Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Twin Season of the Past - Gary Gaetti's 1986

A couple months ago, a bunch of extremely talented baseball writers came together to write a book about players who are not Hall of Fame worthy, but had careers worth remembering.  The book is called The Hall of Very Good The Hall of Nearly Great.  It is an eBook, it highlights about 40 players and it is amazing.  It was a Kickstarter deal, and I can say I proudly contributed.  There are three Twins profiled in this book:  Frank Viola, Brad Radke and Mr. Battery-Magnet himself, Chuck Knoblauch.  If you bid enough money on Kickstarter, you were allowed to pick a player to have profiled.  I would have picked Gary Gaetti.

Gaetti was a very valuable player for quite a few years.  He was also a not-so-great player for a few years.  1986 was a year where he was an extremely valuable player.  1986 was also a pretty significant year for the Twins and its players.  Tom Kelly became the manager, and eventually led the team to two World Series titles.  2 players hit 30 or more home runs and the same 2 players won their first Gold Gloves.  Kirby Puckett was one player and Gary Gaetti was the other.   According to Baseball Reference, Puckett and Gaetti shared the team lead with a 5.5 WAR.  Puckett made the All-Star Team, Gaetti didn't.

We all know that Kirby Puckett was the star of the Twins.  What I didn't remember was just how valuable and important Gary Gaetti was to the Twins in that era.  Here are some of his 1986 numbers:  .287/.347/.518, 34 home runs, 108 RBI, and 34 doubles.  Throw in Gold Glove quality third base play, and it is easy to see just how important Gaetti was to this Twins team.  Gaetti was 27 that year and went into 1987 as the clear starting third baseman. 

Gaetti hadn't really had a good season before 1986.  He didn't hit for much average, didn't get on base and didn't have much power.  He was getting older and not really fulfilling a lot of his 1st round promise.  Defensively, he was good, but his hitting was not there.  That clearly changed in 1986.  Gary Gaetti's 1986 season made him a pillar of the 1987 Championship team.  He would stay with the Twins through 1990, when he left via free agency to play for the Angels.  The Twins won the World Series in 1991 without him, but he continued to be a good (1991), sometimes great (1995) and sometimes not-so-great (1992) player.   

When I thought of the 1987 World Series Champion Twins, I thought of players in this order:  Kirby Puckett, Frank Viola, Bert Blyleven, Kent Hrbek and then Gary Gaetti.  That year, that order was about right.  For that era, Gaetti was on par with those players and sometimes better than those players.  All 5 are in the Twins Hall of Fame, right where they should be.  Gaetti's strong 1986 made sure that he was remembered as one of the best players on a Championship team.

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