Thursday, July 01, 2010

Throwback Thursday: Kent Hrbek

As we here at More Hardball continue to evolve, we're going to be introducing some new ideas from time to time. The idea of Throwback Thursdays was inspired by GM-Carson's Phillies themed blog, We Should Be GM's, who often posts "Phlashback Phridays" featuring some of Philadelphia's former players and key events in Phillies history. For the most part, Throwback Thursdays will be similar to this concept, but will widen the scope to focus on players or events we found memorable while growing up. For the first Throwback Thursday post, I have chosen the hefty lefty of the Minnesota Twins, Kent Hrbek.

As a life-long fan of the Atlanta Braves, I quickly learned who Kent Hrbek was during the 1991 World Series, despite the fact he had played 10 seasons with the Twins prior to their encounter with the Braves. Hrbek was a solid first baseman, and a reliable slugger, though his post season stats left much to be desired. But most importantly, in the eyes of Braves fans all over the country, Hrbek was a cheater! At least, that was the perception.

The highly controversial play occurred during Game Two of the World Series. The Braves were down by one in the top of the third, with two outs, and the tying run on 2nd (Lonnie Smith). Silver Slugger, Ron Gant, had a 1-1 count before smacking a line-drive deep between the shortstop and 3rd base. Smith headed to 3rd, and Gant sprinted past 1st before realizing he could not safely make it to 2nd, as Dan Gladden had already hurled the ball to pitcher Kevin Tapani. Gant turned back as Tapani threw the ball to Hrbek at 1st. Gant made it to the plate before the ball reached Hrbek's glove, but still had plenty of forward momentum to potentially carry him off the bag. Hrbek took full advantage of this by grabbing Gant's leg and lifting Gant off the bag, causing him to stumble. The umpire (Drew Coble) called Gant out to end the inning, and the Braves proceeded to lose the game by 1 point. (Readers of ESPN's blog, Page 2, recently ranked this call as #10, in their poll for Worst Calls in Sports .) Atlanta fanatics were so outraged, that some wrote hate mail to Hrbek, and even penned a few death threats.

Despite his infamy in Braves country, Hrbek was a star in Minnesota, and had been for years. A native of Minnesota, and a lifelong Twin, he was immensely popular among the St. Paul-Minnesota crowd, and Hrbek rarely disappointed. He christened the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome with it's very first home run (April 3, 1982) in an exhibition game against Philadelphia. Though he only had one season as an All Star (1982), Hrbek was a consistent power hitter, earning a lifetime batting average of .282, with 293 home runs, and 1086 RBI, all while keeping his strikeouts relatively low (798 over a 14 season career). In 1982, he came in 2nd for AL Rookie of the Year - behind Cal Ripken Jr. He was integral in getting the Twins to their first two World Series victories in 1987 and 1991, despite not performing too well in post season games - though in 1987, he did hit baseball's 14th grand slam in World Series history in Game Six against St. Louis.

Hrbek suffered his share of time on the DL, and his aches and pains constantly hindered his otherwise stellar performance. In 1994, with the strike-shortened season, Hrbek retired at the age of 34. The following year, his number (14) was retired by the Twins ball club, and in 2000 he was in the inaugural class of the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame alongside Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, and Kirby Puckett. Today, Hrbek stars on a local St. Paul-Minnesota television show entitiled Kent Hrbek Outdoors. Hrbek also holds fund raisers to broaden awareness of ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's disease), and to provide funding for ALS research. He is also a devoted family man, and enjoys spending much of his time with his wife, Jeanie, and his daughter, Heidi.


GM-Carson said...

Didn't he also become a wrestler (like WWF style, not Roman-Greco)?

Burton said...

No, he used to joke that after baseball, he'd go into wretling under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex. said...

Very good.