Louie St. George: Which squad’s better: the 1991 Twins or the 2010 Twins?How does this year's squad size up against our state's last championship team?
By: Louie St. George, Budgeteer News
The Minnesota Twins look poised to embark on a captivating postseason run. After limping into the All-Star break, they flipped the switch and ripped off a familiar second-half surge.
The result? Barring an almost historic collapse, the Twins are primed for another trip to the playoffs. Only this season feels a little different. There’s something special brewing here — a steely confidence that hints of October magic. For all their success this century, the Twins have been positively putrid in the postseason.
These annual fall flameouts can’t last forever, right? The time for the Twins to break through has arrived. They’re hovering near 30 games above .500, are close to owning the best record in baseball and have carried their home-field dominance from the Metrodome to Target Field. Everything’s in place for the Twins to return to the World Series for the first time since 1991 (knock on wood, emphatically).
With such lofty expectations, now seems like an ideal time to compare this team to the world champs of ’91. Who holds the edge?
Let’s break it down by position:
Brian Harper was a solid offensive backstop, but ... he’s no Joe Mauer, not by a long shot. Harper hit a robust .311 in 1991. That would qualify as an “off year” for Mauer. Then there’s the little matter of defense. Harper had the agility of a maple tree. Mauer, on the other hand, is a Gold Glove winner and the reigning American League MVP.
Justin Morneau’s two-month hiatus tilts this argument. As it stands, Kent Hrbek owns the edge over Michael Cuddyer. Hrbek, a Minnesota icon, hit .284 with 20 homers in ’91 — a nice season, to be sure, but far off from Morneau’s typical pace. Those numbers are, however, similar to what Cuddyer’s done throughout his career. Still, Hrbek was superior defensively. Plus, he wrestled Ron Gant off first base.
Pre-steroids Chuck Knoblauch was just a fun guy to watch. He eventually turned into a whiny, self-obsessed schmuck, but in 1991 he was a special player. Orlando Hudson, the Twins’ current second baseman, is a similar spark plug, but Knobby holds the edge in one significant category: durability. Knoblauch played in 151 games in 1991. Hudson’s on pace for roughly 125 games.
The ’91 Twins rocked a mini-platoon at third, with Mike Pagliarulo getting the bulk of the playing time over Scott Leius. Pags hit .279 in 1991 with six homers and 39 runs batted in. Though a wide-eyed youngster, Danny Valencia has been a revelation this summer: He was hitting .329 entering the week and keeps pounding out clutch hits.
Greg Gagne is a Twins Hall of Famer more for his brilliant glove work and dependability. He hit only .265 in 1991, but Gagne was defined more by intangibles than a simple number. J.J. Hardy has some pop, but his career has featured more peaks and valleys than the Grand Canyon.
Dan Gladden gets penalized a bit because, as a radio analyst for Twins broadcasts, he has all the energy of a rock. A small rock. He was a solid, intense player back in the day — but, again, rock. And he can’t come close to matching Delmon Young’s raw talent.
Let’s just move on. Kirby in a walk over Denard Span.
Notable right fielders for the 1991 Twins: Shane Mack, Randy Bush, Gene Larkin and Kirby. Mack was the most frequent right fielder, and he hit .310 in 143 games. Again, Morneau’s injury tilts this argument because Jason Kubel was forced into every-day duty in right field. Kubel is a dynamic hitter and makes the routine plays defensively, but he’s no Shane Mack. Really, who is?
Charles Theodore (Chili) Davis or Jim Thome? Chili cranked 29 homers in 1991. Random memory from a Twins game that season: seeing a sign at the Dome that said “We like our Chili hot!” For some reason, I thought that was the most creative sign in the history of ballpark signs. And, honestly, I still feel that way. Still, Thome has been a godsend. I don’t want to anger either man.
We’ll whittle it down to the big three for each club. The 1991 Twins featured a trio of Jack Morris (18-12, 3.43 ERA), Scott Erickson (20-8, 3.18) and Kevin Tapani (16-9, 2.99). They get the edge over the current front three of Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing.
The Twins currently have, like, 16 closers. If Joe Nathan was healthy, he’d be a shoe-in. But because he’s on the shelf, Rick Aguilera gets the nod for the 1991 team.
This one’s simple. For everything Ron Gardenhire has done in a sparkling managerial career, his resume lacks a title. Tom Kelly’s includes two.
***Overall edge: 1991***
Statistics courtesy of BaseballReference.com.
Duluth sportswriter Louie St. George last wrote about the men’s lacrosse team at UMD for the Duluth Budgeteer News. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.