Friday, October 31, 2014
The 1984 team was the first competitive Twins team of my lifetime. They finished 81-81, missing the playoffs by just a handful of games. 1984 featured the debut of a speedy centerfielder named Kirby Puckett and an MVP-deserving season from Kent Hrbek. But the biggest reason for the Twins sudden transformation to contenders was the emergence of a decent starting rotation. Viola blossomed into an ace that year, but the next two spots in the rotation were solidified by a couple of guys who were acquired in the offseason. In December of 1983, power-hitting outfielder Gary Ward was traded to the Texas Rangers for pitchers Mike Smithson and John Butcher.
Neither had much of a track record in Texas. Butcher spent the majority of his four years with the Rangers as a swingman. Meanwhile 6'8" former Tennessee Volunteers basketball star Mike Smithson (the tallest player in the league for most of his career) was coming off a 10-14 mark in his first full season. Both accumulated well over 200 innings, double-digit win totals, and sub-4.00 ERAs for the Twins in '84.
As for Smithson, he was never a great pitcher, but he was extremely dependable. From 1984-1986, he was good for about 36 starts, 250 innings and 15 wins each year. His ERA would rise and his strikeout totals would drop each season, but he was there every fifth day. Unfortunately for Big Mike, everything gave out during the Twins historic 1987 season. His ERA ballooned to 5.94 and his record fell to 4-7. He spent part of the season in the minors (for the first time since 1982), and was ultimately left off the post-season roster during the Twins' run to the World Series.