A Look Back: Kent Hrbek

Andrew KneelandSenior Writer IJuly 8, 2008

Hrbek played a great role during his entire career as a Minnesota Twin. A hometown boy, much like Joe Mauer, Hrbek was destined to be a Twin from the day he entered the world.

Born in 1960 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Hrbek grew up just a stone's throw from the old Met Stadium. He attended high school in Bloomington, Minnesota, and was drafted by the Twins in the 17th round of the 1978 draft.

Hrbek thrived in his two years in Minnesota's farm system, being named to All-Star teams and winning awards in the process.

Hrbek's major-league debut was a beauty. The date was Aug. 24, 1981. The venue was Yankee Stadium. Young Hrbek found himself as the starting first baseman that night. His first at-bat was a flyout to center field, but he doubled in a run in the fifth inning to secure his first RBI. In the eighth inning, Hrbek struck out to the legendary Tommy John. With the score tied 2-2, extra innings were imminent.

Hrbek had his next at-bat in the 10th inning when he grounded out to first base. After another inning of no runs, Hrbek found himself stepping to the plate for the fifth time of the night, this time in the 12th inning.

Now facing George Frazier, Hrbek drilled his first major-league home run over the right-field wall to provide the winning run for the Twins.

That game signified a lot about Hrbek's future career. He was immediately known as a power hitter. He only had three seasons in his 14-year career with under 20 home runs. He also drove in a lot of runs over the course of his career, just like he did in his debut.

After the 1981 season, Hrbek launched a career that was spent solely with the Minnesota Twins. He was in a close race for the Rookie of the Year crown in 1982, but eventually was edged out by the great Cal Ripken.

In 1984, Hrbek had arguably his best season as a Twin. He had a batting average of .311, had 27 home runs, and totaled 107 RBI. He was in the running for the MVP award, but was beaten by Detroit closer Willie Hernandez, who was having a marvelous year with a 9-3 record, an ERA of 1.92, and 32 saves.

The next few years were more of the same for Hrbek. The closest he got to another MVP vote was in 1987, when he was 16th in the voting. But in the end, he won a much better prize, a World Series championship.

On the morning of Oct. 25, 1987, most players on the Twins' roster were asleep. After all, they were just hours away from playing Game Seven of the 1987 World Series. Hrbek, however, was off on a dunk hunt.

He must have caught whatever he was looking for. Minnesota won the game, and their first championship in Minnesota.

Hrbek's production dipped after that World Series run. The very next year, 1988, was one of his less-powerful years as a professional ballplayer. He had only 76 RBI and 25 home runs, but he maintained an average of .312.

In 1989, Hrbek was granted free agency, but chose to remain with his hometown team, the Minnesota Twins.

Hrbek had another average season in 1989 and again in 1990. His average over those two years were .272 and .287, respectively. In 1990, Minnesota was the doormat of baseball, one of the worst teams in the league. They finished last in their division.

The 1991 season, as most of you will remember, was historic.

Hrbek and Kirby Puckett led this team with their outstanding defense, great bats, and leadership. This Minnesota Twins team consisted of great names like Jack Morris, Danny Gladden, Greg Gagne, Shane Mack, Chuck Knoblauch, Brian Harper, Al Newman, Randy Bush, and Mike Pagliarulo. Remember them?

One of the most memorable moments from the 1991 World Series was in Game Two. Hrbek pulled Ron Gant of the Atlanta Braves off of first base and tagged him out. The umpire, for one reason or another, called Grant out, saying Grant would have stepped off the bag anyway because of his forward motion.

Game Seven of that 1991 World Series will be remembered as one of the best ever. Twins' pitcher Jack Morris was locked in a pitching duel with the young John Smoltz. Morris went the entire 10 innings, scattering seven hits and giving up no runs. Minnesota won the game in the bottom of the 10th.

Hrbek was a key part of that win, thanks to a stellar, if not irregular, defensive play with catcher Brian Harper in the eighth inning. With the score tied 0-0, the Twins found themselves in a jam. The bases were loaded with just one out.

Atlanta's Sid Bream was up and hit a ground ball to first base. Hrbek fielded the ball and immediately threw it to catcher Brian Harper for the force out at home. Harper then reeled the ball back to Hrbek at first before Bream got there for the third and final out of the inning.

Hrbek is known for his outstanding defense. He has a career fielding percentage of .992 while playing first base. Actually, Hrbek only made one other defensive start during his entire career as Twin. In 1990, Hrbek played one game at third base. He recorded two outs and didn't make an error.

After that 1991 season, things went downhill for both the Twins and for Hrbek. In 1993, however, he had a great year. He only had a batting average of .242, but hit 25 home runs and totaled 83 RBI.

Hrbek only played 81 games in 1994. That was the season that ended early because of the players' strike, and Hrbek, then at age 34, didn't have the patience to sit it out.

He officially retired from baseball on Aug. 13, 1995; the same date the Minnesota Twins retired his legendary number, 14.

Hrbek didn't slow down after retirement. He started his television show, "Kent Hrbek Outdoors", and is described on his site as enjoying the outdoors more than baseball:

"Born in the shadows of Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, MN, Kent Hrbek is a true-blue Minnesotan in every sense of the word. Baseball was a love, but the outdoors is, and will always be a passion."

Tim Kurkjian of ESPN labels Hrbek as the "most human baseball player of all time." Hrbek was always a prankster, and continues in retirement. On a camping trip with Andy Van Slyke, it was said that Herbie watched a video with his buddies detailing his best farts.

Hrbek will never change. He will always be the one who helped Minnesota win two World Championships. He will always be the one Twins fan remember as one of the best first baseman.

Let's not forget what he did for the Minnesota Twins.


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