Tom Brunansky is the current Minnesota Twins hitting coach. He is getting rave reviews for his work this Spring and many who have followed the team for a long time are not surprised. Those who remember back to the Twins’ heyday, likely remember Brunansky as the power-hitting right fielder who helped make up the core of Twins that would lead the team to their first World Series title in 1987. It’s ok to admit that you also remember his mustache.
Brunansky was originally drafted by the California Angels in the 1st round of the 1978 amateur draft. Brunansky reached AAA as a 19-year-old and debuted for the Angels in 1981 at the age of 20. He was in the midst of repeating AAA when the Twins acquired him for pitcher Doug Corbett and second baseman Rob Wilfong. Brunansky appeared in the Twins lineup the very next day and raked for the entire 1982 season, putting up a .272/.371/.471 slash line and adding 51 extra base hits. Cal Ripken was named AL Rookie of the Year, but Brunansky led all rookies with a 5.4 WAR. Of course, WAR had not been invented yet, so this didn’t mean a whole lot.
The core of players that eventually led the Twins to the World Series in 1987, were mostly getting their feet wet in 1982. Brunansky became a fixture for the Twins, playing over 150 games in each of the next 5 seasons. Kent Hrbek was second to Ripken in AL ROY voting, and established himself as the Twins’ everyday first baseman. Gary Gaetti finished 5th in AL ROY voting and would be the one who eventually threw the final out from third to Hrbek at first in Game 7 of the ’87 World Series. Frank Viola and Randy Bush made their debuts, and Tim Laudner played his first half-season with the Twins as well.
In 1983, Greg Gagne joined the core. In 1984, the Twins added the final piece to the puzzle, when a 24-year-old Kirby Puckett joined the team in Minnesota. Brunansky, Hrbek, Gaetti, Viola, Bush, Gagne, Laudner and Puckett formed the core that would become the 1987 World Series Champion Minnesota Twins. Add in veterans Jeff Reardon, Bert Blyleven, and Dan Gladden, along with rookie Les Straker and you have the full recipe that brought a World Championship to Minnesota.
Which brings us to April 22, 1988, one of the more significant dates in Minnesota Twins history. On that day, the Twins traded Tom Brunansky, one of the pillars of the Twins’ Championship foundation, to the St. Louis Cardinals for Tom Herr. The logic behind the trade makes a bit of sense. The Twins wanted to upgrade at second and Randy Bush could just play more outfield. However, Herr should have been named Herrt, as he was constantly injured and not very effective when healthy. Bush was solid, but didn’t provide power like Brunansky had. Herr was traded at the end of the season.
The real significance of this trade was the transition from the 1987 World Series core, to a new core. Within the next few seasons, many of the players that made up that ’87 core would be gone. On July 31, 1989, coming off an AL Cy Young Award, Frank Viola was traded to the New York Mets for five players, two of which would become part of the new core: Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera. Tim Laudner played his final game at the end of the 1989 season. Gary Gaetti left as a free agent after the 1990 season.
The new core gelled quicker than the first Championship core. Puckett, Hrbek and Gagne were still significant parts of the core, and that certainly helped move things along. Bush was more of a bench player at this point. However, the aforementioned Tapani and Aguilera joined Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Erickson, Brian Harper, and Shane Mack as part of the new core. Add in veterans Chili Davis, Dan Gladden (still there), and of course, Jack Morris, and you have the full recipe that brought a second World Championship to Minnesota.
To but a bow on the story of the first core, Greg Gagne left via free agency after the 1992 season. Kent Hrbek retired following the strike-shortened 1994 season and Kirby Puckett was forced to retire due to glaucoma, after the 1995 season. It would be another six seasons before another core developed, led by Doug Mientkiewicz, Torii Hunter, Brad Radke, Jacque Jones, and Corey Koskie, and then joined by Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Johan Santana.
When the Twins traded Tom Brunansky less than a month into a Championship defense, there was no way the plan was to win another title in 1991. Well, I shouldn’t say it wasn’t the plan, but it wasn’t a realistic plan. Brunansky wasn’t a very productive player by 1991, to be honest. He likely would not have been a big part of a 1991 World Series team.
The changing of the guard is a natural occurrence in baseball. Teams have to make decisions on players, because they don’t play forever. Eventually, their skills diminish, they get old, or they become expensive. Sometimes, players are just the right chip to get something more desirable. That is what happened with Brunansky, and that is why this is such a significant date in Twins’ history. In the end, It is nice that Brunansky is back with the team that helped develop him into a Champion.
If you didn’t enjoy this history lesson, here is something I wrote about the current Twins roster. Using MLB 13: The Show to analyze the Twins