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  • The Next in a Long Line

    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.
    This article was originally published in blog: The Next in a Long Line started by Seth Stohs
    Comments 12 Comments
    1. Han Joelo's Avatar
      Han Joelo -
      Cool retrospective, Seth. My Twins fandom started with Kirby and was reignited by Torii. Fun to read about the previous torch-holders. Always good to remember there have been a lot of pretty good major leaguers over the years that I absolutely have never heard of. Puts things in perspective--it's tough to be really great for an extended period of time.

      I hope the best for Hicks--I was kind of surprised that he didn't get more time with Span or Revere before the torch was passed to him.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      I wouldn't be surprised to see Hicks struggle a bit in his first taste of the majors, but he seems to adapt a little slowly to each new level. He does adapt though, and that's the important part. It may not happen on April 1, but I think Hicks establishes himself in center field.

      Best case scenario, he becomes an all-star caliber player and when Buxton becomes 2017's version of Mike Trout, he slides to whichever corner the all-star named Arcia isn't in and continues to whack the hell out of the ball. Hey, a guy can dream.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      What, no Bombo Rivera?

      Good retro. Hopefully Hicks will establish himself as a player with Span's patience and Hunter's range, arm, and power. That's a pretty good combination.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      I can't remember why, but for some reason Ted Uhlaender struck an immediate chord with me when he joined the Twins. In fact, somewhere buried in an old family album is a polaroid picture of a pre-teen "Jim Crikket" standing with Uhlaender during one of the annual "Camera Day" promotions the Twins held back in the Met Stadium days. This, despite the fact that the "rule" was that you took the players' pictures but didn't leave the warning track to actually go near them or pose with them. Fortunately, my dad was one of those fathers far more interested in laying down rules than following them himself, and he talked Uhlaender in to posing with me.

      Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Seth.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      What, no Bombo Rivera?

      Good retro. Hopefully Hicks will establish himself as a player with Span's patience and Hunter's range, arm, and power. That's a pretty good combination.
      I thought Bombo play some CF as well, but (according to Baseball Reference) in his three years with the Twins, he played just one game in centerfield. That was just before my time. I started collecting cards in 1981 (brown paper bag full), so I knew some of the names, but it wasn't until Kirby Puckett that I really got into it.
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      Alex Cole. LOL
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      I've always wondered if Lawton was taking steroids meant for other species when he was a Twin.
    1. cwzimmerman's Avatar
      cwzimmerman -
      What a blast from the past! I have recollections of most everyone beginning with Ted Uhlaender. However, I had forgotten (or never knew) that a few of them played as much center field as they did (Steve Brye, for example).
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      He did got from slap hitter to power hitter in a Palmeiro kind of way. A few years later, of course, he got caught. So you have to wonder when he started taking them. There's nothing in his numbers that stands out like a Brady Anderson year.
    1. TwinsFanInPhilly's Avatar
      TwinsFanInPhilly -
      Willie Norwood (Dr. Strangeglove) played some CF in each of his four seasons with the Twins. I remember someone (Mauch?) burning his glove in a pre-game ceremony to try to rid Willie of his fielding demons.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      One thing I've already noticed about Aaron Hicks at the plate: He really battles. There is no 1, 2, 3 and yer out with this guy. You can see Hicks studying the pitcher, looking for a weakness, some little hint what the next pitch will be. The approach Hicks uses puts maximum pressure on the pitcher.

      That Aaron Hicks guy is going to be one helluva ballplayer.
    1. Halsey Hall's Avatar
      Halsey Hall -
      That was a fun read Seth! I've seen them all, from Lenny Green on. A buddy of mine was at the game when Jim Eisenrich had his meltdown in the outfield, and he said it was just hard to watch.

      I remember my early years in Ft Myers, and the first time I got here way before spring training, and seeing a bunch of guys out playing on one of the fields. They just looked like a bunch of guys out having fun playing baseball. I even thought of getting my glove and joining them. One kid seemed pretty fast in the outfield. Turns out to be Rich Becker. It was a perfect storm for him, as the Twins were weak at that position and he did get a few years in.

      Later, when local guys from Twins and other teams would work out early, I turned into the shagger. Buck Buchanan would come and unload a couple of 5 gallon buckets of balls out of his ride, and they'd go play. I would retrieve the balls hit over the fence for them. I did that for a number of years. I remember one year doing that, and spring training officially opened that day. I'm retrievng balls hit over the left field fence and Al Newman started hollering at me. AJ said "it's okay, Al, he throws them back". Of course a few clean, new balls always seemed to end up under some foilage, only to be gathered up a few hours later, lol.
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