The Mount Rushmore of the Minnesota Twins

1970 Topps #62: AL Batting Leaders / Rod Carew, Reggie Smith, & Tony Oliva

The Twins began life in MLB as the Washington Senators, joining the AL in 1901 along with a bunch of other teams. It took until their 24th season in 1924 to make the playoffs, but they won the World Series that year. They made the World Series, losing both times, twice in following 9 years.

In 1961, the franchise moved to Minnesota and renamed itself the Twins.  The team was a force in the late 1960s, finishing first or second 5 times between 1965 and 1970, but losing in the playoffs each year. The Twins won it all in 1987 and again in 1991, and then went into a period of suffering as a small market team. That changed in 2002 when the team posted a 1st place finish (one of 6 between ’02 and ’10) but again the team has lost all 6 times in the playoffs.

In 2011, the Twins turned suddenly dreadful, losing 99 games, and they have been only a bit better so far in 2012.

Let’s take a look at this team’s long list of great players.

Top batters in franchise history, by WAR:

Rk Player WAR/pos From To
1 Rod Carew 60.4 1967 1978
2 Harmon Killebrew 56.1 1954 1974
3 Kirby Puckett 48.2 1984 1995
4 Sam Rice 48.0 1915 1933
5 Joe Judge 42.4 1915 1932
6 Goose Goslin 40.0 1921 1938
7 Tony Oliva 39.7 1962 1976
8 Buddy Myer 38.1 1925 1941
9 Chuck Knoblauch 36.3 1991 1997
10 Clyde Milan 36.2 1907 1922
11 Kent Hrbek 35.7 1981 1994
12 Joe Cronin 34.6 1928 1934
13 Joe Mauer 33.8 2004 2012
14 Bob Allison 31.3 1958 1970
15 Cecil Travis 27.1 1933 1947
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/12/2012.

So…the top 4 guys are all Hall of Famers, as are Goose Goslin and Joe Cronin. All Tony Oliva did was win 3 batting titles. And then you have two guys in Kent Hrbek and Joe Mauer who are huge fan favorites and spent numerous years as the popular face of the franchise.

No shortage of choices here…

Here are the pitchers:

Rk Player WAR From To
1 Walter Johnson 144.7 1907 1927
2 Bert Blyleven 46.3 1970 1988
3 Brad Radke 42.6 1995 2006
4 Johan Santana 34.0 2000 2007
5 Camilo Pascual 30.8 1954 1966
6 Jim Kaat 27.2 1959 1973
7 Frank Viola 25.0 1982 1989
8 Jim Perry 24.2 1963 1972
9 Firpo Marberry 23.5 1923 1936
10 Dave Goltz 22.5 1972 1979
11 Dutch Leonard 21.7 1938 1946
12 Joe Nathan 17.8 2004 2011
13 Kevin Tapani 17.8 1989 1995
14 Jim Shaw 17.5 1913 1921
15 Tom Zachary 16.5 1919 1928
16 Pedro Ramos 16.5 1955 1961
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/12/2012.

So we had all these great choices for batters, and then there’s Walter Johnson, who cannot possibly be left off anybody’s ballot. Then there’s HOFer (yay!) Blyleven, Radke (the face of the franchise in between Hrbek and Mauer), Cy Young winner and 1987 post-season hero Frank Viola…it goes on and on.

Beyond these guys, there are others to consider as well: longtime manager Tom Kelly, plus two guys who produced a ton during the 1987 run: Dan Gladden and Tom Brunansky. In the 1925 World Series, Joe Harris had 3 HR and 6 RBI in 7 games. And then there’s Jack Morris, who pitched probably the most famous World Series game in the minds of fans aged 30 to 50.

Lots of folks to choose from here…please pick 4.


The Mount Rushmore of the Minnesota Twins — 65 Comments

  1. I voted for what appears to be the consensus top four: Carew, Killebrew, Johnson and Puckett. Can’t say I understand how Puckett currently has more votes than Johnson, though.

      • I don’t think that’s true; what I do think is that since Johnson never played for the “Minnesota Twins” per se, there is somewhat of a disconnect for more casual fans… though the readership here isn’t exactly the casual fan.

        Regardless it doesn’t help that there were two separate Washington Senators franchises that both still exist as different teams, either.

        • I’d like to think that brp’s explanation is more accurate than jr’s. Never heard of Walter Johnson? Seriously? I doubt very many people reading this blog fall into that category.

  2. I’m with the consensus top four of Johnson, Carew, Killebrew and Puckett. Part of me is surprised that the Big Train isn’t leading the list. The other part of me understands that some may just not have voted for him since they don’t view him as a Twin. Yet he has to exist somewhere, and the way the rules are set up, he’s a Twin!

    • I followed almost exactly the same thought process, although I have to admit I didn’t give Cronin much consideration which is unfair to him. His problem is that his career is almost evenly divided between Washington & Boston (a few more games in Boston but a little more WAR in Washington) so he’s kind of left in limbo. Strangely enough, that worked in Nolan Ryan’s favor because of the relative scarcity of front line candidates for the expansion franchises so he’s on 2 Mt. Rushmore’s. I’m trying to think of other top tier Hall of Famers who will be effected by this and all I can come up with are former Philadelphia A’s Eddie Collins, Mickey Cochrane, Jimmy Foxx and Lefty Grove plus Goslin in the above list. I’m sure there are others that I’m overlooking.

      If I could split them:
      Washington: Johnson, Rice, Goslin & Cronin
      Minnesota: Killebrew, Carew, Puckett & Oliva in a coin toss over Blyleven.

      • OK, so about 15 seconds of skimming thru the HOF members tells me that are a whole bunch more guys that are going to be effected although most won’t be quite as evenly divided as Cronin is.

  3. If I were to split them between the Sens and the Twins, then I would go Johnson, Rice, Goslin and Cronin as Sens and Killebrew, Carew, Blyleven, and Puckett as Twins.

  4. Senators I/Twins have 4 distinct successful eras:

    1924 thru 1933 – Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin, Same Rice, Bucky Harris (over Joe Judge, Joe Cronin, Muddy Ruel, Ossie Bleuge, Firpo Marberry)
    1965 thru 1970 – Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat (over Camilo Pascual, Jim Perry)
    1987 thru 1991 – Kirby Puckett, Bert Blyleven, Tom Kelly, Kent Hrbek (over Gary Gaetti, Greg Gagne, Dan Gladden, Tom Brunansky, Roy Smalley, Scott Erickson, Chuck Knoblauch, Frank Viola, Rick Aguilara)
    2002 thru 2010 – Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter (over Ron Gardenhire, Joe Nathan, Brad Radke, AJ Pierzynski, Christian Guzman)

    Lots of good players/managers on there – Johnson, Goslin, Carew, Killebrew, Oliva, Puckett, Blyleven, Kelly, Mauer, Santana

    Mount Rushmaore (let’s take 1 per era) – Johnson, Carew, Puckett, Mauer

    • I thought of using your method (1 per successful era) but that meant leaving either the greatest power hitter in franchise history off or Mr. .388. I decided that Mauer would have to wait to get on the Mount (and then he might be nudging Puckett off, not Killer)

  5. I know Johnson pitched for Washington and they moved and are now the Twins but Johnson never pitched for the Twins so if it’s a Mount Rushmore Twins then he should not be on it

    • It’s for the entire franchise. That’s how we’ve done all these polls so far—Athletics included their time in KC and PHI, for example.

  6. ok can somebody do some homework for me on the old guys?

    Did the Senators win any World Series??

    There are an Some really good Twins on their that never did (as Twins)

    • 1924 Won WS
      1925, 1933 Lost WS

      1924/1925 Washington Senators were a GREAT Team. Tucked in there between Yankees WS appearances.

      • THe 1924 WS is well pre-TV, so it doesn’t get the attention that more recent great postseason moments get, but for a while after it happened, it was considered the greatest, most exciting WS ever.

        There was an excellent book written about it some years ago.

          • It’s called “Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington’s Only World Series Championship” and was written by the grandson of first baseman Joe Judge.

        • Sam Rice’s catch. And letter to the HOF
          to be opened upon his death. He made a game
          saving catch and tumbled over the fence. Emerged
          from the crowd. All pre-TV. Probably would rival
          Willie May’s catch.

          After he died in 1965, I believe, the HOF tried
          desperately to find the letter. About 2 weeks later
          a lawyer in NYC, after reading about the search produced
          the letter.

          For years the controversy was whether he held the ball.

          He wrote the letter to be opened after his death to resolve the question.

          The theme of this letter was as follows…

          “I had a death grip on it”.

          For leaving a letter like this I think Sam Rice, largely forgotten today, but a great player in his
          day, should be the greeter and tour guide at
          the fabulous Twins Mt. Rushmore located in sunny
          Minneapolis-St. Paul.

          The monument includes Walter Johnson, Harmon Killibrew,
          Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett.

          • For a detailed account of that catch you should read Rice’s biography on the SABR Baseball Biography Project. It can be accessed via a link on Rice’s home page on Baseball Reference. It’s worth a look.

          • I remember reading an interview with Rice about this long before his death (it was when I first became aware of him). It was very satisfying when his “deathbed statement” was revealed.

            That said, Rice’s catch was in the ’25 Series, which the Senators lost to the Pirates almost as dramatically as they won in ’24.

  7. Nice Card Andy. I was always on the fence between the Individual League Leader Cards (with 3 pictures and the long list of players on the back) or one card with both league leaders and the top 10 for each league on the back. I guess if you have a large number of cards in the set then the individual league leader cards (like the one shown) is better because it gives you 6 (or more if ties) photos for each stat.

  8. Sam Rice had a quite remarkable career arc, given that his first season as a regular wasn’t until age 27. Late starters like that are usually gone by their mid-30s (or earlier), yet Rice played until 44 and was still a regular at age 40 when he batted .349, within a point of his career best.

    What might Rice’s career totals have looked like if he had an earlier start instead of trying to be a pitcher? Probably in Musial (another failed pitcher) or Aaron territory in hits.

    • Rice holds an unusual record. In his 20 years in the game he never hit less than .293. That is the highest minimum BA for a player with at least 10 years in the majors. (There is no seasonal minimum PA taken into consideration.)

      Doug: Rice batted .350 at age 35 in 1925 for his seasonal high.

      • Take away Ty Cobb’s .240 over 150 AB in his rookie year, and he never hit less than .316. Hard to believe anyone could make such amazingly consistent contact.

  9. Juat looking at Carew’s stats. I never realized that he came within 1 game of winning 7 AL batting titles in a row (in 1976, in what has to be very close to the greatest batting race ever, the top 4 players in the batting race played in the same game in the final game of the season, with the final order being Brett .333, Mcrae .332, Carew, .331 and Bostock .328)

    • Nice, I always knew that Brett and McRae went down to the wire for the Batting Title. I didn’t realize that last game was so significant with all 4 of those players involved. From what I can tell from the boxscores from that last weekend – the 4 averages going into the last game of the season were Bostock .323, Carew .329, McRae .331, Brett .331.

      Carew and McRae went 2-4 and Brett went 3-4…wow. Bostock didn’t play.

      • As a Royals fan, I can tell the way it went down ended up being very ugly. Going into the last at bat in the bottom of the 9th, Carew was out of it and it came down to whether Brett or McRae got a hit or not. Brett did and McRae didn’t. Brett’s hit was an inside the park HR on a high fly to left misplayed by the Twins (white) LFer Steve Brye. After the game McRae, who was very upset, said some things I am sure he wished he could take back about Brye and Gene Mauch (implying that if their guy couldn’t win, the Twins made sure the white guy won)

        • “Things have been like this a long time. They’re changing gradually. They shouldn’t be this way, but I can accept it.” […] “I know what happened. It’s been too good a season for me to say too much, but I know they let that ball fall on purpose.”

          And here is McRae in a tender and emotional moment:

  10. #30/ajnrules –

    Thanks, I didn’t realize Joe Judge’s grandson wrote it. The Game Seven was especially epic, what with grounders to third TWICE bouncing over Freddie Lindstrom’s head.

  11. I went Johnson, Killebrew, Puckett, and Blyleven, though leaving off Rod Carew almost killed me. This poll really needed to be a “top five.” 😉

    If we were looking strictly at playing career, I probably would have Carew above Blyleven, but “Circle Me Bert” gets him in for me.

  12. Hartvig,

    Some others with pretty even splits between franchises are Frankie Frisch and Carlton Fisk (a couple that came immediately to mind).

    • Agreed. For non-twins fans this is the easiest one, but Twins fans will make a choice based upon their hearts, and that is the toughest one.

  13. For hometown fans, I’m guessing there’s a lot of sentiment for Hrbek, Johan, Oliva, maybe even Viola. (And that current frustration with Mauer undermines sentiment.)

  14. Johnson, Carew, Goslin and Blyleven. With sincere apologies to Harmon, I’m taking the Goose over him because of his impact on the 1924-25 World Series — OPS 1.000+ each time, with a total of 6 HRs and 13 RBI in 14 games.

    Firpo Marberry goes on Mt. Name-more.

      • Best of all, he had a sense of humor about his beak, as per James: “I been hitting .344 as a one-eyed hitter, you know. If I could see around my nose, I’d hit .600.”

        As to how many HRs he might have hit with another home park, his 1930 season is informative. He was dealt from the Senators to the Browns after hitting 7 HRs in 47 games; he hit 30 in 101 games the rest of the way. That year, he hit 3 HRs in 35 games in Griffith Stadium, and 34 in 113 everywhere else. That included 4 in 12 games at Comiskey; the Sox’ home leader hit 9 in 72 games.

        BTW, his career stats in Sportsmans Park were his best by far — .342/1.027 in 327 games, with an average of 35 HRs per 162 G.

        Of course, none of that really changes how good a hitter he was. With Washington, he hit 15-20 triples a year, won a batting title and an RBI crown with 129 (8 more than Ruth, who played a full schedule). For entertainment value, I’d much rather see 20 triples than 30 HRs.

        • Goslin’s sense of humor is an interesting factor. If you read the interview in Larry Ritter’s book, his humor is self-depreciating and very charming. But James reports that other players regarded him as selfish.

          All these nice comments about Goslin have certainly had an impact. I see his Rushmore vote total has soared to five.

  15. Yeah, this one doesn’t take much thought for me-Johnson, Carew, Killer, and Puckett. Special shout out to Tony Oliva-one of the more underrated and forgotten hitters of the last 50 years.

  16. I went with Johnson, Carew, and Killebrew. Then I fell off the wagon.

    My fourth head is Goslin. I was fascinated to learn as a boy that the Senators had not always been a second division team: I’d thought it was a law of nature. 1924 became my favorite series – others have already brought up its iconic status. It replaced 1912 as the greatest Series ever in its time, and it has a claim on that title to this day, not only because of the dramatic form of the seventh game, but because of the wide notion at the time that Johnson’s unlikely win was somehow providential.

    Some book I read years ago (not “Damn Senators” – but thanks for the tip, Lawrence) described Judge Landis looking down on crowds cheering in the street the evening after the game, and saying something to the effect: “History will remember this day as the highest point of baseball, the emblem of American civilization” (I’m guessing this was Fred Lieb’s story, but I can’t seem to find his book). History’s memory turned out to be shorter than the Judge calculated, but I’d like to see the franchise Rushmore reflect equally the Senator teams that represented that era and the Twins.

    Goslin served three terms on the Senators (though the last was really just an expression of affection by Griffith) and started every Senator World Series game. Puckett and Blyleven edge Goslin in franchise WAR, but not by much, and Goose added 20 more on the Browns and Tigers (of course, no comparison to Bert there – he’d be my fifth head). With the Senators, Rice and Judge edge Goslin too, but if you’re going to be staring at a stone head, would you really want it to belong to either of those two dour guys?

    I see that while I was searching for the Lieb book, John Autin’s vote came in for Goslin, so I’m in good company.

  17. Johnson, Oliva, Killebrew and Hrbek. Except for the end of Killebrew’s career, all of my picks spent their major-league playing days with the franchise. So did Kirby Puckett, but Hrbek gets the hometown edge.

  18. JA and epm:

    Goose’s huge beak will require a large mountain for justice to be done.

    Together you’ve convinced me of what I wanted to think, but resisted: After the truly big names, Goslin was maybe the most dominant hitter in the AL of that era—1923 to 1936. Playing in a different home park he would have had 400 home runs, and his 248 total isn’t shabby at that. Like Heilmann, he is somehow undervalued—overshadowed might be a better term—but he was also a winner, a guy who helped make good teams, the only non-Yankee AL player of those years to make it to five World Series teams as a starter.

    I never liked Killebrew as a player, one of the first one-dimensional stars, so he’s out. I’ll go with Johnson, Goslin, Carew, and Puckett. You’d think the Twins would have had a superstar Scandinavian by now. (A Minnesota joke, not a non sequitur. Or was Walter Johnson a Swede?)

    • Not that it matters but Goslin holds the record for the most home runs (32) at Yankee Stadium by a visiting player, more than Ted Williams (30). It makes you wonder how many HRs he would have hit had the Stadium was his home park.

  19. Johnson my avatar was not Swedish, but nicknamed one due to his looks. When asked about why he did not correct the misapprehension, he replied how fine the Swedes are & he said something like not wanting to disavow folks of the notion.

    There is great symmetry & some irony in the Joe Judge Grandson book & the one by Walter Johnson’s Grandson, “Baseball’s Big Train”. Especially since it was Judge’s line drive that effectively ended Johnson’s career. That is a great book, with a thrilling account of their World Series. There is a quote about another top baseball man asking an associate “have we reached the zenith of sports”? after the ’24 series.

    • Pedro Borbon too. He was a big part of that bullpen employed
      by the Big Red Machine back in the 70’s.

      Sad when these guys that we remember as kids go.

      He probably would have made $5,000,000 a year today as
      a bridge to the one inning closer of today.

      • My Dad and I used to call Pedro Borbon “Ol’ Rubber Arm” for his ability to pitch in so many games. Good times.

  20. I know strikeouts weren’t nearly as prevalent in Sam Rice’s playing days, but to strike out only 9 times in 689 PA’s at age 39 is pretty incredible. 275 k’s in over 10,000 PA’s for his career.

    • If you’re impressed by that – check out Joe Sewell’s record: 9 seasons of over 100 games played with less than ten strikeouts (3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9). 114 career strikeouts in 7,132 ABs.

      I’ve heard he used the same bat for much of his career. Apocryphal?

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