ďIt excites me a lot. Look at that line. Those guys have all been mentored by the guy in front of them. Me being mentored by Denard Span means I'm the next one in line. I've still got to get to the big leagues, still have to earn my place as a big league center fielder.Ē
Those were the words of Aaron Hicks at Twins Fest when asked what it meant to follow in the Minnesota Twins centerfield lineage of Kirby Puckett to Torii Hunter to Denard Span.
As Hicks looks to be the Twins next great, long-term centerfielder, I thought it would be fun to look back and the others, the other guys who got a chance to play some centerfield for the Twins and, for whatever reason, were not able to make their name for themselves.
Assuming Aaron Hicks takes over the centerfield job, he will be the one to follow Denard Span. That said, it is important to note that Ben Revere, who was the Twins first-round draft choice in 2007, a year before Hicks was the Twins first round pick, did play a lot of centerfield the last two seasons as well. And also, donít forget that the centerfielder who was the Opening Day centerfielder immediately following the departure of Torii Hunter was Carlos Gomez.
So many think that Kirby Puckett passed the centerfield torch to Torii Hunter, but that is not technically the case. Hunter was the Twins first round pick in 1993. That was the last year in which Puckett was the Twins primary centerfielder. However, Puckett did still mentor the very young Hunter on and off the field. In 1994, Kirby Puckett moved to right field and the be-goggled Alex Cole was the primarily Twins centerfielder.
Late in that 1994 season, Rich Becker took over as the teamís centerfielder, a position he would man through the end of the 1997 season. In 1998, the Twins brought in Otis Nixon and he played 108 games in center field.
Torii Hunter took over the centerfield position in 1999, although he had his stint in Rochester in 2000. Matt Lawton and Jacque Jones each got some time at the position as well, but it was basically Hunterís job until he left for the Angels following the 2007 season.
Kirby Puckett debuted with the Twins on May 8, 1984, against the Angels. He was the Twins centerfielder for the better part of a decade. However, the position has been played by many over the previous decade, for various reasons. For some, it was poor play. For others, they left for greener pastures when the Calvin Griffith regime deemed them too expensive to keep.
Letís go back to 1961, when the Twins came to Minnesota. Their centerfielder was Lenny Green. He had come with the team from Washington where he had taken over the position in 1960. He was there into the 1964 season.
However, in 1963, Jimmie Hall became the primary centerfielder. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in a year in which he hit 21 doubles and 33 home runs. He remained the starter through 1965. He lost playing time in the World Series because he hit left handed and the Dodgers had Sandy Koufax in their rotation.
In 1966, Ted Uhlaender took over for Hall, who played other positions more often and then was traded to the Angels following the season. Uhlaender was the centerfielder through the 1969 season.
Cesar Tovar played all over the diamond during his years with the Twins. In 1969 and 1970, he was the primary centerfielder.
Jim Holt played a lot of centerfield in 1970 and 1971.
In the 1970s, the Twins had some pretty good performers in centerfield, but they seemed to take turns a lot. Steve Brye played a lot of centerfield from 1972 through 1976. Larry Hisle played the position frequently from 1973 through 1977. Dan Ford was the teamís primary centerfielder in 1975 and again in 1978. He moved to the corner outfield in 1976 and 1977 because of the emergence of Lyman Bostock. For a couple of years in the Ď70s, the Twins would have had an outfield of Dan Ford, Lyman Bostock and Larry Hisle. Thatís a pretty strong outfield.
The Twins and the Angels certainly seemed to enjoy trading with each other. The Angels also signed many free agents from the Twins during these years. Following the 1978 season, the Twins traded Rod Carew to the Angels in exchange a package of players that included Ken Landreaux, who was the teamís centerfielder in 1979 and 1980. He hit .294 with 50 doubles, 16 triples and 22 home runs in those two season and was an All Star in 1980.
Following 1980, he was traded to the other Los Angeles team, the Dodgers, for a package that included Mickey Hatcher. Hatcher was in the Twins outfield for several years, primarily in left field. However, in the 1981 season, he played primarily in centerfield.
Before the 1982 season, the Twins made another trade with the Dodgers to acquire Bobby Mitchell. He had 13 plate appearances in 19 games for the Dodgers in the two previous seasons combined. HE came to the Twins and
was the primary centerfielder in 1982 and played some there in 1983.
In 1983, Darrell Brown took over in centerfield. The Twins had acquired him as a free agent in December of 1982. He hit .272/.297/.304 (.601) with six doubles and two triples. He got another month in 1984 before the team called up Kirby Puckett, a singles hitting, speedy outfielder who would go on to become one of the greatest players in team history and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
We read so much about the Twins line of centerfielders from Puckett to Hunter to Span. And now that will be handed over to Aaron Hicks and he is not taking that lightly. There is a good chance that, once he establishes himself, he will start mentoring Byron Buxton to take his position and run with it.
Hopefully this review of the Twins centerfield position has been a fun look at the history of the Minnesota Twins. I always enjoy being reminded of names that I havenít read or heard about in a long time. Those of you who have been fans of the Twins since the early years should really enjoy telling the rest of us stories you recall about some of these players. I hope youíll use the comments to do just that.