On Saturday we looked at the best Twins and Senators seasons turned in by 20-year olds. On a fan familiarity scale, the combo of Butch Wynegar and Buddy Lewis probably didn’t move the needle all that much. As we move to the best seasons turned in by 21-year olds in franchise history I expect that both names register movement on that scale.
Enter Tom Brunansky (Twins) and Cecil Travis (Senators).
I remember Tom Brunansky very well. I was born in 1975 so it was right around 1982 that I was really starting to grasp the game of baseball on a number of levels. As a player it was the start of T-ball and the beginnings of playing the game in an organized, competitive fashion. As a fan it was around this time that I started to really get into watching the game. I started to root for particular teams. I also started collecting baseball cards which provided me with another way to become more familiar with the individual players.
1982 was also the year that Brunansky was traded by the California Angels to the Twins. Prior to the deal he was playing OF for the Spokane Indians in the Pacific Coast League, though he had made his major league debut with California the previous season. The date of the trade was May 12th and on May 13th he was the starting RF for the Twins. He would go on to collect a hit in 12 of his first 16 games and never played another day in the minors.
Brunansky played in 916 games for the Twins and wound up hitting 0.250/.330/.452 with 163 HR and an OPS+ of 109. He hit 20 or more HR for 9 straight seasons from 1982-1989 and was a reserve on the 1985 AL All-Start team. He played primarily RF, and for the first 3 seasons with the Twins was well above average defensively. After that his advanced defensive statistics like Total Zone started to fall off but he continued to fare well in stats like Range Factor throughout the 80s. During that time, his arm was also an asset. He finished in the top-3 in assists as a RF 6 times in the 7 seasons from 1983-1989.
In 1987 as the Twins were heading toward the World Series, Brunansky hit 0.259/.352/.489 with 32 HR and an OPS+ of 118. He was even better in the ALCS against the Tigers cranking out a line of 0.412/.524/1.000 in the 5 games series. Most fans probably remember him for that season and his ALCS heroics, but when I come across the name Tom Brunansky, his gray bordered 1985 Fleer baseball card pops into my head. Why? I have no idea.
On April 22nd, Brunansky was dealt to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for Tom Herr. He would retire after the 1994 season having played for 5 teams (Angels, Twins, Cardinals, Red Sox and Brewers). During his 14-year career he hit 271 HR, had a career OPS+ of 106 and a 0.245/.327/.434 slash line. He finished his career with 20.1 WAR, a quarter of which came in 1982. Not bad for a 21-year old seeing his first extended action in the majors.
Travis is a little more obscure, but his name should still spark some familiarity if you are a fan of baseball history. That or you’re a fan of this site since earlier this month I covered that he was one of 15 players since 1920 to get 4 hits in a major league debut. That said, he was much more than a guy who had an impressive debut as a 19-year old back in 1933.
Cecil Travis amassed a mark of 26.6 WAR in his 12 year major league career as a SS/3B. Like Buddy Lewis, Travis was a member of the Senators his entire career. Also like Lewis, he lost 3 years (1942-1944) in the prime of his career due to military service during World War II. Unlike Lewis however, Travis was unable to recapture his pre-war success when he returned to the diamond in 1945. There was a reason for his struggles upon his return, according to Wikipedia:
"Sent to Europe in late 1944 while serving in the 76th Infantry Division, he suffered a bad case of frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge, necessitating an operation to prevent amputation of his feet. Travis received a Bronze Star for his military service."
He played his last game in 1947.
Travis hit 0.314/.370/.416 with an OPS+ of 108 in 1,328 major league games, was named to 3 All-Star teams and received MVP votes in 4 seasons. Among those was a 6th place finish in the 1941 AL MVP voting. His career average of 0.314 remains a record for AL shortstops.
He died in Riverdale, GA (also his place of birth) on December 16, 2006 at the age of 93.
If you want to learn more about Cecil Travis, you can read his biography written by Robert J. Kirkpatrick. The next time I place an order through Barnes and Noble (or Amazon where it is also available) this book will be one of my purchases.