Who was the most popular Twin of all-time? It comes down to Harmon Killebrew, Bert Blyleven, Kirby Puckett, Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer, and legendary Kent Hrbek. The last two grew up in Minnesota and spent their entire career with the Twins.
Hrbek grew up two miles from Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. “I used to go to games on Mondays because you could get in for a buck,” Hrbek said.
He was drafted by the Twins in the 17th round and when they sent him to Tennessee to play his first full season in pro ball, it was the first time he was away from home. Just two weeks into his career he suffered a severe knee injury. But he fought his way through it and was starting in his hometown two years later. He never wanted to play anywhere else and he gave the Twins a hometown discount each time his contract came up. Throughout his career he maintained a tradition of eating his pre-game dinner at his mom’s house when the Twins were at home.
In Game Two of the 1991 World Series, Hrbek got his big frame mixed up in a strange play that some people in Atlanta still gripe about. Ron Gant singled and rounded the bag a bit too far, drawing a throw from across the diamond. Hrbek took the throw as he was falling back, and as he made contact with the runner, his momentum pulled Gant off the base as he kept his glove on the runner’s leg. The first base umpire called Gant out, infuriating the Atlanta outfielder and their bench.
It’s easy to forget how exciting Hrbek was when he came up as a rookie in the early 1980s. He finished second to Cal Ripken Jr. in Rookie of the Year voting, hit .300, and showed very good power. He played the game with a college football sort of enthusiasm. Hrbek had more than 200 homers before his 30th birthday and helped his hometown team to two World Series titles. But the league was filled with better first basemen, Herbie petered out in his early 30s, and he got leapfrogged in the pecking order. He still had a very good career, and a great sense of timing. On the night he announced his retirement during the strike-torn 1994 season, Hrbek hit two home runs in front of the home crowd. When the season was canceled with the players on strike in September, Hrbek took the protective cup he wore for his entire career and nailed it to the wall of his garage.