise history, nobody else is even close.
First base is where things start getting complicated. As indicated earlier, Harmon Killebrew (1954-1974) played more games at first than at third or in the outfield, and he would definitely be the choice if we leave him there. We’ve decided Killebrew is at third. If not Killebrew we would go to Rod Carew (1967-1978) next, but that is predicated on not putting him at second. We’ll decide on second and third and then come back to first base. If we’re talking about players who are primarily first basemen it comes down to three. James “Mickey” Vernon (1939-1948, 1950-1955), Joe Judge (1915-1932), and Kent Hrbek (1981-1994). The metrics we use puts Judge ahead of the other two, but not by much. It would be nice if we could give Vernon credit for the lost two years during World War II, but we haven’t done that for anyone else, so we shouldn’t start now. Another negative for Vernon was he never played on a championship team, while Judge and Hrbek were key members of two each. Not much to choose from between Judge and Hrbek. Hrbek was better with the glove, Judge a little more productive at the plate. Ultimately, first base is a hitter’s first position, so we’ll go with Joe Judge (1915-1932). The choice now is where do we put Carew. Judge’s competition is Buddy Myer.
Charles “Buddy” Myer (1925-1927, 1929-1941) was a career .303 hitter, but did play in the big hitting 1920s and 1930s. He only led the League in two offensive categories, Steals in 1928 (30, with the Red Sox) and Batting Average in 1935 (.349). His defense wasn’t great, but it was better than Rod Carew’s (1967-1978). Carew was a much better hitter, leading the league in 19 offensive categories (7 time batting champ, 4 times on base percentage, 3 times in hits and once in OPS, etc). Myer only makes the team if we move Carew to first.. Carew played much more second base than first base with Minnesota, and Vernon was a better first baseman than Carew. By the metrics we use, Vernon was slightly more valuable than Myer and our subjective opinion seems to confirm that.
Eddie Yost (1944-1958) was an on base machine, even though he hit in the .250s. He led the League in walks an astounding six times, with a high of 151 in 1956. This led to a career on base percentage of .394! Just to put this in perspective, the Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew’s career on base percentage was .376 and Rod Carew’s was .393. Unfortunately, like Killebrew, he was not much of a third baseman and Killebrew’s tremendous power makes “Killer” a significantly better offensive player. Besides Killebrew, Yost would be the choice, but If it’s between Yost and Harmon Killebrew (1954-1974) it’s not close.
Cecil Travis (1933-1947) is another player who sacrificed much of his baseball life to serving in World War II. After hitting .359, with a League leading 218 hits in 1941 he joined the U.S. Army. He was 28 years old and on a path to the Hall of Fame. Rumors say he suffered frostbite while serving in Europe. When he returned he was not the same player. His first full season back (1946) he was 32, and he couldn’t get back to his earlier level and was through at 33. That means we have to decide if Travis’ 8 years before the War are more valuable than 40% of Joe Cronin’s career. Joe Cronin (1928-1934) is in the Hall of Fame, as he should be, and is rated in the top ten of shortstops on most of the lists. He was a successful manager with both the Senators and the Red Sox and later became President of the American League. One of the real forces in American League History. We would like to choose Travis, but the evidence shows that Cronin was the more valuable baseball player for the Senators.
Harmon Killebrew (1954-1974) will not be the choice in left field. We’ve discussed Leon “Goose” Goslin (1921-1930, 1933) before. Even though he’s in the Hall of Fame, he is one of the most underrated players of all time. The only person to appear in every World Series game the Washington Senators ever played.
Kirby Puckett (1984-1995) is overrated as a player, not many walks and limited power, but he was the heart of the Twins 1987 and 1991 World Championship Teams. What a joy to watch! It’s not a mismatch, but he is the choice over the swift, base stealing sensation, Clyde Milan (1907-1922).
The toughest choice in the article. Despite the fact that two of his teammates are now in the Hall of Fame, you can make a case that Tony Oliva (1962-1976) was the most valuable member of the Minnesota Twins’ Teams that won an American League Pennant in 1965, and back to back American League West Titles in 1969 and 1970. He finished in the top ten in five MVP votes between 1964 and 1971, second twice (1965 and 1970). He would have been a much better selection to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee this year than Harold Baines was, but nobody asked us.
Sam Rice (1915-1933), like Goose Goslin, was a member of all three Senator American League Champion teams, but he was just about through in 1933, batting only once in the World Series. It’s interesting to note that Rice retired with 2,987 career hits, which is only 66 fewer than Rod Carew. Couldn’t he have just hung around to get to 3,000? Baseball records were not the same in 1933 as they are today. It’s doubtful that Rice was even aware of his career total. 3,000 hits just didn’t mean much at that time. This one is really close, Rice is in the Hall of Fame (as he should be) and Oliva isn’t (but probably should be). The metrics we use put Rice ahead, but only slightly. It would be nice if we could move one to another outfield position, but neither one was as valuable as Goslin or Puckett. Rice’s career numbers are better than Oliva’s, but the peak Oliva reached in the mid 1960s and early 1970s was higher. Bad knees limited Tony to only 1,676 games with Minnesota, while Rice played over 2,300 with the Senators. That’s four more seasons worth of games for Rice. Defensive value doesn’t help, Bill James rates both of them a B-. We have to pick one of them, so we’ll go with Sam Rice (1915-1933).
#1 is Walter Johnson (1907-1927), the one pitcher all other pitchers are measured against.
Bert Blyleven and Jim Kaat are #2 and #3. Not sure what order to put them in. Kaat won 194 games for the Senators/Twins, while Blyleven contributed only 149. Blyleven is in the Hall of Fame, an honor not yet given to Kaat. Blyleven ended his career with 287 wins, Kaat 283. We’ll go Bert Blyleven (1970-1976 1985-1988) #2 and, Jim Kaat (1959-1972) #3, because that’s what the formula says.
The #4 spot is between two recent Cy Young Award winners and a teammate of Walter Johnson on the back to back American League Champions in 1924 and 1925. Frank Viola (1982-1989) won 112 games for Minnesota, including 24 in his Cy Young year of 1988. Johan Santana (2000-2007) won two such awards (2004, 2006) and also finished in the top five three other times. His record with the Twins was 139-78, which is better than Viola’s (112-93). It looks like Santana has an edge. Fredrick “Firpo” Marberry (1923-1932) was one of the first quality pitchers to be used primarily in relief. He led the League in games six times, but he wasn’t used like modern relievers. With Washington he appeared in 470 games, 186 as a starter. His highest rate of starts to relief appearances was 1929 when he threw 250 innings in 49 games, with 26 starts and 9 “Saves”. In Washington’s two Pennant winning seasons (1924, 1925) he appeared in 105 games, with only 14 starts and 31 “Saves”. He’s just a very tough pitcher to rate. The metrics we use shows Marberry narrowly ahead, but Santana was probably the best pitcher in baseball for about three years, and Marberry wasn’t even the best pitcher on his team! (For those without a sense of humor, that’s a joke. One of Marberry’s teammates was Walter Johnson). Not real confident with this choice, but we’ll go with Johan Santana (2000-2007).
Using the Bill James’ rating system introduced in his book about Baseball Managers the three most successful skippers in franchise history are Stanley “Bucky” Harris (1924-1928, 1935-1942, 1950-1954), Ron Gardenhire (2002-2014), and Tom Kelly (1986-2001). The three are just about even. Gardenhire has 15 points, Harris 14, and Kelley 13. Gardenhire’s small lead is offset by the fact his teams never won a World Series, or an American League Pennant, while Harris won two Pennants and one World Championship, and Kelley won two of each. That seems to lean towards Kelley, but in his 16 year stay in Minnesota he has a losing record, 1140-1244. Gardenhire in 13 years was 1068-1039, and Harris was also under water at 1336-1416. Ultimately we’ll go with Tom Kelly (1986-2001), because his two World Championship seasons came out of nowhere. In 1987 he took a team that was 71-91 in 1986 (he took over for the last 23 games and went 12-11), and won the World Series in the next season. They then gradually fell out of contention, finishing last in the American League West in 1990, and then surged to another World Series Title in 1991.
An article discussing the most valuable Minnesota Twin would be an interesting article. The choice between Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett, and Joe Mauer would be interesting to research. We’re not going to do it because the franchise has only been in Minnesota since 1960 and before that they were the Washington Senators. The Washington Senators had a pitcher named Walter Johnson and that ends the discussion about who was the greatest player in franchise history. It’s “The Big Train” himself, the best pitcher that ever was.