The Minnesota Twins of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s were among the more entertaining baseball teams in recent memory. Led by mercurial Hall of Famer, Kirby Puckett, they won two World Series in the span of five years (1987 and 1991) with a collection of fun, but hardnosed players. One of the mainstays of those teams was their shortstop, Greg Gagne, whose contributions were often unsung, but absolutely vital to their success.
Gagne was originally selected by the New York Yankees in the 5th round of the 1979 MLB Draft. He started his minor league career slowly, but produced better numbers as each year passed. The Twins took notice and made sure that he was included in a trade they made with New York in 1982 that sent Roy Smalley to the Big Apple. The transaction cleared a path for Gagne to be groomed for the Twins’ starting shortstop role, as Smalley had previously held the position since 1977.
Gagne bounced up and down between the Twins and the minors for a couple of seasons after the trade before settling in as the starter in 1985 and quickly became part of the team’s core. He, Puckett, first baseman Kent Hrbek, third baseman Gary Gaetti, and starting pitcher Frank Viola formed the successful nucleus. They were known for their charismatic and joking nature, but tough play on the field; making their World Series victories no big surprise.
The heydays of the Twins were before the days of inflated home run numbers; making many of their statistics seem puny compared to the inflated numbers of today. Gagne was what would now be considered an old fashioned player. He was an excellent defender and merely adequate at the plate. His best season in Minnesota came in 1987, when he hit .265 with 10 home runs and 40 RBI in 137 games. His 4.1 WAR (wins above replacement) that year was also the best of his career.
Following the 1992 season, Gagne left Minnesota via free agency. He ended up playing for the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers before calling an end to his 15 year major league career after the 1997 season. He played a total of 1,798 games, hitting .254 with 111 home runs and 604 RBI. He also collected 1,440 hits and 108 stolen bases, and left baseball with a reputation as one of its most underappreciated players. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/gagnegr01.shtml.
Gagne left baseball with as little fanfare as he played the game, and I was always was curious to find out more about him. Fortunately I was recently able to ask him a few questions about his playing career and his favorite memories from baseball.
Greg Gagne Questionnaire:
What is the strangest thing you ever saw as a player on the baseball diamond?: The deke that Chuck Knoblauch and I did on Lonnie Smith in Game 7 of the World Series in 1991.
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: I liked Hal McRae because he let me play.
Who was the biggest jokester between Kent Hrbek or Mickey Hatcher?: I have to say (Mickey) Hatcher.
If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: I would have been a switch hitter.
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