The 1987 Minnesota Twins’ Bearded Bullpen Ace

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1989: Jeff Reardon of the Minnesota Twins pitches during a game in the 1989 season. (Photo by: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
1989: Jeff Reardon of the Minnesota Twins pitches during a game in the 1989 season. (Photo by: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) /
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Former Minnesota Twins reliever Jeff Reardon celebrated the anniversary of a couple of major milestones he achieved in a Twins uniform in the last week.

The Minnesota Twins have been celebrating their 1987 team throughout the 2017 season. The 2017 team has also seen their bullpen be a focus in their attempt to compete for the playoffs. How fitting that this week celebrated a pair of milestones for the bearded bullpen ace of the 1987 Minnesota Twins as the 2017 team heads toward the home stretch of the season.

The Milestones

Within the last week, Reardon has had the anniversary of two significant milestones that Reardon led in the development of the role of the “closer” in the game of baseball. On September 14th, 1989, Reardon saved a game over the Toronto Blue Jays to become the first player in baseball history to save 30 or more games in 5 consecutive seasons. On September 17th, 1988, Reardon saved his 40th game for the Twins that season, becoming the first player to ever save 40 games in both the National League and the American League.

Reardon started the streak for the first milestone with the season that was part of the second one, his impressive season as closer for the 1985 Montreal Expos, saving 41 games. It was the only season that he would end up leading a league in saves in his career, in spite of being one of the most consistent relievers in his time.

He followed that with 35 with Montreal in 1986 before being traded to the Minnesota Twins along with backup catcher Tom Nieto for a package of players that included Alfredo Cardwood, Neal Heaton, Yorkis Perez, and Jeff Reed. His first season with the Twins in 1987, he had an ERA of 4.48, but he saved 31 games.

Reardon’s 1988 season with the Twins may have been his best as a closer, as he posted a 2.47 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 15/56 BB/K ratio over 73 innings with 42 saves. He struggled to a 4.07 ERA along with 31 saves in 1989 to make the 5th straight season before the Twins allowed him to walk as a free agent. He struggled with injury in 1990 or he would have had 8 straight 30+ seasons. As it was, Reardon did have 11 straight seasons of more than 20 saves.

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Reardon’s Career

Reardon really is a story of the power of the high-velocity fastball. He really did not have a secondary pitch of any note, but he threw a fastball that could reach 98 MPH confirmed (and had rumored moments where it crossed triple digits). That powerful fastball spotted throughout the zone is really all Reardon offered hitters, but at that time, a guy throwing that hard was so rare that he could be successful with essentially one pitch.

After being drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 23rd round out of high school, Reardon chose instead to attend college at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and sign as a free agent with the Mets after college. He moved quickly through the minor leagues, reaching the majors after just two minor league seasons. He spent two seasons as a reliever with the Mets before being traded mid-season to the Expos in 1981 in the deal that sent Ellis Valentine out of Montreal.

Reardon excelled for the 1981 Expos, eventually taking over as closer, saving a pair of games in the playoffs against the Phillies, though he struggled in his one appearance against the Dodgers. He held down the Expos job until he was traded to the Twins in the offseason between the 1986 and 1987 seasons.

He spent three seasons in Minnesota, including a perfect 1987 World Series against St. Louis, when he threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing just 5 hits with no walks, striking out 3.

Reardon left Minnesota in free agency after 1989 to head to his hometown Red Sox, pitching three seasons. He finished the 1992 season with Atlanta as a late-season trade for the playoff run. He struggled in 1993 with the Cincinnati Reds before retiring after 11 appearances with the 1994 Yankees.

Reardon retired with 367 career saves, making 4 All-Star teams, winning the 1985 National League Rolaids Relief award, and he finished in the top 10 of the Cy Young award voting twice, in 1985 and 1988. However, in spite of being one of the most decorated and accomplished closers in the history of the game, Reardon did not even achieve the requisite 5% in his first Hall of Fame ballot to appear on a second ballot, finishing with 4.8% of the vote.

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The man who threw the last pitch of the 1987 has been recognized as a key member of the Twins history. He saved 104 games for the Minnesota Twins as part of eventually holding the all-time saves lead (Lee Smith would pass him the next season as Reardon retired after just a few games in 1994, taking over the record in 1992). Oddly, Reardon has not been named to the Twins Hall of Fame, which seems a pretty dramatic oversight, given the role he played on the first championship team in the organization’s history.

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