Kevin Tapani was born in Des Moines, Iowa on February 18, 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.