This is the first article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Minnesota Twins. In this installment are catchers and managers.
Many people think the Minnesota Twins franchise began play in Washington D. C., but it actually got its start in a spot much closer to the Twin Cities. The American League began as the Western League in the 1890s, with Byron “Ban” Johnson acting as president. The Kansas City franchise was moved to the Nation’s Capital and became the Senators in 1900 to replace the National League team of the same name that was dropped by the Senior Circuit the year before.
The club, which was originally owned by Jim Manning, a former player with Boston and Detroit in the National League and Kansas City in the American Association. He also became the first manager of the Senators, leading the team to a sixth-place finish. Before the 1902 season, Manning sold his interests to Johnson and Detroit hotel owner Fred Postal. The following year, Johnson bought out Postal and took control of the team.
Since Johnson was also president of the American League, he quickly found a group of local businessmen to take over, including Thomas Noyes, the owner and editor of the Evening Star newspaper, attorney Wilton Lambert and baseball newspaper reporter William Dwyer. The team changed its official name to Nationals in 1905 (which it held for half a century), but the press and fans continued to use the Senators name.
Noyes passed away in 1912 and was succeeded as principal owner by attorney Benjamin Minor. Ban Johnson got Reds manager and former player Clark Griffith to take the same post with the Nationals. Griffith often clashed with Minor and other owners over spending money to improve the team. The manager started with a 10 percent share in the club but eventually bought more and more of the team until he was able (with the help of Philadelphia grain exporter William Richardson) to buy out Minor and become majority owner.
Unlike Minor and other owners around baseball, Griffith’s major source of income was the Nationals, so he was a notorious penny pincher. He gave up his manager spot in 1920 to devote himself fully to running the team and renamed the park Griffith Stadium. Washington had a pair of second-place finishes with Griffith as manager, but the Nationals didn’t make a postseason appearance until 1924, when they edged the Giants in the World Series. They won the pennant again the following year but fell to the Pirates and lost to the Giants in 1933. The team was such a laughingstock during its early years that sportswriters began using the slogan, “Washington: First in war, first in peace and last in the American League,” which was used for most of the time the team was in the Nation’s Capital.
Washington went on a long postseason drought of more than 30 years after the loss to New York. Griffith passed away after the 1955 season, with control of the team being split between his nephew and niece, Calvin and Thelma, whom he adopted as children. The club officially went by Senators again for its final four seasons before moving to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Congress threatened to revoke the league’s antitrust exemption because of the move, but a deal was reached in which the A.L. would expand by two teams in 1961. When the Twins began play, so did a new Senators team in Washington (as well as the Los Angeles Angels).
The team was better on the field and in the stands in their new home, drawing more than one million fans to Metropolitan Stadium in its first 10 seasons, a feat only accomplished once in Washington. The Twins won a franchise record 102 games in 1965 but fell to the Dodgers in seven games in the World Series. When the league went to a division format in 1969, Minnesota appeared in the ALCS in the first two years of its existence.
Calvin Griffith, like his uncle, got his only income from the Twins, so they were underfunded. Add in his racist comments about Washington, D.C. and future Hall of Fame player Rod Carew, and fans were clamoring for him to sell the team. After an attempt by businessman Frank Morsani to buy the team and move it to Florida (which was stopped by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn because Morsani tried to accomplish this using a hostile takeover), Griffith sold the team for $32 million in 1984. The Twins’ new owner was Carl Pohlad, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient during World War II who eventually boasted a net worth of $3.6 billion through his efforts as a banker and financier.
On the field, the Twins were competitive throughout the 1970s and 80s and ended a championship drought that had reached six decades. The team played in a pair of thrilling seven-game World Series appearances after Pohlad took over, beating the Cardinals in 1987 and topping the Braves in 1991, with the highlights being Jack Morris‘ 10-inning shutout and Gene Larkin‘s game-winning hit in the dramatic 1-0 walk-off victory in Game 7.
Minnesota mostly stayed in contention over the next two decades, thanks to the efforts of managers Tom Kelly (two titles) and Ron Gardenhire (six playoff appearances, including a trip to the ALCS in 2002). Carl Pohlad passed away in 2009 and left the team in the hands of his three sons, with Jim taking over as chairman and the public face of the franchise. In 2022, Jim gave control of the day-to-day operation of the club to his nephew, Joe Pohlad.
After the team dipped in the standings early in the 2010s, there was a resurgence that included a postseason berth in 2017 under Hall of Fame player-turned-manager Paul Molitor, and another former player, Rocco Baldelli, who has led the team to three division titles in his five years at the helm.
The Best Catchers and Managers in Minnesota Twins History
Honorable Mention – Brian Harper overcame his defensive shortcomings to shore up a catching position for the Twins that had been lackluster in previous seasons. He had three straight years where he hit better than .300 with 50 runs scored and 60 runs batted in. The first of those seasons was 1991, when Harper batted .311 and struck out just 22 times in 123 games. He followed that with a .333 postseason average (13-for-39) with four doubles, three runs and two RBIs to help the Twins earn their second championship in five years.
Over six seasons with Minnesota (1988-93), Harper batted .306 with 767 runs, 156 doubles, 48 home runs, 346 RBIs and 1,079 total bases in 730 games. He played one year each with the Brewers and Athletics before retiring as a player in 1995. Harper embarked on a coaching career, that included a couple of high school stops and time working with the Diamondbacks, Angels, Giants and Tigers.
5. Harold “Butch” Wynegar – The second-round pick began his career by as the Rookie of the Year runner-up in the 1976 season after posting a .260-10-69 stat line. Wynegar had his best campaign the following year when he batted .261 with 10 home runs and 79 runs batted in while earning his second straight All-Star selection. His offensive numbers declined over the rest of his time in Minnesota (1976-82), but his defense was solid, as he led all American League catchers in runners caught stealing twice and double plays once.
Wynegar was traded to the Yankees during the 1982 season and was a starter for most of the next five years before finishing his career with the Angels. With the Twins, he had 325 runs, 697 hits, 112 doubles 37 home runs and 325 RBIs in 794 games. Following his playing career, Wynegar has coached for Rollins College and also in the minor leagues for the Orioles, Rangers, Brewers, Yankees and Pirates.
4. Earl Battey – He latched on to the White Sox because of his defense, but excelled with the bat once he came to the Senators for their final season in Washington in 1960. Battey’s progress at the plate continued after the team moved to Minnesota, and he earned four All-Star selections, three straight gold gloves and three top 10 MVP finishes in eight seasons (1960-67). His best season was 1963, when he batted .285 and set career highs with 26 home runs and 84 runs batted in (the Twins hit a then-record 225 homers that year).
Minnesota was also putting in some strong showings in the standings, finally winning the pennant in 1965. Battey started all seven games but was mostly shut down, posting three hits, one run and two RBIs. His final season was plagued by injuries, including a dislocated thumb suffered on a foul tip.
Battey had the best offensive numbers of any catcher outside of the one occupying the top spot on this list. He batted .277 with 346 runs, 894 hits, 139 doubles, 91 home runs, 410 RBIs and 1,330 total bases in 990 games. Defensively, Battey also led catchers in putouts and assists in four straight years, as well as runners caught stealing three times and double plays twice.
Following his playing career, Battey was a baseball consultant for the Consolidated Edison power company, a role in which he accompanied kids to Yankees games in company-bought seats and answer their baseball questions as the “Con-Ed Answer Man.” He also was a high school teacher and coach in Ocala, Florida, until his death due to cancer in 2003.
3. Herold “Muddy” Ruel – He was a solid hitter but a much better fielder during his eight-year run with the Senators/Nationals (1923-30). In an era before gold glover were awarded, Ruel won a pair of fielding titles and led all catchers in putouts and assists three times each, double plays twice and caught stealing percentage once. At the plate, he hit .300 or better three times and drove in at least 50 runs in six straight seasons.
Ruel batted .290 with 336 runs, 834 hits, 116 doubles, 373 RBIs and 1,004 total bases in 903 games with Washington. He also ranks ninth in franchise history with a .382 on-base percentage. Ruel was also the starter on two straight pennant winning teams, totaling two runs, eight hits, two doubles and an RBI in 14 World Series games.
One of those runs was quite important in the team’s championship victory in 1924. With one out in the 12th inning of Game 7, Ruel popped up a ball behind home plate. Giants backstop Hank Gowdy tried to track the ball but dropped it after stumbling when he stepped on his discarded facemask. Ruel smacked a double on the next pitch and scored the winning run when Freddie Lindstrom‘s grounder took a bad hop off a stone in the infield and bounced into left field.
Ruel, who was the opposing catcher when Babe Ruth hit home run number 60 in 1927, played for five other teams in his 19-year career and retired in 1934. He was a pitching coach for the White Sox for a decade, was a special assistant to Commissioner A. B. “Happy” Chandler, managed the Browns during integration, was a coach and farm director for the Indians and finished his career as general manager of the Tiger. Ruel passed away after suffering a heart attack in 1963.
2. Rick Ferrell – He was one of the first star catchers that excelled both on offense and defense. Ferrell spent eight of his 18 seasons in Washington (1937-41, 44-45 and ’47), earning four All-Star selections. He was an eight-time All-Star overall (his other four as a member of the Red Sox) and played the entirety of the first Midsummer Classic in 1933.
Ferrell’s best season with Washington was 1938, when he batted .292 with 58 RBIs and led the American League catchers in double plays. Overall, he had a .273 average, 218 runs, 568 hits, 100 doubles and 237 RBIs in 659 games. Ferrell came back to the Nationals from the Browns for his second stint, spent 1946 as a coach, then came out of retirement to catch 37 games the following year. His playing career ended with him as the all-time record holder with 1,806 games caught (which stood for more than 40 years).
Ferrell went to the Tigers’ organization, where he spent the next 40-plus years moving up the ranks from scout to general manager, then vice president and executive consultant before retiring in 1992. During his time, Detroit won three division titles and two World Series championships. Ferrell was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1984 and passed away in 1995 at age 89.
1. Joe Mauer – While many of the others on this list were stars either on offense or defense, Mauer put things together to become one of the greatest catchers of his era. During his 15-year career spent entirely with Minnesota (2004-18), he earned six All-Star selections, five silver sluggers and three gold gloves. Mauer also won three batting titles and an MVP Award in 2009, the 16th overall by a catcher and the first in a decade.
The Twins took Mauer with the first pick in the 2001 amateur draft and, after a 2003 MLB Futures Game appearance, he made his debut the following year. In 2006, he earned an All-Star selection and won his first batting title with a .347 average to go with 181 hits, 13 home runs and 84 runs batted in. Two years later, led batted a league-leading .328 and scored a career-best 98 runs.
However, Mauer’s best season was 2009. He won his second straight batting title and third overall with a career-high .365 average (fourth in team history). Mauer also scored 94 runs and set career bests with 191 hits, 28 homers, 96 RBIs, a .444 on-base percentage and a .587 slugging percentage (leading the league in the last two categories). He beat out Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira for the MVP Award after being named on the top spot on 27 of 28 ballots.
In his illustrious Twins career, Mauer batted .306 with 143 home runs. He ranks second in franchise history in doubles (428), third in strikeouts (1,034), fourth in hits (2,123) and walks (939), fifth in total bases (3,040), sixth in games (1,858), runs (1,018) and on-base percentage (.388) and ninth in RBIs (923). Mauer also led Minnesota to four postseason appearances, batting .275 (11-for-40) with one run and one RBI in 10 games.
The St. Paul native overcame arthroscopic knee surgery that caused him to miss roughly half of the 2011 season and led the league with a .416 on-base percentage the following year. Mauer played one more season at catcher before moving to first base for his final five years, retiring in 2018. The three-time fielding champion was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in August, and 2024 will be his first year on the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mentions – Joe Cronin was a Hall of Fame shortstop who spent about half of his 20-year career as a player-manager, with his first two seasons in that role coming with Washington (1933-34). He led the Nationals to a pennant the first year after leading them to a 99-53 record, which is the third best in franchise history. They fell to the Giants in the World Series, then dropped to 66-86 the following year. Owner Clark Griffith sent Cronin to the Red Sox after the 1934 season and team had a nearly three-decade period of futility that took a move to Minnesota to fix.
Billy Martin was primarily a second baseman during an 11-year playing career that ended with the Twins in 1961. He worked as a scout, coach and minor league manager in the Minnesota organization, while also working as a public relations officer for a local brewery, before he was named Twins manager in 1969. Despite leading his team to a 97-65 record and the first title in the newly formed American League West, the brash Martin lasted only one season. He made some questionable on-field decisions and clashed with management, especially owner Calvin Griffith, which led to his firing after a loss to the Orioles in the first American League Championship Series.
Bill Rigney came to the Twins fresh off a nine-year stint as the first manager of the Angels. He was fired just 39 games into the 1969 season and took over for Martin the following year. Rigney led Minnesota to 98 wins and a second straight division title, but the club also fell to Baltimore in the ALCS once again. The Twins flirted with .500 for the rest of Rigney’s tenure before he was released midway through the 1972 season with a 208-184 overall record.
Current manager Rocco Baldelli had a solid start to his playing career with Tampa Bay before it was derailed by injuries. He just finished his fifth season as Minnesota’s manager, amassing a 375-333 record and three playoff appearances in that span. Baldelli’s first year was the best, as he led the Twins to a 101-61 record in 2019, which was a 23-game improvement over the previous season and the second-best single season mark in franchise history. The club won the Central Division title and Baldelli was named Manager of the Year, but the Twins got swept by the Yankees in the Division Series.
Baldelli led his team to another division title in the 2020 COVID-shortened season, but again got swept in the playoffs, this time by the Astros in the Wild Card round. Two losing seasons followed, but Minnesota won the Central in 2023 with an 87-75 record. This time, the Twins swept the Blue Jays in the first round before falling to the Astros once again. Baldelli has a 373-332 record and is tied for seventh in managerial wins in franchise history.
5. Clark Griffith – He was a star pitcher with the Cubs in the 1890s and the White Sox during the early years of the American League, posting a 237-146 record during a 20-year major league career. Griffith ended his playing days with the Nationals as a player-manager after being enticed to leave that same post with the Reds. He pitched just three games with Washington, focusing primarily on his job as bench boss.
Griffith pitched and managed with the White Sox, Highlanders and Reds throughout the first decade of the 1900s, leading Chicago to the Junior Circuit’s first pennant and guiding New York to a pair of 90-win seasons. He matched that feat in his first two years in Washington, and he had five winning campaigns and two second place finishes in his nine seasons at the helm in the Nation’s Capital (1912-20).
The “Old Fox” butted heads with the team’s principal owner, Benjamin Minor, over improving the team, and Griffith solved the problem by buying out shares of the Nationals until 1919, when he became the one in charge. He stepped down as manager the following year to focus on running the club, ending his managerial career with a 693-646 record with Washington and a 1,491-1,367 mark in 20 seasons overall.
The franchise went to the postseason six times while being owned by the Griffith family, with Clark leading the Nationals to three World Series appearances, including a win in 1924. The club would not get back to the Fall Classic until well after Griffith’s death, when the Twins won titles in 1987 and 1991 after Carl Pohlad bought the team.
4. Sam Mele – While Griffith was more influential in terms of franchise history, Mele had more successful tenure as a manager. He had winning records in four of his five full seasons, with his seven-year tenure spanning the team’s first campaigns in Minnesota (1961-67).
Mele led the team to three 90-win seasons, two second place finishes and one pennant. The 1965 team finished with a franchise-best 102-60 record thanks to fantastic performances by future Cy Young winner Jim Perry, future Hall of Famers Jim Kaat, Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva and MVP-winning shortstop Zoilo Versalles. The Twins made it to Game 7 of the World Series before they were shut out by Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers, 2-0.
Despite his success, Minnesota had little patience for the mild-mannered Mele. After a second-place finish in 1966, he was fired after posting a 25-25 record to start the following year. Mele finished his managerial career with a 524-436 record, which ranks fifth in franchise history. He returned to Boston, where he had spent five seasons as a player, and worked as a scout and instructor in the Red Sox organization for 25 years.
3. Ron Gardenhire – Following a five-year playing career as a reserve shortstop with the Mets, he joined the Twins, first as a minor league manager and then as third base coach in Minnesota, a role he held during the team’s World Championship season in 1991. Gardenhire became Twins manager in 2002, when there was talk of the team being contracted before a lawsuit prevented the move thanks to their lease in the Metrodome.
Fans in the Twin Cities were lucky the contraction plan failed, and that Gardenhire had taken over for another legendary manager. He led the Twins to A. L. central titles in his first three seasons and six overall in his 13 years at the helm (2002-14). Gardenhire’s first season was not the best in terms of record, but it had the best result. Minnesota went 94-67, won its first division title in more than a decade and edged the Athletics in the Division Series before falling to the eventual champion Angels in the ALCS.
The Twins went to the postseason five more times under Gardenhire, but each of those appearances ended in the Division Series, with three of those ending in a sweep. Gardenhire ended his run in Minnesota with a 1,068-1,039 record, which ranks third in franchise history. Along with his sixth and final division title, he also was named Manager of the Year after leading the Twins to 94 wins in 2010.
“Gardy” was a fiery leader who not only had strong connections with players, coaches and staff, but also defended them in arguments with umpires, resulting in 71 ejections while he was in a Twins uniform. He spent a year as a coach with the Diamondbacks and three as Tigers manager, going 132-241 with Detroit. Gardenhire retired near the end of the 2020 season citing health concerns, including a battle with prostate cancer.
2. Stanley “Bucky” Harris – He spent 10 of his 12 seasons at second base for the Nationals, the last five as a player-manager. Harris was put in charge of the Washington club in 1924, and he is the second youngest non-interim manager in baseball history (Hall of Fame shortstop Lou Boudreau was just 24 when he became Indians manager in 1941).
Harris used several tactics that were foreign to managers at the time but have become commonplace in the modern game. He drilled players on fundamentals, was strategic, especially when working with his pitchers, and he was not afraid to pull a struggling starter, knowing he had star reliever Firpo Marberry available. In the World Series against the Giants, future Hall of Famer Walter Johnson lost his first two starts, but Harris brought his ace out of the bullpen on just one day of rest in Game 7, and he pitched four shutout innings to get the win and give his team the championship.
Harris led the Nationals to 96 wins and a second straight pennant in 1925, but they fell to the Pirates in seven games. Three years later, he was traded to the Tigers and led them for five seasons. After a year in Boston, Harris returned to Washington in 1935, but the Nationals did not have the same success, posting just one winning season out of eight. He lasted less than two months as manager of the Phillies in 1943, then spent the next two years as manager and general manager of the Tigers’ affiliate club in Buffalo before returning to the majors with the Yankees in 1947.
“Bucky” led New York to a title in his first year and had two straight 90-win seasons, but one of them was a third-place finish (which was unacceptable in the “Big Apple”), and he was fired. Harris returned to the Nation’s Capital for a third stint as manager, quipping “Only Franklin D. Roosevelt had more terms than I did in Washington.” His clubs finished with a .500 or better record in two of his five seasons during this go-round, and his major league managerial career ended in 1956 after two more seasons with Detroit.
Harris was an assistant and then general manager of the Red Sox for five seasons, then served as a scout with the White Sox and a special assistant with the “new” Senators (later the Texas Rangers). He was also involved with the integration of two teams. He was manager of Washington in 1954 when Carlos Paula became the first black player on that club and was the general manager in Boston five years later when Pumpsie Green was the first African American to play with the Red Sox.
Harris is the all-time franchise leader with a 1,336-1,416 record in 18 seasons (1924-28, 35-42 and 50-54), and he posted a 2,158-2,219 mark in 29 years overall. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager by the Veteran’s Committee in 1975 and passed away two years later due to Parkinson’s disease.
1. Tom Kelly – He was a reserve first baseman and outfielder with the Twins during his only major league season in 1975. Three years later, Kelly began his coaching career in Minnesota’s minor league system. He was appointed base coach with the Twins in 1983 and took over as manager for Ray Miller at the end of the 1986 season.
The following year, Kelly led a starting lineup of mostly homegrown players he oversaw in the minors. The Twins went just 85-77 in the regular season but won a weak West Division by two games over the Royals. Minnesota beat Detroit in the ALCS and St. Louis in a seven-game World Series and held the distinction of having the lowest winning percentage (.525) by a champion (later broken by St. Louis with an 83-78 record and .516 winning percentage in 2006). The title was the first won by the franchise in 63 years and the first since the team moved to Minnesota.
Twins fans did not have to wait quite as long for the next championship. Kelly led the team to a second-place finish in 1988 and, after hovering around the .500 mark in each of the next two years, Minnesota won 95 games and a second division title in 1991. The Twins dispatched the Blue Jays (who would win the next two titles) in the ALCS before edging the Braves in a classic seven-game World Series.
Game 7 featured a classic pitcher’s duel between two future Hall of Famers. Atlanta’s John Smoltz and Minnesota’s Jack Morris matched zeroes until Smoltz was pulled in the eighth. Morris shut down the Braves on seven hits and struck out eight while throwing 126 pitches through the top of the tenth inning. Dan Gladden led off the bottom of the inning with a double and, after a sacrifice and two intentional walks to load the bases, Gene Larkin singled to left to give the Twins a 1-0 victory and their second title in five years.
Kelly led the Twins to a pair of second place finishes over his final 10 seasons at the helm, but the team was mostly in rebuilding mode and focusing on young (cheap) players. He resigned after the 2001 season, citing burnout, and turning the reins over to Gardenhire, his third base coach. “T.K.” finished his career ranked second in franchise history with an 1,140-1,255 record in 16 seasons (1986-2001), which ranks second in franchise history. He led the club to five winning campaigns, two division titles and two of the club’s three championships.
The 1991 Manager of the Year had his jersey number retired by the Twins in 2012 and had a statue unveiled outside the club’s new home, Target Field, in 2017 to commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the 1987 championship.
Minnesota Twins Catchers and Managers
Minnesota Twins First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters – coming soon
Minnesota Twins Second Basemen and Shortstops – coming soon
Minnesota Twins Outfielders – coming soon
Minnesota Twins Pitchers – coming soon
A look back at the Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee Brewers Catchers and Managers
Milwaukee Brewers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Milwaukee Brewers Second Basemen and Shortstops
Milwaukee Brewers Outfielders
Milwaukee Brewers Pitchers
A look back at the Miami Marlins
A look back at the Los Angeles Dodgers
A look back at the Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Angels Catchers and Managers
Los Angeles Angels First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Los Angeles Angels Second Basemen and Shortstops
Los Angeles Angels Outfielders
Los Angeles Angels Pitchers
A look back at the Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals Catchers and Managers
Kansas City Royals First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Kansas City Royals Second Basemen and Shortstops
Kansas City Royals Outfielders
Kansas City Royals Pitchers
A look back at the Houston Astros
A look back at the Detroit Tigers
A look back at the Colorado Rockies
A look back at the Cleveland Guardians
Cleveland Guardians Catchers and Managers
Cleveland Guardians First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Cleveland Guardians Second Basemen and Shortstops
Cleveland Guardians Outfielders
Cleveland Guardians Pitchers
A look back at the Cincinnati Reds
A look back at the Chicago White Sox
Chicago White Sox Catchers and Managers
Chicago White Sox First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Chicago White Sox Second Basemen and Shortstops
Chicago White Sox Outfielders
Chicago White Sox Pitchers
A look back at the Chicago Cubs
A look back at the Boston Red Sox
A look back at the Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore Orioles Catchers and Managers
Baltimore Orioles First and Third Basemen
Baltimore Orioles Second Basemen and Shortstops
Baltimore Orioles Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Baltimore Orioles Pitchers
A look back at the Atlanta Braves
A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona Diamondbacks Catchers and Managers
Arizona Diamondbacks First and Third Basemen
Arizona Diamondbacks Second Basemen and Shortstops
Arizona Diamondbacks Outfielders
Arizona Diamondbacks Pitchers