The home run tied the game at 4-4. “It felt good,” the 33-year-old left fielder said. It was his 30th home run, a career high.
“I wish we could have won the game,” he continued after the 8-4 loss, “but it feels good to do something…you’ve never done before.”
Only two players have more RBI than Willingham: Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton.
“He’s a home run guy,” said manager Ron Gardenhire. “You can see that.”
Additionally, only Hamilton and Adam Dunn have more home runs than the Twins’ slugger. Let’s just say that $21 million investment Minnesota made in him is paying off.
If the Twins are going to be competitive in the future, they need to continue to sign overlooked players like him.
As a result of two poor seasons, attendance is likely to drop, and they’re probably going to have to cut payroll. That will make it harder to get free agents to come to Minnesota.
Even with the new ballpark and increased revenue streams, the old-school, small-market tactic of finding a hidden gem still comes in handy (for more information see: Diamond, Scott).
Willingham has always been overlooked. He played the University of Alabama, a Division II school.
He was drafted in the 17th round of the 2000 MLB draft, didn’t receive regular playing time until 2006 and he made $1.112 million in his first three years, combined.
Willingham’s home run total from 2006-08 was 62.
To be fair, MLB players come from various places: high schools, small colleges, large colleges and overseas. There are players drafted after the 17th round that have made the majors. There are superstars that have taken longer to develop (see: Bautista, Jose).
And Willingham’s $7 million salary is higher than everyone on the Twins except Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Carl Pavano. In fact, he has the highest free-agent contract in team history.
But if you focus on the caveats, you’re missing the point. The point is that anytime you can get 30 home runs out of a guy with a $21 million contract, that’s pretty sweet.
Right now, forget about the fact that he’s on the wrong side of 30. Stop speculating about whether he should have been traded or not. Just sit back and enjoy it.
“I got 30 right now,” he said. “I’ll talk to you when I hit 31.”
All quotes were obtained first-hand.
Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.