With Super Bowl Sunday upon us, the dream of winning a championship will come true for one organization by day’s end. It is on this day that past champions are celebrated and great players are remembered for their achievements and contributions that led their respective teams to a championship.
The nostalgia of the past and the hunger for a championship got me thinking: if the Minnesota Twins could take anyone from their history—from any year—and place them on this year’s team—where they would perform as great as they did in that one particular season—who would have the greatest impact and who should they choose? I preface this response by saying that I do not believe that any one player could be acquired this season that would significantly alter the current Twins enough to make them a title contender, but I do think one acquisition—or in this article’s case, a magical act—could make this team a playoff contender.
From a die-hard, ignorant and selfish fan’s perspective, I would love to see Kirby Puckett from 1991 be magically brought back to save the Twins. That would be a biased decision because Puckett has always been—and always will be—my favorite player of any generation because of the way he played the game and the impact he had on those around him; however, Puckett isn’t the player I’d choose for the Twins.
Before I reveal who I chose, there were a handful of other players I considered for this honorable opportunity: Jack Morris from 1991, Frank Viola from 1988, Brad Radke from 1997, Francisco Liriano from 2006 and Denny Hocking from any year 1993-2003 (that last one was a joke). In the end, the player I chose to magically be brought back to the Twins to help save the is no other than Johan Santana from 2004.
I was fortunate enough to watch Santana pitch in person during this phenomenal season of his career and it is—to this day—the greatest pitching performance I have ever seen by a pitcher. Santana won his first of two Cy Young Awards with the Twins during this season and finished with a 20-6 record with a 2.61 ERA in 34 starts, with one complete game shutout, 228 innings pitched and 265 strikeouts for an average of 10.6 strikeouts per game.
He also pitched two games in the postseason that year vs. the New York Yankees and compiled a 1-0 record with a 0.75 ERA over 12 innings pitched while striking out 12. It wasn’t just the stats that made Santana great that year, it was the way he pitched that set him apart from any other pitcher I have witnessed.
It was also the effect that he had on the rest of the team whenever he took the mound—giving his team a feeling that they will win every time he pitches— that the Twins have been lacking since his trade to the New York Mets in 2008. Santana possessed a dynamic fastball/changeup combination that baffled hitters and left them clueless more often than not. His overpowering, methodical and analytical style of pitching that continually attacked the strike zone was one that you do not see in typical Twins’ pitchers and it is this type of pitching that gave the Twins a formidable chance in any playoff series.
It is the effect that Santana had on the rest of the team whenever he took the mound and the knowledge and toughness that he bestowed on the rest of the pitching staff that would greatly benefit this year’s team. It is these qualities that would give the Twins their best chance to compete in an expanded playoff format, while also providing their young pitching staff with a mentor and prototype that their young arms—like Alex Meyer and Trevor May—can one day emulate.
Again, do I think this acquisition would vault us into championship contention? No I do not, but I do think it could have an overall positive effect on our pitching staff this season and beyond and get the Twins closer to 85-90 wins. While I know this is complete wishful thinking—and quite possibly foolish—it is this time of year when we reflect on year’s past and look forward to better years in the future. I now leave you with this: if you could choose one player to be placed on this year’s team from past Twins teams, who would you choose and why?