The Twins’ Ten Greatest Hitters
Harmon Killebrew (1954-74)
Of the glut of muscle-bound, all-or-nothing sluggers that permeated baseball during the 1950s and 1960s, none was more definitive—and successful—than Killebrew, who until Alex Rodriguez was the American League’s all-time home run leader among right-handed batters, and was iconic enough to be assumed as the source for the Major League Baseball logo created in 1969. (After Killebrew’s death in 2011, the logo’s designer said he drew the abstract player image from several players, one of which may have been Killebrew.)
A kind gentleman who never drank or smoked, Killebrew nevertheless acquired the nickname Killer for his lethal bat; Eight times, he slammed over 40 homers, and six times led the AL. Only Roy Sievers, in 1957, has ever managed to top 40 blasts in a season since the franchise began in 1901. Killebrew is well remembered for hitting the longest home run at Metropolitan Stadium, a 522-foot blast in 1967 that is honored by the seat it struck—currently nailed to a wall above a log chute ride at the Mall of America, which replaced the torn-down Met in the early 1980s.
For Killebrew, it was often all about the home run—and not much else. In only seven of the 22 years he played, he hit 20 or more doubles—with a career high of 27 in 1966. And his lifetime .256 batting average further underscored the perception that he was a one-dimensional, albeit powerful, performer; he hit no higher than in 1961, when his average checked in at .288. Yet his abundance of walks made up for the light averages; seven times, he collected over 100 bases on balls, including a personal-best 145 in 1969 that gave him a league-high .427 on-base percentage—a figure even higher than teammates and multiple batting champions Rod Carew and Tony Oliva, and one that highlighted the only MVP campaign of his career that included 49 home runs and 140 RBIs.
An 11-time All-Star, Killebrew saw his skills decline into the early 1970s as age caught up; not even the advent of the designated hitter in 1973 could revive him. His 1975 season, his last, ended miserably with a .199 average for Kansas City, the only time he played outside of the Senators/Twins franchise.
Rod Carew (1967-78)
Carew scooped up base hits the way Killebrew scooped up homers: With league-leading regularity. Throughout his time in Minnesota, the quiet, introverted left-handed hitter was the model of successful contact hitting, snaring seven AL batting titles in a ten-year period for the Twins. “He’s the only guy I know who can go 4-for-3,” Chicago White Sox infielder Alan Bannister once joked—perhaps—of Carew.
One of the secrets to Carew’s success was that he crouched low at the plate, reducing the strike zone and forcing pitchers to zone in on their deliveries. For Carew, this wasn’t about gathering walks, but to get more pitches to his liking. The tactic clearly worked; after winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1967 (hitting .292), Carew ramped up—winning his first batting crown in 1969 with a .332 mark, the highest mark seen in the hit-starved AL in eight years. He ramped up even more after that; Between 1973-77, he hit a collective .358, won three straight batting crowns at one point (becoming the first American Leaguer since Ty Cobb to accomplish that) and, in 1977, won the AL MVP with a career-high .388 mark—flirting with the magic .400 barrier by staying above it into mid-July.
Beyond all of the above, Carew was also an accomplished bunter and fast on the basepaths, and although his stolen base percentages were never the best, he had a terrific knack for stealing home—robbing the plate seven times alone in 1969.
Carew’s tenure in Minnesota met a controversial end thanks to the Twins’ notoriously cheap and abrasive owner Calvin Griffith—who one night at a local Lions Club meeting turned alcohol into truth serum and went on a racist, all-too-public rant of Carew and others. It was a deal-breaker for an enraged Carew, who demanded a trade and declared, “I’m not going to be another nigger on (Griffith’s) plantation.” Happily sent to Anaheim to perform for a star-studded Angel team, Carew’s best years were behind him—but only in relative terms, as he continued to hit .300 on an annual basis. He finished his career with 3,053 hits and a lifetime average of .328—.334 for Minnesota.
Carew was a 15-time All-Star—but only hit .244 in 41 at-bats at the All-Star Game.
Tony Oliva (1962-76)
A product of the rich Cuban pipeline the franchise enjoyed before the rise of communist Fidel Castro, Oliva was the closest thing the AL had to Carew, before Carew—but with more power. That he’s not in the Hall of Fame is a source of great debate.
Oliva’s career start in the majors is unparalleled. He was the first player to win batting titles in his first two years, became the first rookie to chalk up 200 hits, and tied a major league rookie mark (and set a franchise record which still stands) with 374 total bases. He won AL Rookie of the Year honors with a .323 average, 32 home runs and 94 RBIs—but was denied an AL MVP that instead went to Baltimore’s Brooks Robinson, who had slightly inferior offensive numbers.
Throughout his career, Oliva led the AL five times in hits (twice collecting over 200) and four times in doubles; in 1966, he was one of just two hitters (the Orioles’ Frank Robinson being the other) to finish the year with a .300-plus average. He won a third batting crown in 1971, hitting .375 at the All-Star break before knee problems brought the number down. Unfortunately, the knees would prove to be his premature downfall; he would ultimately undergo seven operations, and his skills would quickly diminish into the mid-1970s. It cost Oliva a productive longevity that would have tipped the scales for many Hall-of-Fame voters to welcome him into Cooperstown.
Goose Goslin (1921-30, 1933, 1938)
The powerful, broad-shouldered slugger with an elongated neck and protruding nose (which gave rise to his first name) was the greatest hitter during the Senators’ glory years of the 1920s and early 1930s, participating in all three World Series that Washington would ever witness—all while being robbed of voluminous home run numbers thanks to the ultra-spacious dimensions of the Senators’ home ballpark, Griffith Stadium.
Initially brought up as a pitcher, Goslin would finish his career with 2,735 hits and a .316 lifetime average, won the 1928 AL batting title with a .379 mark and knocked in over 100 runs 12 different times. But of the 127 home runs he would hit, only 31 would come at home; in 1924, he hit just one homer at Griffith Stadium—in fact, it was the only one hit by a Senator at home all season long—and two years later, all 17 of his home runs came on the road. On the flip side, the expansive outfield allowed Goslin to leg out a preponderant amount of triples for the Senators; he hit 80 of his 125 triples for Washington at home, and twice led the AL. People who doubted Goslin’s power lost arguments to come when, a third of the way into the 1930 season, he was traded to the St. Louis Browns—for whom he proceeded to belt 30 homers in barely 100 games playing at far more cozy Sportsman’s Park.
In the Senators’ back-to-back World Series appearances of 1924-25, Goslin was clearly the man with the offensive muscle for Washington—belting three homers each year to go with a .328 average over both series, the first of which gave the Senators their first and only world title over the New York Giants. Besides his three trips to October with Washington, Goslin also appeared twice in the Fall Classic for the Detroit Tigers in 1934-35—giving Detroit its first-ever championship in 1935 with a walk-off, series-winning single in Game Six against the Chicago Cubs.
Goslin would have made a good designated hitter had the position existed during his time. His defense was hardly extraordinary, leading the AL nine times in errors among outfielders—though he also led six times in assists, a sign that opposing runners were often challenging to get an extra 90 feet off him.
Kirby Puckett (1984-95)
The 1980s saw a rebirth of power in the Twins’ lineup, as the bandboxed Metrodome fueled a youth movement of sluggers that included Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky. But none of them were as dynamic, exciting—and as exceptional in the clutch, with either the bat or glove—as Puckett.
Short (5’8”) but powerfully built, Puckett was a bowling ball of a player who would become an immediate fan favorite in Minnesota with his hustle, heroics and home run-stealing leaps above the top of the center field fence. At first, he appeared to be nothing more than a singles machine at the plate—hitting no home runs with just 17 extra-base hits and 16 walks in his rookie year of 1984. Two years later, Puckett went from 0-to-31 on the home run charts, thanks to batting adjustments from Twins legend Tony Oliva. It was all superstardom from there; five times, Puckett collected over 200 hits, four times leading the AL and notching a career-high 234 in 1988; a year later, he became a rare right-handed batting champion when he punched out a .339 average. Twice, he had six hits in one game and became only the fourth player in history to surpass 1,000 career hits before his fifth year in the majors was complete.
A ten-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove recipient in the outfield, Puckett was also a career .309 postseason hitter and starred in the 1991 World Series—the Twins’ second championship in five years—with numerous memorable moments, including an over-the-wall catch and walk-off home run in Game Six to keep the Twins alive.
Puckett finished his career with 2,334 hits, the second highest total in franchise history; he might have knocked out another 500 and passed Sam Rice at the top, but he suddenly developed blurred vision during spring training in 1996 and essentially lost sight in one eye. It was determined he had glaucoma, and it immediately ended his career at age 36. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Minnesota fans who came to adore Puckett and saw him as the ultimate good guy were shaken up by post-career accusations that he abused not only his wife but his mistress—who asked that a restraining order be slapped upon him. Other women also came forward and accused Puckett of assaulting them. After gaining considerable weight in the 2000s, Puckett suffered a stroke and died at the age of 45.
Bob Allison (1958-70)
The Missouri native never acquired fame on a national level as he successfully labored in the shadows of bigger Minnesota stars such as Killebrew and Oliva—but he was a tremendous player in his own right and a great supporting cast member on some of the memorable Twins teams of the 1960s.
Allison did show star-like promise in 1959 when he won AL Rookie of the Year honors, belting 30 home runs and nine triples for the Senators in their second-to-last year at Washington. Enjoying the transition to Minnesota, Allison blasted 29 home runs and knocked in over 100 runs in each of his first two years playing at Metropolitan Stadium. In the following two seasons, he surpassed 30 homers—hitting a career-high 35 in 1963.
Like Killebrew, Allison never hit for a high average—finishing his career with a lifetime .255 mark—but also like Killebrew, he made up for it by collecting a healthy dose of walks and building up his on-base and slugging percentages on a yearly basis. He shared one of the franchise’s great moments with Killebrew in 1962 when the two became the first teammates in modern major league history to hit grand slams in the same inning. Allison’s 256 home runs for the Twins are third on the franchise’s all-time list.
Mickey Vernon (1939-43, 1946-48, 1950-55)
The winner of two AL batting crowns seven years apart, Vernon played in the same time frame (1939-60) as Ted Williams—and like Williams, was robbed of a shot at 3,000 career hits because of his time spent in the military during World War II.
Vernon won his first batting title in 1946, hitting .353 with an AL-best 51 doubles; it was the only time during the 1940s that he finished a season above .300. When his average sank 90 points a year later, he was sent in a heavily one-sided deal, as Cleveland received him and future Hall-of-Fame pitcher Early Wynn; the Senators stole him back in 1950 for pitcher Dick Weik (career record: 6-22). Back in Washington, Vernon nabbed his second batting crown in 1953, edging out the Indians’ Al Rosen by a single point.
Like Goslin, Vernon had to live with the fact that Griffith Stadium wasn’t going to power up his numbers. Of the 121 home runs he hit for Washington, only 32 came at home; but, as with Goslin, he made up for it with an abundance of doubles and triples.
After his playing days, Vernon returned to Washington once more as the first manager of the second version of the Senators (which replaced the Minnesota-bound original); he lost over 100 games in each of his first two years and was on his way to another in 1963 when he was fired.
Stan Spence (1942-47)
A wartime baseball hero and four-time All-Star for the Senators, Spence came to Washington after he couldn’t find room in Boston butting into the highly talented Red Sox outfield. He established himself immediately with the Senators, hitting .323 in his first season at D.C. in 1942—and two years later, hit .316 with 18 home runs and 100 RBIs, the latter two figures in the books as personal bests; he added a phenomenal 29 assists from center field.
Proving that he was taking advantage of depleted talent during the war, Spence continued to shine when the majors returned to full strength in 1946; he hit .292 with 16 homers and 87 RBIs, adding 50 doubles and ten triples. In 1947, the Red Sox wanted him back—and the Senators, themselves loaded with outfielding talent, obliged. But Spence suddenly lost it in Boston and never recovered.
Roy Sievers (1954-59)
When early career promise turned frustrating after a 1949 Rookie of the Year showing with the St. Louis Browns, Sievers came to Washington in 1954 and became popular with the fans, and why not? Chucking away with an open batting stance that gave him more power—and with the help of, at long last, reduced field dimensions at Griffith Stadium in the mid-1950s—Sievers became the franchise’s first legitimate boomer, collecting a league-high 42 blasts in 1957 when no one in Senators history had previously reached even 30.
In addition to those 42 homers, Sievers also led the AL with 114 RBIs and batted .301—but lost the AL MVP to Mickey Mantle because, all too realistically, Mantle’s Yankees won another AL title while Sievers’ Senators finished last. Still, Sievers electrified Washington fans by hitting 26 homers at home, and became the first Senator ever to win the home run title.
In his six years with Washington, Sievers averaged 30 pops a year and four times knocked in over 100 runs. His career faded afterward with stops with the Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, briefly returning to Washington to play for the second Senators from 1964-65 with yawn-inducing results.
Joe Cronin (1928-34)
After he failed to fit in with the star-studded Pittsburgh Pirates of the mid-1920s, Cronin found himself in Washington where he latched on at shortstop and embarked on a life spent in the AL for nearly half a century—first as a tough, dynamic threat for the Senators, then a player-manager (mostly for Boston) followed by a stay in the front office and, from 1959-73, as president of the league.
In 1930, his third year as a Senator, Cronin’s career took off—hitting .346 with 13 homers, 126 runs knocked in, 127 scored and 17 bases pilfered to win the AL MVP award then given out by The Sporting News. Those numbers would wane slightly in the years to follow, but Washington owner Clark Griffith loved his leadership enough that, in 1933, he gave Cronin the managership—making the 26-year old an even younger pilot than the Senators’ previous manager, Bucky “Boy Wonder” Harris. The youthful Cronin made an immediate impression, winning 99 games for Washington (while hitting .309 with 118 RBIs) to capture the team’s third-ever pennant, in advance of a tough Series loss to the Giants. Cronin’s success, and his Washington tenure in general, would become short-lived; the team collapsed in the standings the following year, internal dissension took hold and fans only made things worse when they jeered Cronin, who now looked like a stooge for Griffith after it was announced he was marrying his daughter. Griffith wisely cashed Cronin in to Boston, collecting $250,000 and shortstop Lyn Lary.
In seven years with the Senators, Cronin hit over 40 doubles four times, at least ten triples thrice and knocked in 100 runs five times; as with most Senators hitters of the era, most of his home runs (39 of 51) came on the road.
Minnesota Twins Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Twins, decade by decade.
The Twins' Ten Greatest Pitchers: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Twins' Ten Greatest Games: A list of ten memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Twins' history.
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