Column: Who are the most important Twins in the future?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 26, 2006

Jon Laging, Talking about Sports

Given the early struggles of the Minnesota football teams, both the Vikings and the Gophers, it has been difficult for me and others to get overly interested in their seasons. It&8217;s a shame about the Gophers. College football is normally a great deal of fun and at one time Gopher football was the premier sport in Minnesota.

My, how the mighty have fallen. It&8217;s beginning to appear that the Gophers will not change during Mason&8217;s tenure. However we seem to have an up and coming team on the premises. The Minnesota Vikings. More about them in the near future.

I guess I am not ready to let go of a successful and one of the most refreshing teams to come down the pike in many moons. I refer of course, to the Minnesota Twins. What a summer this has been.

I was debating the other day as to the Twins&8217; future. Was this just a one-time effort and next season will the Twins will sink to third place in the Central Division?

There is not a question that the team owes its success to a few core players. The piranhas were a lot of fun and they, with other role players and the rookie pitchers, played a large role in the winning of the division. But no other team had the statistical drop off after their core players as did the Twins. Morneau, Mauer, Cuddyer and during the last month Hunter, with pitchers Santana, Liriano and Nathan compose the heart of the Minnesota Twins. Out of the 25 players there are

only these six or seven that are vitally important to the team.

To give you an idea of what these players meant to the Twins let me show some comparisons with past teams important stars: Let&8217;s compare Justin Morneau with the best and most beloved first baseman of all time: Lou Gehrig, second only to Babe Ruth in fan recognition. Gehrig&8217;s record is as follows: Over 16 seasons his batting average was .340, home run average was 37 and average RBI were 149. Justin Morneau&8217;s batting average last year was .321. His home runs were 34 and RBI 130. Lou&8217;s first year he hit 295 and slugged 20 home runs. I&8217;m not saying Justin is another Lou Gehrig. Far from it. But to be in the same neighborhood is quite an accomplishment.

Can he be a poor man&8217;s Lou Gehrig? I don&8217;t know, but its something to think about.

Michael Cuddyer&8217;s closest comparison is probably Tommy Heinrich, Joe DiMaggio&8217;s outfield partner. Heinrich was known as &8220;Old Reliable&8221; or &8220;Mr. Clutch&8221; and batted after DiMaggio to ensure Joe would get some good pitches to hit. Tommy Heinrich&8217;s batting average was .282 with 23 home runs and 100 RBI over 11 seasons. Cuddyers batting average last year was .284 with 24 home runs and 109 RBI. Talk about twins.

Joe Mauer deserves a separate column for himself someday. I&8217;m not sure there has ever been a similar ballplayer. He may have broken the mold and be an entity unto himself.

I looked up two left-handed pitchers to compare with Johan Santana. Warren Spahn, the winningness left-hander pitcher and Sandy Koufax the most dominant pitcher of the modern era. I eliminated Spahn for although he struck out his share he was not primarily a strikeout pitcher.

That left Sandy Koufax. Tough competition indeed. Koufax averaged during his 12-year career 15 wins, 222 innings, 229 strikeouts with an average ERA of 2.76. By comparison Santana&8217;s numbers last year were 19 wins 233.2 innings, 245 strikeouts with an ERA of 2.77.

Granted I am comparing a season with careers, but it does point out what these players accomplished last year. Thus, if Terry Ryan can sign the big five of Morneau, Mauer, Cuddyer, Santana and Nathan to long term contracts this year, the future looks good for the Twins and the 2010 stadium.

(Jon Laging writes about regional sports from his home in Preston.)