The Twins Almanac for February

February 2
Happy Birthday, Scott Erickson

It’s the birthday of former Twins pitcher Scott Erickson, born in Long Beach, CA in 1968. The Twins drafted Erickson out of Arizona State in the fourth round of the 1989 draft. It was the fourth time he had been drafted.

Erickson made it to the majors midway through the 1990 season, finishing strong with a 5-0 record in September. He went 12-2 with a 1.39 ERA in the first half off the 1991 season, and was named starting pitcher of the All-Star Game. Erickson, however, was unable to pitch due to injury, so manager Tony LaRussa handed the ball to fellow Twin Jack Morris in his stead. Morris wore black socks and his pants low in the style of Erickson. Erickson wound up going 20-8 for the ‘91 World Series Champion Twins, tying for the major league lead in wins and finishing second to Roger Clemens for the American League Cy Young Award.

After a solid ‘92 season, Erickson lost a major league-worst 19 games in 1993. ‘94 was arguably an even worse season for Erickson, though he did no-hit the Brewers at the Metrodome on April 27th. He rebounded after being traded to the Orioles during the ‘95 season, and would ultimately prove to be one of the more durable pitchers of the ‘90s, pitching an American League-leading 251.1 innings in 1998, and winning 73 games between 1995 and ’99.

February 2, 2008
Twins Trade Santana

The Twins due the prudent thing and trade 2004 and 2006 Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana to the Mets for outfielder Carlos Gomez and three pitchers, all of whom were duds. Gomez showed sparks but never lived up to his potential in Minnesota, though he did score one of the most exciting runs in team history on October 6, 2009. Less than a month later he was traded to Milwaukee for former and future All-Star J.J. Hardy. Gomez, for his part, would go on to consecutive All-Star seasons for Milwaukee in 2013 and ‘14.

After three very good seasons in New York, Santana missed all of the 2011 season. He went 6-9 in 21 starts in 2012, pitching his final major league game on August 17, 2012 at age 33.

The Twins announced that Santana had been elected to the team Hall of Fame on January 19, 2018.

February 2, 1996
Coldest Day in State History

The state record low temperature of -60 is recorded near the town of Tower. I was on a sixth-grade class field trip, staying in pretty rustic cabins just a few miles away at the Laurentian Environmental Center in Britt.

Former Pioneer Press sportswriter Jim Caple got married that day in Eagan! Don’t feel too bad for the couple, though; it was only -32 in the Twin Cities, a full two degrees warmer than the metro record of -34 set in January 1936.  

Caple wrote for the Pioneer Press from June 1989 to February 2000.

The temperature in Tower on February 8—six days later—was 48; a swing of 108 degrees!

February 3, 1979
Twins Trade Carew

The Twins trade seven-time American League batting champ Rod Carew to the Angels for Ken Landreaux, Dave Engle, Brad Havens, and Paul Hartzell. It had become increasingly clear that team owner Calvin Griffith had no intention of ponying up for the future Hall of Famer. And even if Griffith could have afforded him, it was unlikely that Carew would have played for Griffith again after the owner’s infamous, off-the-rails ramblings at a Lion’s Club dinner in Waseca on September 28. Griffith was quoted in the Star Tribune as having said “I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when we found out you only had 15,000 blacks here … We came here because you’ve got good, hardworking white people here.”

Read Nick Coleman‘s original October 1, 1978 article (click here).

February 3, 1987
Twins Acquire Terminator

The Twins trade pitcher Neal Heaton, 1980 first-round draft pick catcher Jeff Reed, 19-year-old future major league pitcher Yorkis Perez, and career minor league pitcher Afredo Cardwood to the Expos for backup catcher Tom Nieto and 1985 and ‘86 All-Star closer Jeff Reardon. Reardon would save 31 regular season games for the ‘87 Twins, plus three postseason games, including Game 7 of the World Series. Reardon surpassed Rollie Fingers as major league baseball’s all-time saves leader in 1992 with his 342nd save. His 367 career saves currently rank 10th all-time. Stupid Jonathan Papelbon passed him in 2016. Joe Nathan is eighth on the list with 377. Heaton, for his part, won a career-high 13 games for the Expos in 1987.

The Twins career leaders are Nathan (260), Rick Aguilera (254), Glen Perkins (120), Eddie Guardado (116), Ron Davis (108), and Reardon (104).

Please enjoy this video of Reardon saving the fifth and final game of the 1987 ALCS:

February 4
Happy Birthday, Ben Hendrickson

1999 Bloomington Jefferson graduate and former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Ben Hendrickson was born in St. Cloud on February 4, 1981.

Milwaukee chose Hendrickson in the 10th round of the ’99 draft. He was the second of three Jefferson Jaguars drafted out of high school, and the first of those high school draftees to make it to the majors… so far. 2015 graduate Jake Irvin was drafted by the Twins in the 37th round, but opted to attend the University of Oklahoma. The 6-foot-6 pitcher was drafted by the Nationals in the fourth round following his junior year in 2018.

The Twins drafted Kent Mariska out of Jefferson in the 40th round of the 1974 draft. The speedster didn’t advance past Appalachian League rookie ball, though.

Though not drafted out of high school, another Jefferson alumnus has made it to the majors. Steven Edlefsen was taken by the San Francisco Giants in the 16th round of the 2007 draft out of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Edlefsen made it to the majors with the Giants in 2011 and 2012, appearing in 27 games overall.

I always find people’s paths to the majors interesting. Despite being drafted out of high school, Hendrickson doesn’t exactly dominate the Bloomington Jefferson record books. He tied the school record with 17 strikeouts in a game vs. Eagan in 1998. His 71 strikeouts in 1998 and 65 in ’99 are third and fifth-best in school history. His 1998 ERA of 2.01 is eleventh-best in school history. There have been four no-hitters and 13 one-hitters in school history; none by Hendrickson. He did, however, pitch a two-hitter vs. Bloomington Kennedy in 1998. He also had two career shutouts: one vs. Eagan in 1997, and another vs. Wayzata in 1998.

Pitching at triple-A Indianapolis in 2004, Hendrickson was the International League MVP and Brewers minor league pitcher of the year, going 11-3 with two shutouts, a 2.02 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. He also made 10 appearances in the majors that year (nine starts).

Hendrickson made his major league debut in Los Angeles on June 2, 2004 at age 23. He gave up four runs on seven hits over five innings, picking up the loss. He made nine starts and one relief appearance that season, finishing with a 1-8 record. His only major league win came in Milwaukee on September 4, 2004, when he held the Cincinnati Reds to two runs on seven hits over six innings.

Hendrickson spent the entire 2005 season at triple-A where he went 6-12.

He made it back to the majors in 2006, making three starts and one relief appearance. He made his final major league appearance on May 20, 2006 in Milwaukee vs. his hometown Minnesota Twins. After giving up a leadoff single to Lew Ford and walking Luis Castillo, he gave up consecutive RBI hits to Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, and Justin Morneau before he was pulled, having given up five runs without recording an out. A sixth run was charged to him before the inning was over.

Hendrickson hung around pro ball for three more seasons, spending time in the Royals and Rays organizations before being signed by the Twins on February 17, 2009. He made nine relief appearances for triple-A Rochester, giving up nine runs on 18 hits and nine walks over 10.1 innings before being released on June 19.

A few noteworthy things jumped out at me while perusing Hendrickson’s Baseball Reference page:

With former Twin Todd Walker on base, Hendrickson gave up one of Sammy Sosa’s 609 career home runs on July 29, 2004.
He held slugger Adam Dunn 0-for- 5 with a walk and three strikeouts. Dunn was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame this past November.
Larry Walker was 1-for- 6 with a walk and a strikeout vs. Hendrickson. Walker appeared on 34.1% of Hall of Fame ballots in 2018, his eighth year of eligibility.
Hendrickson got two major league hits, the first coming off the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano on July 29, 2004.

February 5
Happy Birthday, Al Worthington

It’s the birthday of former Twins stopper Al Worthington, born in Birmingham, AL in 1929.

The Twins purchased the 35-year-old pitcher’s contract from the Reds on June 26, 1964, the same day that Twins pitcher Gerry Arrigo took a no-hitter vs. Chicago into the ninth at Met Stadium. Arrigo would complete a one-hit shutout of the Sox. Worthington, meanwhile, would appear in 41 of the Twins’ 81 remaining games, posting a 1.37 ERA.

Worthington was the first Twin to save 20+ games, going 10-5 with 21 saves and a 2.13 ERA during the Twins’ 1965 American League championship season.

Worthington was the first Twin to lead the league in saves with 18 in 1968 at age 39. The others to do so were Ron Perranoski in 1969 and 1970, Mike Marshall in 1979, and Eddie Guardado in 2002. (Note: saves weren’t an official stat until 1969)

With the Twins hosting the Senators on August 9, 1967, Worthington was involved in what must be one of the greatest relief pitcher duels in major league history. The Twins pieced together a 7-0 lead through six innings, but Washington tied it in the seventh with a two-out, seven-run rally.

Worthington and Senators reliever Darold Knowles both entered in the eighth. Worthington went 8.2 scoreless innings, allowing just two singles and two walks, at one point retiring 17 consecutive Senators. For the sabermetrically inclined, Worthington’s performance scored a WPA (Win Probability Added) of 1.176, the most valuable relief performance in Twins history (per Chris Jaffe’s August 27, 2012 Hardball Times article).

Knowles, meanwhile, pitched 10 scoreless innings, allowing three singles and two walks while striking out 10. The walks came back-to-back with one out in the 11th to the pitcher Worthington and Zoilo Versalles, putting the winning run on second with César Tovar and Tony Oliva coming up. Knowles, however, got Tovar to fly out to center, and Oliva to pop out to the catcher. Knowles performance scored a WPA of 1.231, the most valuable relief performance in Senators/Rangers history.

Despite a combined 18.2 innings of relief work, neither pitcher factored in the decision. After the Senators scored two in the top of the 20th, Sandy Valdespino led off the bottom of the inning with a single. As remarkable of a game as this was, here’s my favorite part: with two out in the bottom of the 20th, pitcher Jim Kaat pinch-hit for shortstop Jackie Hernandez, representing the tying run! Kaat flew out to right to end the game, but still, when’s the last time you heard of a pitcher pinch-hitting in a situation like that? 

February 5
Happy Birthday, Mark Hamburger

It’s the birthday of 2005 Mounds View High School graduate and Mesabi Range Community and Technical College alumnus Mark Hamburger, born in St. Paul in 1987.

Hamburger was signed by the Twins as an amateur free agent on June 19, 2007, and was traded to Texas for “Everyday” Eddie Guardado on August 25, 2008. Guardado had previously pitched for the Twins from 1993 to 2003. Including the nine games in 2008, Guardado pitched in 648 games for the Twins, the most in team history by a mile. Rick Aguilera is next on the list, 158 games back. Guardado loves to say that he was “traded for Hamburger.”

Hamburger made his major league debut on August 31, 2011 at age 24, pitching a perfect ninth inning in a 4-1 loss vs. Tampa Bay. Overall, Hamburger pitched eight innings over five appearances with the Rangers, giving up four runs on five hits and three walks while striking out six.

He earned his only major league win in his final game, on September 26, 2011. Leading the Angels 1-0 in Los Angeles, Hamburger replaced C.J. Wilson to start the bottom of the third. After three scoreless innings, he gave up a one-out double to Torii Hunter in the sixth. After getting Vernon Wells to pop out for the second out, Hamburger was replaced by Darren Oliver. Mike Trout singled home Hunter, and Oliver walked Bobby Abreu with the bases loaded before getting out of the inning, with the Rangers still clinging to a 3-2 lead and Hamburger in line for the win. The Rangers went on to win 4-3 with Neftali Feliz earning the save.

After struggling at triple-A Round Rock in 2012, the Rangers put Hamburger on waivers. He was claimed by the Padres on June 25, 2012, but didn’t fare much better at triple-A Tucson, so was put on waivers again and claimed by the Astros on July 21. He was released by Houston the following winter.

Hamburger pitched for the St. Paul Saints in 2013, starting 21 games, going 6-8 with a 3.26 ERA and 1.403 WHIP. He averaged seven innings per start. The Twins signed him on September 4, 2013.

The Twins had previously signed Saints pitcher Caleb Thielbar following the 2011 season. The Twins probably felt particularly good about signing a Saints pitcher in September 2013, as Thielbar had been sensational for them that season, not allowing a run in his first 17 major league appearances, ultimately going 3-2 over 48 appearances (46 innings pitched), with a 1.76 ERA and 0.826 WHIP.

After two seasons at triple-A Rochester, however, the Twins granted Hamburger free agency on November 6, 2015.

Hamburger returned to the Saints, where he went 12-6 in 2016, and 13-6 in 2017. He is expected to pitch for the Saints again in 2018.

He also pitched for the Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League during the winter of 2016-’17, and 2017-’18. He has previously pitched in the Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, and Mexican Pacific Winter Leagues.

February 5, 1991
Twins Sign Morris

The Twins sign free agent pitcher Jack Morris to a one-year, $3.7 million contract, making the 1973 Highland Park grad the second-highest paid player, and highest paid pitcher in the American League. Morris had previously been the highest paid pitcher in the league in 1987 and ‘88, and would be again in 1993.

The uncharacteristic opening of the purse strings paid dividends for the Pohlads, as Morris won 18 regular season games, and four more in the postseason, including the legendary 10-inning shutout of Atlanta in Game 7 of the World Series.

1991 was his only season as a Twin. He signed with the Blue Jays on December 18.

Morris was elected to the Hall of Fame alongside former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell by the Veterans Committee on December 10, 2017. The Tigers drafted Trammell in ‘75, and Morris in ‘76. They both made their major league debuts in 1977.

Morris was the fourth Minnesotan elected to the Hall of Fame, and the third from St. Paul. The three St. Paul Hall of Famers all graduated from local high schools within six years of each other: Dave Winfield (St. Paul Central, 1969), Morris (Highland Park, 1973), and Paul Molitor (Cretin, 1974).

February 6, 1998
Twins Trade Chuck Knoblauch

The Twins trade All-Star second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to the New York Yankees for minor leaguers Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Brian Buchanan, Danny Mota and three million dollars of George Steinbrenner’s cold hard cash. There had been speculation for several years that the struggling Twins would deal hot commodity Knoblauch, and eventually he himself demanded to be traded to a contender.

Knoblauch was coming off a stretch of four sensational seasons in which he made three All-Star teams, hitting .318 and stealing 188 bases. His 127 OPS+ over that stretch was three points better than Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar.

The trade would ultimately go down as a win-win. Knoblauch was uneven as a Yankee. We all know about his struggles throwing the ball to first base. He continued to swing a solid stick, though, and the Yankees won the World Series in each of his first three seasons in New York.

Cristian Guzman, meanwhile, was the Twins’ starting shortstop for six seasons, leading the league in triples three times. He never realized his full potential, but Twins fans sure saw some sparks from the speedster.

Milton jumped straight into the starting rotation, giving the Twins five solid seasons, highlighted by a no-hitter on September 11, 1999. Another highlight came on April 15, 2001 when Milton struck out eight of the first 10 White Sox he faced.

Buchanan played 143 games with the Twins between 2000 and 2002. He hit one of the Twins’ five home runs on Opening Day, April 1, 2002. The Twins are the most recent of five American League teams to hit five home runs on Opening Day. The previous four were the Yankees in 1932, Red Sox in 1965, Brewers in 1980, and Cleveland in 1995. The Mets set the major league record with six Opening Day home runs in 1988.

Mota made four relief appearances for the Twins late in the 2000 season, his only stint in the majors.

February 8, 1925
Birthdate of Milt Nielsen

It’s the birthdate of Milt Nielsen born 93 years ago in Tyler, MN (in Lincoln County, between Marhsall, MN and Brookings, SD).

He started three games in center for Cleveland in 1949, going 1-for-11 with one run scored. He played in 16 games for Cleveland in 1951, pinch-running ten times, and pinch-hitting six times, going 0-for-6. He didn’t play in the field at all.

Nielsen played a total of nine professional seasons from 1946 to 1954, all in the Cleveland organization.

He passed away in Mankato on August 1, 2005 at age 80, and was laid to rest at Resurrection Cemetery in St. Peter.

February 9, 1902
Birthdate of Julie Wera

1927 Yankees bench player Julie Wera was born in Winona, MN on February 9, 1902.

Wera joined Winona’s top amateur baseball team, the Peerless Chains, sponsored by the Peerless Tire Chain Company, in July 1921, when he was just 16 years old. The 5-foot-7, 155-pound speedster was recruited to play semi-pro ball in Wausau, WI in 1924, where he caught the attention of the St. Paul Saints. On December 21, 1926, the Saints traded Wera to the New York Yankees for $40,000 and two players to be named later (per Baseball Reference).

Wera was the only rookie to make the Yankees out of camp in 1927. The 25-year-old made his major league debut on April 14, 1927, pinch-hitting for Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt versus Hall of Famer Lefty Grove. He grounded out.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of Wera’s career came on the Fourth of July in an auspicious doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. A crowd of 74,000—the largest crowd ever to attend a baseball game to that point—saw the Yanks demolish the second-place Senators, winning the first game 12-1 and the second 21-1. Wera replaced Joe Dugan at third base in the seventh inning of Game 2, and in the bottom of the inning he clouted a two-run homer off Nats lefty Bobby Burke, a rookie like Wera. It would be the only homer of Wera’s major league career.

The ‘27 Yankees are regarded by many as the greatest baseball team ever assembled. 32-year-old Babe Ruth swatted 60 home runs, while the team went 110-44 (.714), winning the American League pennant by a margin of 19 games. Wera, for his part, got into 38 games (19 starts), going 10-for-42 (.238) with a walk, eight RBI, and seven runs scored.

He suffered a gnarly knee injury in a late-season play at home, and was not a part of the World Series, in which the Yankees swept the Pirates. He did, however, receive the same $5,782 portion of the winners’ purse as Ruth, Gehrig, and the rest of the gang. Nice bonus, considering that Wera’s 1927 salary was $2,400.

Hampered by the knee injury, Wera was back in the minors with St. Paul in 1928. He did make it back to the Yankees for five games in 1929, going 5-for-12 (.417).

In total, Wera played 13 seasons of professional baseball, wrapping up his career in 1937 with the Crookston (MN) Pirates, a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate in the class-D Northern League.

Julie Wera died of a heart attack at his home in Rochester, MN on December 12, 1975. He was 73 years old.

Jerome Christenson wrote a great, succinct profile of Wera for the Winona Daily News on October 13, 2016 (click here).

For a more thorough picture, including a great anecdote about Lou Gehrig making a surprise visit to the Rochester Piggly Wiggly to see his old friend Wera, read J.G. Preston’s SABR BioProject essay (click here).

February 10
Happy Birthday, Max Kepler

It’s the birthday of Twins outfielder Max Kepler, born in Berlin, Germany in 1993.

Playing Cleveland at Target Field on August 1, 2016, Kepler became the fifth player in Twins history to hit three home runs in a game. The previous four were Bob Allison (1963), Harmon Killebrew (1963), Tony Oliva (1973), and Justin Morneau (2007).

Kepler’s three-home run game opened the floodgates. Brian Dozier joined the club on September 5, 2016, Eddie Rosario on June 13, 2017, and Byron Buxton on August 27, 2017. So while the first four three-home run games in Twins history came over a span of 8,875 games, the next four came over a span of just 188.

Kepler’s three-home run game was the beginning of a historic three-game stretch for the team as a whole. Mired in the worst season in franchise history, the Twins hit a team record 19 extra-base hits over a two-game span.

They set a milestone in the third game of the series by putting up 10 runs in three straight games against the same team for the first time. The Twins had scored 10 runs in three straight games before, but never against the same team. They would lose the fourth game of the series 9-2.

February 11, 1985
Hrbek Cashes In

The Twins sign 1978 Bloomington Kennedy High School grad Kent Hrbek to a new five-year, $6 million contract, making Hrbie the first player in team history scheduled to make a million dollars a year. I say “scheduled” because Hrbie’s annual salary wouldn’t actually exceed $1 million until the 1986 season, and the Twins traded for Bert Blyleven, making well over $1 million a year, during the 1985 season.

Hrbek celebrated by going ice fishing outside his Lake Minnetonka home.

Hrbek was coming off of what would be the best season of his career in 1984, hitting .311 with 27 home runs and 107 RBI. He finished runner-up in American League MVP balloting to Detroit closer Willie Hernandez, who also won the AL Cy Young Award. Kansas City closer Dan Quisenberry came in third in MVP balloting and second in Cy Young balloting. Quisenberry finished second or third in Cy Young balloting four straight seasons from 1982 to 1985.

Next time you see Hrbie, ask him how he feels about pitchers receiving MVP votes.

February 12
Happy Birthday, Brian Denman

It’s the birthday of 1974 Richfield High School graduate and University of Minnesota alumnus Brian Denman, born in Minneapolis in 1956.

Denman was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the first round of the 1978 January secondary phase. The 6’4″ right-handed pitcher was a hot prospect in the Red Sox organization, winning 30 games in his first two minor league seasons, and 51 between 1978 and ‘82. Denman made his major league debut on August 2, 1982 at age 26, allowing two runs on six hits over five innings to earn the win in Oakland. 1961 St. Cloud Cathedral grad Tom Burgmeier earned the four-inning save. (Noticing these cool little connections makes Baseball Reference game logs some of the best reading there is)

Denman made nine starts during his only big league season, going 3-4 with a 4.78 ERA, only striking out nine in 49 innings of work.

He only lasted 2/3 of an inning in his second-to-last start, giving up six runs (two earned) on four hits and a walk against the Yankees at Fenway. He was again relieved by Burgmeier.

Denman made one heckuva recovery, pitching a six-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium on October 2, his final major league start.

He played two more seasons in the Red Sox organization, and 1985–’86 with the Tigers’ triple-A Nashville Sounds.

In addition to being an all-time great baseball player at Richfield, Denman was a standout member of the Spartans’ 1972 state champion and ’73 and ’74 state runner-up basketball teams. These days Denman makes his home in Buffalo, NY.

February 12
Happy Birthday, Cole De Vries

It’s the birthday of 2003 Eden Prairie graduate, University of Minnesota alumnus, and former Twins pitcher Cole De Vries, born in St. Louis Park in 1985.

De Vries played three seasons for the Gophers before signing with the Twins as an amateur free agent in 2006. He made his major league debut on May 24, 2012 at age 27, allowing six runs on six hits and a walk over five innings in an 11-8 loss to the White Sox in Chicago. It was a rude welcome to the big leagues as A.J. Pierzynski, Paul Konerko, and Alex Rios each took him deep. Mauer and Morneau homered for the Twins, for what it’s worth.

De Vries made 17 appearances (16 starts) in 2012, compiling a 5-5 record with a 4.11 ERA. He earned the win in his second and third big league starts, but did not win again for almost two months before winning his final three starts of the season.

De Vries made it back to the majors in September 2013, struggling through two relief appearances and two starts, giving up 18 runs on 22 hits over 15 innings. He pitched in Venezuela that winter, with similar results.

The retired pitcher still lives in Eden Prairie, and works in commercial real estate.

February 15
Happy Birthday, Don Arlich

It’s the birthday of 1961 St. Paul North graduate and former Houston Astros pitcher Don Arlich, born in Wayne, Michigan in 1943.

Arlich went 15-0 for the 1961 State Champion North High Polars, a team that also featured Twins curator Clyde Doepner.

Arlich signed with Houston out of high school. He made his major league debut on October 2, 1965 at age 22, starting the second-to-last game of the season versus the St. Louis Cardinals at the Astrodome. He held the Cardinals to two runs on five hits and a walk over six innings, and was in line for the win before St. Louis rallied against the Houston bullpen.

Arlich made it back to the majors in July 1966, making seven relief appearances, giving up nine runs (seven earned) on eleven hits and four walks over four innings pitched.

He stuck it out in the minors until 1969, playing his final two and a half seasons in the Braves’ organization.

February 16, 1897
Birthdate of Paul Castner

It’s the birthdate of St. Thomas Academy (Mendota Heights) graduate, World War I veteran, Notre Dame legend, and former White Sox pitcher Paul Castner, born in St. Paul.

According to biographer Bill Lamb, baseball was Castner’s third-best sport after football and hockey. He played fullback at Notre Dame under legendary coach Knute Rockne, blocking for the Gipper.

He made six relief appearances for the 1923 White Sox, giving up nine runs (seven earned) on 14 hits and five walks over 10 innings pitched. He never struck out a major league batter.

Read Bill Lamb’s thorough and fascinating SABR BioProject essay on Castner (click here).

February 16, 1973
Twins Announce Thompson’s Leukemia Diagnosis

The Twins announce that 26-year-old infielder Danny Thompson has been diagnosed with chronic granulocytic leukemia. Doctors say that the disease is in an early stage, and should not affect Thompson for about five years.

The Twins drafted Thompson out of Oklahoma State in 1968 in the first round of the June Secondary Phase. He made his major league debut on June 25, 1970 at age 23 and never went back down to the farm. He played in 630 games over seven seasons with the Twins.

Thompson was involved in contentious contract negotiations with Calvin Griffith in 1976. Griffith refused to give the infielder a fair price, insisting that no other team would even offer a contract to someone with cancer. So on June 1, 1976 he was packaged with Bert Blyleven and shipped to Texas in exchange for Roy Smalley, Mike Cubbage, and pitchers Bill Singer, and Jim Gideon. Thompson struggled in Texas.

He passed away at the Mayo Clinic on December 10, 1976, just 69 days after playing his final major league game. He played in 98 games between Minnesota and Texas in the final year of his life. He was just 29 years old.

February 17
Happy Birthday, Josh Willingham

It’s the birthday of former Twins outfielder Josh Willingham, born in Florence, AL in 1979.

The Twins signed Willingham to a three-year, $21 million contract on December 15, 2011. at the time, it was the richest free agent deal in team history, according to SABR member John Swol‘s awesome site,

Willingham began the season with a 15-game hitting streak—the longest streak to begin a Twins career, and tied with Kirby Puckett‘s 1994 streak for the longest to begin a season in team history.

Willingham  had a career year in 2012, hitting .260 with 35 home runs and 110 RBI, and winning a Silver Slugger Award alongside fellow AL outfielders Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton.

Willingham had actually played for a Minnesota team over a decade earlier. He played third base for Austin‘s Southern Minny Stars in 1998 and ’99—the team’s final two seasons in the Northwoods summer collegiate league. (He played mostly shortstop in college). On a related note, did you know Kirby Puckett was an All-American third baseman in high school?

February 18
Happy Birthday, Kevin Tapani

It’s the birthday of Twins all-time great Kevin Tapani, born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1964. He grew up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where he quarterbacked the Escanaba Eskymos to the Class 1A state championship as a senior in 1981. Escanaba didn’t have a high school baseball team, just a Legion team that played about 15 games in June and July.

Tapani walked on at Central Michigan University where he pitched from 1983 to ’86, going 23-8 as the team won three consecutive Mid-American Conference titles. He pitched a no-hitter vs. Eastern Michigan on April 22, 1986.

Tapani was selected by the Athletics in the second round of the 1986 draft. He went to the Mets as part of a three-team, eight-player trade on December 11, 1987. He was called up when Doc Gooden went down with an injury, and made his major league debut on July 4, 1989 at age 25, relieving Bob Ojeda with two out and runners on second and third in the bottom of the first. He balked home a run before throwing his first major league pitch. He recovered, however, pitching 4 ⅓ innings and allowing just the one run on two hits and three walks. He put the ball in play off Houston’s Mike Scott in his first big league at-bat, lining out deep down the right field line according to Baseball Reference’s game log.

The Twins acquired Tapani on July 31, 1989 as part of perhaps the greatest trade in team history when they sent 1987 World Series MVP and ‘88 AL Cy Young winner Frank Viola to the Mets for David West, Rick Aguilera, Tapani, Tim Drummond, and Jack Savage (as a player to be named later).

Tapani won 75 games for the Twins between 1989 and 1995. He had double digit wins of each of his five full seasons in Minnesota.

Tapani had his best season as a Twin in 1991, going 16-9 with a 2.99 ERA, 3.49 FIP (thank you, Mike Pagliarulo and Greg Gagne), 1.086 WHIP, and averaged five strikeouts and 1.5 walks per nine innings. He actually led the ‘91 team with a 6.8 WAR (as calculated by Baseball Reference). May 15, 1991 at the Dome, however, was not one of his better games, as the Brewers’ Paul Molitor tripled on his first pitch of the game and proceeded to go 5-for-5, hitting for the cycle.

He outdueled Tom Glavine in Game 2 of the 1991 World Series, giving up two runs on seven hits and no walks over eight innings. Scott Leius’s solo homer gave the Twins the lead in the bottom of the eighth, and Rick Aguilera slammed the door in the top of the ninth. He lost to Glavine in Game 5 in Atlanta, leaving after giving up four runs in the fourth. The loss put the Twins on the brink of elimination heading home for Game 6. We all know how that story ends.

On July 31, 1995, six years to the day after he came to Minnesota in the Viola trade, Tapani and Mark Guthrie were traded to the Dodgers for four players including Ron Coomer. He went on to pitch for the White Sox in 1996, and the Cubs from 1997 to 2001. He won 19 games for the Cubs in 1998, and hit his first major league home run off his former Twins teammate Denny Neagle. He hit another homer in 2000.

Tapani still lives in the Twin Cities. He recently spent several seasons as a baseball coach at Providence Academy in Plymouth.

February 19, 1876
Birthdate of “Home Run” Joe Marshall

It’s the birthdate of “Home Run Joe Marshall, born in Audubon, MN in 1876. Marshall broke into professional baseball in the Red River Valley League in 1897. Despite his 5-foot-8, 170-pound frame, Marshall was one of the preeminent minor league sluggers of the Deadball Era. He led all of organized baseball with 25 (officially) or 26 home runs for the San Francisco Pirates in 1903. The Boston Americans’ Buck Freeman, by comparison, led the major leagues that season with just eight round-trippers.

Despite his success at lower levels, Marshall performed poorly in two brief major league stints, first in 1903 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and again in 1906 with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Terry Bohn wrote about Marshall for the SABR BioProject (click here).

And CLICK HERE for some interesting blog posts by Jeff Bozovsky, author of Divorcees, Barmaids, and Cranks: The 1897 Red River Valley League. 

February 19, 1912
Birthdate of Dick Siebert

It’s the birthdate of Richard “DickSiebert, born in Fall River, MA in 1912. In the summer of 1923 the Sieberts moved to Cass Lake, MN where Dick’s dad pastored Immanuel Lutheran Church. In 1926 the family moved to St. Paul where the elder Siebert had accepted a teaching position at Concordia College. Dick graduated from Concordia Academy High School in 1928.

Dick Siebert played in six games for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932, and two games in 1936. He was drafted by the Cubs in the 1936 Rule 5 Draft, and purchased by the Cardinals prior to the 1937 season. In May 1938 he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics where he finally saw regular playing time from 1938 to 1945. In 1941, a good season for offense, he hit .334 with a career-high 79 RBI. He was an American League All-Star in 1943.

In total he played in 1,035 major league games across parts of 11 seasons, hitting .282 with 32 home runs.

Siebert is best known in Minnesota, of course, for coaching the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers from 1948 to 1978, winning three NCAA championships (1956, ‘60 and ‘64), and 12 Big Ten titles, with only three sub-.500 seasons.

Dick Siebert passed away on December 9, 1978. He was just 66 years old. The U of M renamed its ballpark “Siebert Field” on April 21, 1979.

Rich Arpi wrote a thorough essay on Siebert for the Halsey Hall SABR book Minnesotans in Baseball. That book can be found on Amazon, but Arpi’s essay is available through the SABR BioProject (click here).

February 19, 1985
Twins Acquire Smalley, Again

The Twins trade first baseman Randy Johnson and outfielder Ron Scheer to the White Sox for infielder Roy Smalley. Randy Johnson, who originally came up with Chicago in 1980, had last played in the majors with Minnesota in 1982. He would not make it back to the show. Ron Scheer would never make it past Double-A.

The Twins had originally acquired Smalley in the 1976 trade that sent Bert Blyleven and Danny Thompson to the Texas Rangers. Smalley’s first stint with the Twins was highlighted by his 1979 All-Star campaign. On April 10, 1982 he was traded along with St. Cloud State alumnus and proprietor of Serum’s Good Time Emporium in Anoka, Gary Serum, to the New York Yankees for pitchers Ron Davis, Paul Boris, and a minor league infielder named Greg Gagne. In July 1984, the Yankees offloaded Smalley to the White Sox in exchange for players to be named later, one of whom wound up being Doug Drabek, who after just one season the Yankees shipped off to Pittsburgh where he won the 1990 NL Cy Young Award.

One of the highlights of Smalley’s second stint with the Twins—other than winning the 1987 World Series, of course—was becoming the first player in Twins history to homer from both sides of the plate on May 30, 1986. Four players have done so since: Chili Davis (October 2, 1992), Ryan Doumit (July 22, 2012), Kennys Vargas (August 11, 2016), and Jorge Polanco (August 29, 2017). Here’s a fun story that Roy Smalley related to me on Twitter: “It just so happened that right after Doumit did it Chili was in town with the A’s and I was there for FSN. We took a great picture together . . . We also each signed three baseballs with the dates we hit the HR’s — one for each of us — which I’m proud to have. Only three Twins to have done it.” This, of course, was before Vargas and Polanco joined the club.

Roy Smalley retired following the Twins’ 1987 World Series Championship season.

February 20, 1987
Twins Acquire Al Newman

The Twins trade minor league pitcher Mike Shade to the Montreal Expos for infielder Al Newman. Shade would never make it to the majors. Newmie, meanwhile, played an important role on the Twins’ 1987 and 1991 World Series Championship teams.

Newman played in 110 games in 1987, starting 75, splitting time pretty evenly between second base and shortstop. One of my all-time favorite “fun facts,” however, is that he also started two games as the 1987 World Series champions’ designated hitter. Newman hit exactly one career home run, that coming on July 6, 1986 as a member of the Montreal Expos off Atlanta’s Zane Smith. Atlanta cleanup hitter Bob Horner hit four home runs in that game, with the fourth coming off Jeff Reardon with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Reardon popped out the next batter, Ken Griffey, to secure the save. The Twins acquired Reardon in a trade with Montreal on February 3, 1987.

Newman played in 118 games for the ‘91 Twins, starting 56, once again mostly splitting time between second and short, with four starts at third, one in left, and one as first baseman.

Newman is one of eight players to play for both the ‘87 and ‘91 Twins, and one of seven to play in both World Series. Allan Anderson did not play in either Series. Anderson, who posted the lowest ERA in the American League in 1988 and won 33 games between 1988 and ‘89, was just getting his feet wet in 1986 and ‘87, and was on his way out in ‘91. The other six Twins to play in both World Series are Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Dan Gladden, Greg Gagne, Gene Larkin, and Randy Bush.

Newman became a free agent following the 1991 season. He signed with the Reds, was released in April, and ultimately wound up playing with the Texas Rangers in 1992, his final season. It just so happened that Texas was in town on April 11, 1992 when the Twins got their rings.

February 21
Happy Birthday, Charley Walters

It’s the birthday of 1965 Edison High School graduate Charley Walters, born in Minneapolis in 1947. The Twins signed Walters out of their annual open tryout at Met Stadium after his senior year of high school.

Walters went 7-2 with a 1.94 ERA for the 1967 Northern League champion St. Cloud Rox. He broke camp with the Twins in 1969 at age 22, and made six appearances between April 11 and May 14. Over his first five outings (5.1 innings) he held opponents scoreless on just three hits and a walk. He struggled in his final major league appearance versus Baltimore, giving up four runs on three hits and a walk over 1.1 innings. The Orioles would go on to sweep the Twins in the 1969 American League Championship Series. Minnesota’s own Jerry Koosman and the “Miracle Mets” beat Baltimore in the World Series four games to one.

Walters pitched in the Senators/Rangers organization from 1970 to ’72. He has been a sportswriter at the Pioneer Press since 1975.

Stew Thornley wrote about Walters for the Halsey Hall SABR book Minnesotan in Baseball (click here).

February 23
Happy Birthday, Dave Maurer

It’s the birthday of 1993 Apple Valley graduate Dave Maurer, born in Minneapolis in 1975.

The Padres drafted Maurer in the 11th round of the 1997 Amateur Draft. He made his major league debut on July 22, 2000 at age 25. He pitched 14.2 innings over 14 games that season, picking up his only big league win on September 22 in Los Angeles. He made only three appearances for the Padres in 2001. After brief stints in the Reds and Athletics organizations, Maurer made it back to the majors with Cleveland late in the 2002 season, pitching in two games, both against the Minnesota Twins. He took his only major league loss at the Metrodome on September 25, giving up a twelfth-inning walk-off home run to David Ortiz.

Maurer made three appearances for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004. They did not go well.

In total, Maurer appeared in 22 major league games, pitching 22.1 innings over parts of four seasons.

February 24
Happy Birthday, Wayne Hattaway

It’s the birthday of longtime Twins organization equipment manager, trainer, and clubhouse attendant Wayne “Big Fella” Hattaway, born in Mobile, Alabama in 1940. Wayne got his first job in baseball in 1952 at age 12, serving as bat boy for his hometown Mobile Bears. He worked as the Bears’ equipment manager from 1956 to 1962. He became part of the Twins organization in 1963, when the Dallas Rangers became a Twins Triple-A affiliate (for one season only). Below is my best attempt at piecing together his long Twins career:

1962-1963: Dallas Rangers (Triple-A) equipment manager
1964-1971: Charlotte Hornets (Double-A)
1972-1973: Lynchburg Hillcats (Class A) equipment manager
1974: Reno Silver Sox (Class A) equipment manager
1975-1985: Orlando Twins (Double-A) trainer
1986-?: Orlando Twins/Sun Rays equipment manager
2002-Present: Minnesota Twins clubhouse attendant/assistant

I understand that Hattaway is still around as a pre-game clubhouse assistant for most home games.

Remarkably, the 1985 All-Star game at the Metrodome was the first major league game that he attended in his life! It was his 23rd season in the Twins organization. He came close in 1969, Hattaway told the Orlando Sentinel in 1985 (click here). Farm director George Brophy told Hattaway that if the Twins beat the Orioles in the ALCS, they would fly him to Minnesota for the World Series. Unfortunately Baltimore swept Minnesota in three games that year and again in 1970.

Ron Gardenhire brought Hattaway up to the big league club when he became manager in 2002. Hattaway was known for maintaining a loose atmosphere in the clubhouse. One of his favorite techniques, apparently, was making fun of players. In the midst of a bad slump, he said to Torii Hunter “you couldn’t hit water if you fell out of a boat.”

Stew Thornley shared another good line that Hattaway used on a Twins player after a bad game: “hey, don’t worry about it. We don’t blame you. We blame the scout who signed you.” Patrick Reusse likes what Hattaway would say while administering the pregame arm massage to the starting pitcher: “see you in the second inning, big fella.”

A source shared a locker room observation of the Big Fella, but this is a family-friendly website.

I just today came across this really cool looking piece including an audio interview with Hattaway on John Swol‘s (click here).

February 25
Happy Birthday, Dana Kiecker

It’s the birthday of 1979 Fairfax High School and 1983 St. Cloud State graduate Dana Kiecker, born in Sleepy Eye in 1961.

Kiecker was chosen by the Red Sox in the eighth round of the 1983 Draft. He made his major league debut on April 12, 1990 at age 29, pitching four innings of relief in a Red Sox loss at Tiger Stadium.

Kiecker pitched in 50 major league games for Boston between 1990 and ‘91, making 30 starts, compiling a 10-12 record with a 4.68 ERA.

He made two starts at the Metrodome in 1990. He gave up a home run to Dan Gladden on his second pitch of the game on May 27. He recovered to pitch seven strong innings, giving up three runs on six hits and a walk before being relieved by Jeff Reardon. Twins rookie Kevin Tapani, however, was better. After putting runners on second and third to start the game, Tapani struck out the next three batters, including cleanup hitter Tom Brunansky, to get out of one heckuva jam.  He went on to hold the Red Sox to just one run over seven innings. Rick Aguilera earned the six-out save.

He made his second Metrodome start on July 5, opposing Scott Erickson in his third big league game. Kiecker allowed two runs on five hits and four walks over 5.2 innings, taking a no-decision in a 7-4 Red Sox loss.

He gave up a three-run home run to fellow southwest Minnesotan Terry Steinbach in the top of the first on September 3, 1990. That blow knocked Kiecker out of the game, having given up five runs to Oakland while only recording two outs.

Jim Eisenreich and Kiecker are the only pair of St. Cloud State alumni to play against each other in the major leagues. Eisenreich went 4-for-8 with a walk and two doubles versus Kiecker between 1990 and 1991. They were teammates at St. Cloud in 1980, along with Bob Hegman, who played half an inning in the field for the Kansas City Royals on August 8, 1985.

“Dana Kiecker Street” is home to the Fairfax townball field. I’ve never been there, but it is allegedly a particularly beautiful ballpark.

You can hear Kiecker on St. Paul Saints broadcasts this summer.

February 26, 1933
Birthdate of Johnny Blanchard

It’s the birthdate of probably the most famous backup catcher in baseball history, Johnny Blanchard, born on February 26, 1933 in Minneapolis.

Blanchard attended Minneapolis’s De LaSalle and Central High Schools, playing football, basketball, and baseball.

He got a thimble of coffee with the Yankees in 1955, playing in the second game of a doubleheader on the final day of the season.

He made it back to the majors in 1959, where he would remain for the next seven seasons, making a nice little career of backing up Yogi Berra and Elston Howard. He would appear in five World Series as a Yankee. The highlight of his career came in the 1961 World Series when he hit .400 with two home runs as the Yankees defeated the Cincinnati Reds in five games. Blanchard would earn a second ring in 1962.

He tied a major league record by homering in four consecutive at-bats in 1961. Of course in true “Suber Sub” fashion, those four consecutive at-bats came over a six-day span. Blanchard hit a game-winning two-out pinch-hit grand slam at Fenway Park on July 21, 1961. He hit another pinch-hit homer the next day, and then sat out the next three games. He made a rare start on July 26 vs. the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium, homering in his first two at-bats and flying out to the wall in his third.

Blanchard played 18 games at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington between 1961 and ’65, going 13-for-51 (.255) with seven walks, and three home runs. He hit .222 with seven home runs in 38 games against the Twins overall.

Blanchard was a featured guest at Halsey Hall SABR meetings on October 24, 1992 and October 18, 2008.

He died of a heart attack at North Memorial in Robbinsdale on March 25, 2009. He was 76 years old.

2018 will be John’s son Paul Blanchard‘s 22nd season as head baseball coach at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. He has been known to make guest lecturer appearances on campus, sometimes even passing around his father’s World Series ring.

George Rekela wrote about Johnny Blanchard for the book Minnesotans in Baseball (click here).

February 26
Happy Birthday, Bob Hegman

It’s the birthday of 1976 Sauk Rapids-Rice graduate, St. Cloud State all-time great, former Royals second baseman, and current Twins scout Bob Hegman, born in Springfield, MN in 1958.

Hegman improved steadily at the plate during his four years at St. Cloud State, hitting .203 in 1977, .288 in 1978, .372 in 1979, and .381 in 1980. He was 24-for-24 in stolen base attempts over his final three seasons at St. Cloud.

He was also a four-year starting point guard on the Huskies basketball team.

Hegman was selected by the Royals in the 15th round of the 1980 draft, and reported to their Gulf Coast League team in Florida. He returned to St. Cloud in the offseason and graduated with a degree in Business Management in 1981.

Hegman got into his only major league game on August 8, 1985 at age 27, entering as a defensive replacement in the top of the ninth of 10-3 win over Chicago. He did not get the ball hit to him, and did not get an at-bat. Sound familiar? Longtime Chisolm doctor “Moonlight” Graham‘s major league career also consisted of half an inning in the field on June 29, 1905.

I asked Mr. Hegman about the circumstances of his brief stint in the majors. He (specifically his glove) was called up when 1978 first-round draft pick Buddy Biancalana was hampered by an injury, and sent back to Omaha the moment Biancalana was healthy.

The Royals went on to win the 1985 World Series. No, Hegman did not receive a ring.

In total, Hegman played seven seasons of professional baseball. He joined the Royals front office as an assistant to the Scouting and Player Development Directors in September 1986. In 1992 he was named Director of Minor League Operations, a position he held for ten years. He became an Advance Scout for the Twins in 2003 before moving into his current position of Professional Scout (evaluating pro players) in 2008.

Hegman has made his home in the Kansas City area since 1986.

1956 National League All-Star Rip Repulski also attended Sauk Rapids-Rice High School.

February 27
Happy Birthday, Denard Span

It’s the birthday of former Twins center fielder Denard Span, born in Tampa, FL in 1984.

Even though it doesn’t say so on the Twins’ website (see for yourself), Span tied Ken Landreaux‘s team record and the major league record with three triples at Target Field on June 29, 2010. He went 4-for-4 with a walk, five RBI, and two runs scored in an 11-4 win over Detroit. Jim Thome hit his 572nd home run in the game.

February 28, 1887
Birthdate of Joe Fautsch

Joe Fautsch was born in Minneapolis on February 28, 1887. He got into one major league game with the Chicago White Sox on April 24, 1916 at age 29, going 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter.

According to Baseball Reference, he played for the Red Wing Manufacturers in 1910, and the Winona Pirates in 1913 and ’14.

He passed away in New Hope on March 16, 1971 at age 84, and is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Minneapolis.

If you have any knowledge about Joe Fautsch to share, please leave a comment, or email

February 28, 1909
Birthdate of Lefty Bertrand

Lefty Bertrand was born in CobdenMN on February 28, 1909. Bertrand attended St. Mary’s High School in Sleepy Eye. Baseball Reference lists him as having attended St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona, but I believe that is a mistake.

Bertrand got into one major league game with the Phillies on April 15, 1936 at age 27, pitching the final two innings of a 12-4 loss to the Boston Bees. He gave up two runs on three hits (including a home run), and two walks while striking out one. That’s still a better major league record that fellow St. Mary’s alumnus Fred Bruckbauer, who gave up three runs without recording an out in his only outing with the Twins on April 25, 1961.

If you’re looking for a Twins connection in Bertrand’s only big league outing, he gave up a single to Sam Mele‘s uncle Tony Cuccinello.

Lefty Bertrand broke into pro ball with the Class D Northern League Brainerd Muskies in 1933. That team moved to Brandon, Manitoba on June 27 and became the Grays. In 1934 he was back with the reformed Brainerd-Little Falls Muskies. Winona native Julie Wera, who played some third base for the ’27 Yankees, wrapped up his pro career with the Northern League Crookston Pirates in 1937.

As with Joe Fautsch (or anyone/thing else on the Almanac, for that matter), if you have knowledge to share, please get in touch.


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