The Minnesota Twins have been celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1987 World Series championship team. That team was made possible by two events earlier in the decade that both occurred on August 24th.
The Minnesota Twins have enjoyed their celebration of the 1987 World Series team this year, having a reunion at Target Field that brought back many of the team’s members. The General Manager of that 1987 team, Andy MacPhail was inducted into the team’s hall of fame. Yet, all of this became possible because of two incidents that occurred on this date years before the 1987 season.
August 24, 1980: The Resignation
From the time they moved to Minnesota and handed over the reigns to a 39 year-old Sam Mele, the Minnesota Twins had been managed by managers with one of two things in common – either they had never managed before (Mele, Cal Ermer, Billy Martin, Frank Quilici) or they’d never managed a team to finish with even 90 wins, let alone the postseason (Billy Rigney).
Owner Calvin Griffith decided in 1976 that his team, with superstar Rod Carew at the absolute peak of his game along with ace Bert Blyleven one of the best arms in the game, he would bring in a veteran, fiery manager that could get the most out of his team. Mauch had overseen one of the biggest collapses in history on the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, but his teams consistently out-performed their Pythagorean record and Mauch oversaw six straight winning teams in Philadelphia, a team that had not known a winner from their Phillies in quite some time.
Blyleven was traded in that first year with Mauch at the helm for a significant package of players, but while shortstop Roy Smalley was certainly the player he was billed to be, the rest of the trade package did very little for the team, and without an ace of Blyleven’s caliber to head the rotation, the Twins were consistently just not quite good enough to get over the top, no matter how well he managed.
After not besting the 85 wins he achieved his first season at the Twins’ helm, on August 24th, 1980, with the team at a 54-71 record, Mauch resigned his position.
The Minnesota Twins went back to a previous formula with their hires after Mauch, and each got better than the last, as Billy Gardner got his first managerial job in his 50s with the 1981 Twins and put up a .432 winning percentage through 1985. Ray Miller took over in 1985 at 40 for his first major league managerial job and put up a .456 winning percentage before he left mid-way through the 1986 season, when Tom Kelly would take over at 35 years old with no previous major league managerial experience, and the rest is history…
August 24, 1981: The Bomb
While those Mauch seasons were a struggle at the big league level, when Mauch left the Twins, he left to take over the (then) California Angels player development department. There was good reason behind that – he’d helped to oversee and have a say in putting together a tremendous player development system in Minnesota.
One of the local gems of the team’s drafting was a local product out of Kennedy High School in Bloomington, Minnesota, just a stone’s throw away from Metropolitan Stadium. Drafted in the 17th round in 1978, Kent Hrbek really didn’t blow anyone away in his first minor league season in Elizabethton, hitting .203/.288/.288 in just 17 games with a pair of doubles and a home run.
However, moving up to full-season ball in 1980, Hrbek’s bat began to show out, as he hit .267/.364/.442 with 16 doubles and 19 home runs. At age 21, the Twins sent him to to the high-A California League, where he put up numbers that got the kind of attention that earned him a late-season major league call up, as he hit .379/.446/.630 with 25 doubles and 27 home runs over 121 games with an incredible 119 runs and 111 RBI in those 121 games.
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Hrbek’s final line in 73 major league plate appearances was not exactly pretty as he hit .239/.301/.358 for a .660 OPS. Even in shorter seasons, through injury, through slumps, Hrbek never finished another season within even 100 points of that number, with his final season in 1994 being his next worst season at .773.
It was his debut that set apart Hrbek’s 1981, however. On August 24th, the Minnesota Twins traveled to New York to play the Yankees in the legendary House That Ruth Built, an intimidating spot for a young man to make his major league debut.
Hrbek batted 8th in the lineup on that day against Yankee starter Tommy John. In the top of the 3rd inning, Hrbek got his first major league at bat, airing a ball to center field for an out. He collected his first hit and his first RBI in the top of the 5th inning with a single up the middle that scored Danny Goodwin.
John got Hrbek to strike out to lead off the top of the 8th inning. The game went to extra innings, and John out-matched Hrbek in the top of the 10th, getting him to roll over to first base for an easy 1-3 out.
George Frazier replaced John later in the 10th. After another scoreless inning, Hrbek led off the 12th inning. In a style that became known of Hrbek in his career, he came up clutch in the moment, nailing a pitch and driving it out to right-center for his first major league home run. The Twins bullpen shut down the Yankees in the bottom of the inning, making Hrbek’s bomb the difference in a 12-inning victory for the Twins.
The home run would end up being his only home run of his time up in 1981, but Hrbek would go on to hit 292 more home runs in his career, 12 more of them coming at Yankee Stadium. Interestingly, one of the few parks that Hrbek played in that he never hit a home run – the park just down the road from where he grew up in Bloomington, Metropolitan Stadium, where the Twins still played in 1981, but in 1982, they moved to the comforts of the Metrodome.