Back in 2002 I traveled to Mt. Rushmore for the first time; since then I’ve always imagined what four faces I would put on a Twins Mt. Rushmore. I think we can refer to these four by their nicknames and you will know who I’m talking about.
You can’t be a Twins fan from my era and not have fond memories of Harmon Killebrew. His career was about over when I started following the Twins, but I remember the feeling when I found out he would play his final season in Kansas City. I was not a happy 12-year-old that day.
As I grew into being a baseball fan I learned about the dominating numbers in the late 50’s and all through the 60’s, the towering home runs, the quick swing, the raw strength, all the All-Star Games and the MVP in 1969. Finally there is the classic stance and swing that most people think is the inspiration for the major league baseball logo.
On top of all that, what puts Harmon at the top of the list for me is the kind of person he was. I learned long ago never to pretend to know what kind of person a celebrity or professional athlete is. The best I can do is enjoy what they do on the field. But I can make an exception with the “Killer”. I’ve gotten his autograph a couple times and he always takes his time, says a few words, shakes your hand and really tries to connect. You have to respect a guy that takes such pride in how his signature looks to the fan. No sports or entertainment star has a better autograph.Harmon Clayton Killebrew, Hall of fame player, better person.
Harmon is the first player I think of in regards to the Twins, but when I was a kid Rod Carew was my guy. He was the player who was so much fun to imitate (or try to). We did not have many chances to watch the Twins on TV in the 70’s, but when you watched Mr. Carew, the images of his game stayed with you. There was the way he stepped into the batter’s box, placed a hand on the top of his batting helmet (the one with no ear flaps) and settled in. Next was the way he put his weight on the his back foot, then slowly, deliberately extended the arms a few times before the pitch came in, all the while having that huge wad of bubble gum and chew in his right cheek. He had that smooth classic swing slapping the ball wherever he wanted, swinging at the last instant.
What other player made it so cool to bunt? I have a lifelong friend from back home named Mike, he was an even bigger fan of Rodney, he was always trying to drop that bunt down like Carew. Finally, on the bases, there was the smooth gait and the classic hook slide turning a single into a double and a double into a triple, and no one was better at stealing home.The first Twins game I went to was in June of 1977 and that was the year he batted .388 and won the MVP. I saw him go 4-5 with six RBI in a 19-12 win over the White Sox. You can’t ask for a better game your first time at the ballpark. Seeing Rodney leave the Twins for the Angels was a blow bigger than when Harmon left for Kansas City. Rodney Cline Carew, the classic hitter.
As much fun as it was following the Twins as I grew up, I have to admit I was getting tired of all the mediocre seasons. We all know how the Twins developed great talents only to see them leave just as they approached their prime. That meant lots of 80-85 win seasons and no playoffs.
That all changed when Kirby Puckett burst onto the scene. For me Kirby was just fun to watch. You always felt he was going to do something special and usually he did. More than any other Twin he was a winner. The Twins would not have won the series in 1987 or 1991 without Kirby. As he famously promised, if the guys jump on his back he’d bring them home. Not only could he deliver, but he did in the biggest moments. Kirby Puckett, he made it fun to be a Twins fan again.
Tony Oliva was another player near the end of his career when I started following the Twins. As I saw Tony at Twins Fest, watched him make appearances on Twins broadcasts, heard him interviewed and listened to people talk about him, I learned that he is a special personality and a big part of Twins’ history.
When you study baseball you appreciate what a great talent he was. In a ten year stretch from 1964 to 1973 he batted .300 or better seven times and was never lower than .289. He also won three batting titles in that span and five seasons with 90+ RBI. A great outfielder with speed and power, it has been well documented how knee injuries shortened his career. I think he should be in the Hall of Fame; too bad we can only imagine what he might have been. However, Tony O gave the Twins great years and has stayed with the club to this day giving us the gift of his great personality and style. Tony Pedro Oliva, put him in the Hall of Fame.
These are personal choices for me and I’m sure everyone has different opinions for their top four Twins; I’d love to hear them. I know my 7-year-old son would pick Joe Mauer, Joe Mauer, Joe Mauer and Joe Mauer. I thought about doing a list of honorable mentions, but I would rather hear other people’s ideas.