Twins all-time great Frank Viola was born in East Meadow, NY on April 19, 1960.
While at St. John’s, Viola was involved in perhaps the greatest college baseball game ever played, pitching 11 shutout innings to earn the win at Yale in the first-round of the NCAA tournament on May 21, 1981. Yale’s Ron Darling had pitched 11 no-hit innings before St. John’s second baseman Steve Scafa led off the 12th with a bloop single. Scafa stole second and third, and, with runners on the corners, stole home on the back end of a double steal/rundown play. Reliever Eric Stampfl pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 12th to secure the St. John’s win.
Only 2,500 people witnessed Viola and Darling lock horns in the greatest pitchers’ duel in college baseball history, but among them were legendary sportswriter Roger Angell and 91-year-old Smoky Joe Wood, who won 34 games during the 1912 regular season, and another three in the World Series.
The Twins drafted Viola in the second round less than three weeks later. The Twins’ first pick (11th overall) was Arizona State third baseman Mike Stodders. The Rangers selected Ron Darling ninth overall.
After just 25 games in the minors, Viola made his major league debut opposing Dennis Martinez and the Orioles at the Metrodome on June 6, 1982 (age 22). After four shaky but scoreless innings, Viola gave up three runs in the fifth before being pulled. The teams played to a 5-5 tie through nine innings, and the Orioles won it in 12 on a two-run Eddie Murray homer off new Twins’ closer Ron Davis, driving in former Twin “Disco” Dan Ford.
Viola had a breakout season in 1984. He pitched a four-hit shutout in Anaheim on May 8. The significance of this game? A 24-year-old center fielder wearing number 34 went 4-for-5 that day in his major league debut. Viola went 18-12 on the season and finished sixth in AL Cy Young balloting. Remarkably, he had not yet started throwing the changeup he would later be famous for. He went on to win 93 games over the five seasons from 1984 to ‘88.
Viola gave up former Twin Rod Carew’s 3,000th hit on August 4, 1985.
He went 17-10 during the 1987 regular season, but—more importantly—went 2-1 in the World Series, garnering Most Valuable Player honors.
His best individual season was 1988. From April 26 to May 10 he pitched 29 consecutive scoreless innings, the third-longest streak in Twins history. He made his first All-Star team in ‘88 en route to winning a major league leading 24 games and the AL Cy Young Award. 1988 was a noteworthy year for two other Twins pitchers. Alan Anderson led the AL with a 2.45 ERA, and Bert Blyleven tied with fellow Hall of Famer Tom Glavine for the major league lead with 17 losses.
On July 31, 1989, the Twins traded Viola to the New York Mets for pitchers Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, David West, Tim Drummond, and Jack Savage. It was arguably the most successful trade in Twins history. The only other contender is the A.J. Pierzynski for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser trade on November 14, 2003.
Viola made the National League All-Star Team in 1990 and ‘91. He won 20 games in 1990 and finished third in NL Cy Young.
He signed with the Red Sox prior to the 1992 season where he was reunited with former Twins teammate Jeff Reardon, who became the major leagues’ all-time saves leader that season. After two successful seasons in Boston, Viola pitched just 15 games over his final three seasons with the Red Sox, Reds, and Blue Jays.
Viola was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame alongside Carl Pohlad in 2005 (more about Pohlad here on the Almanac ⇨ TwinsAlmanac.com/CarlPohlad).
He worked as a pitching coach in the Mets organization 2011 to 2017.