1970 turned out to be a carbon copy of the previous season for the club. Starting quickly, the Twins won their first four contests and never relinquished first place after beating Milwaukee on May 17. With manager Bill Rigney in his first year in Minnesota, the team wound up with an even better record than the year before, winning 98 games en route to the Western Division flag. Still, it was the Orioles who held the upper hand when the playoffs came around, the Birds of Earl Weaver again entering the World Series at the Twins' expense.
The lack of reliable pitching took its toll in the 1971 season. Jim Perry, a 20 and 24-game winner the previous two years, fell to a 17-17 record, while the effective 1970 relief duo of Perranoski and Williams slipped to a combined log of 5-9 with nine saves. With the Oakland A's getting off to a fast start, the club couldn't gain the momentum necessary to make up the difference, and subsequently ended with their worst won-loss record since the 1961 inaugural season.
A major change came about on July 6, 1972... the hiring of former player and coach Frank Quilici to manage the club, replacing Rigney. Quilici, tremendously popular with Upper Midwest fans, brought to the team's helm the contagious spirit and boundless enthusiasm which characterized him in all his other undertakings. Under Quilici, the club managed to climb into contention by mid-August. Finally, though, the inability to score runs caught up with the Twins, the team slipping back to a third-place finish. The season was not without its bright spots, one of those being formed during the previous offseason, when sent outfielder Paul Powell was sent to Los Angeles for outfielder Bob Darwin. A former pitcher, Darwin responded to the challenge of big league hurling by slugging 22 homers and driving home 80 runs.
November of 1972 was an active month for the Twins in the trade market, with three deals being completed in that time. One of those in particular was to result in big dividends for the Twins, as reliever Wayne Granger was sent to St. Louis in return for pitcher John Cumberland and outfielder Larry Hisle. Cumberland never made it with the Twins, but Hisle would soon develop into one of the American League's big hitters.
The team's hitting rebounded in 1973 to produce the highest team batting mark in the Major Leagues (.270). The pitching, with 20-game winner Bert Blyleven leading the way, was certainly solid enough to keep the Twins in strong contention through July. However, with August came a month-long slump which ended in third place. Thanks to the development of some promising newcomers during the season - notably pitchers Bill Campbell and Dave Goltz, infielder Jerry Terrell and Hisle - the season was far from being considered a loss.
The 1974 season did produce some fine individual efforts, among them Carew's league-leading .364 average and Darwin's 25 homers and 94 RBI. In addition, 1974 marked the final year for Killebrew as a Twins player. Killebrew, who ended his career a year later with Kansas City, hit 559 of his 573 home runs with the Griffith organization and was recognized as "Mr. Baseball" by many Twins fans during his years in Minnesota. Appropriately enough, the Twins honored Harmon by retiring his No. 3 uniform permanently. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.
Inexperience and injuries combined to make 1975 a most disappointing season for the organization. Buoyed by the potential displayed by young Twins players in the second half of the '74 season, Twins management was expecting a run for the flag in 1975. The team never did put it together, finishing fourth, far behind the first place Oakland A's.
Disturbed by the club's standing and low attendance, the club felt a managerial change necessary. On November 24, 1975, Gene Mauch was named the new Twins' field boss. A 16-year veteran of National League managing and a brilliant strategist, Mauch led the club to an 85-77 record and a third-place finish in his initial American loop season, the team's best year since 1970.
A couple of trades played major roles in the team's 1976 success. During the offseason, Danny Walton was traded to the Dodgers in return for second baseman Bobby Randall, a solid defensive player with a lot of baseball savvy. And then on June 1, the Twins traded Blyleven and Danny Thompson to Texas in exchange for infielders Mike Cubbage and Roy Smalley, and pitchers Jim Gideon and Bill Singer. Smalley, a promising young shortstop, teamed up with Randall to stabilize the infield, setting a club record for double plays in the process.
Another new face was rookie catcher Butch Wynegar, who proved himself one of the league's top receivers and a leading reason for optimism in the Twins camp.
The end of the '76 season marked the retirement of Oliva as an active player. "Tony-O" spent his entire playing career in the Twins organization and has since been retained as a coach. He won three American League batting titles in 11 years and is third behind Killebrew and Hrbek on the Twins career home-run list with 220. He was honored for his service to the Twins when his No. 6 was retired in 1991.
1977 could be named the "Year of Rod Carew" without protest from anyone in baseball circles. The Twins stellar first baseman tore American League pitching apart enroute to being named the American League's MVP, leading the circuit in average (.388), hits (239), runs scored (128) and triples (16), in addition to collecting 100 RBI and playing a brilliant first base. Moreover, the six-time batting champ was nationally recognized as baseball's best, appearing on the cover of several national publications and featured on network news shows.
Meanwhile, Mauch's men were in a tough pennant race with Kansas City, Chicago and Texas, the four teams battling for first place until after Labor Day, when the Royals became red-hot and ran away from the pack.
Still, Twins fans returned to watch this exciting bunch, led by Carew, Lyman Bostock (.336 average), Hisle (.302, 119 RBI to lead AL), Goltz (one of three AL pitchers to win 20 games) and Tom Johnson (won 16 games and saved 15 more in relief). More than a million fans passed through the Met's turnstiles, the first time since 1970, ending much speculation that baseball interest in the area was dying, and also giving the organization renewed hope for the future.
The club was hurt during the ensuing winter by the loss of players in the re-entry free-agent draft, most notably Hisle and Bostock.
Consequently, the Twins sported several new faces in 1978, including rookie stars Roger Erickson, Darrell Jackson and Hosken Powell, and veterans Mike Marshall and Jose Morales. These newcomers combined with the more-seasoned Minnesotans to overcome early-season problems and climb within 4½ games of first place at the All-Star break. Inconsistency plagued the team, however, resulting in a fourth-place finish, 19 lengths back of the division-winning Kansas City Royals.
Mr. Griffith and his aides responded to the disappointments of 1978 by making the subsequent offseason one of the club's most active ever in the trade market. Carew, who had won his seventh batting title in 1978 with a .333 mark, was dealt to the California Angels for pitcher Paul Hartzell, outfielder Ken Landreaux and promising rookies Brad Havens and Dave Engle. In an earlier trade with the Californians, outfielder Dan Ford was exchanged for catcher Danny Goodwin and infielder Ron Jackson. Veteran left-hander Jerry Koosman returned to his native state of Minnesota, the Twins obtaining him from the New York Mets for two young pitchers. Also, free-agent reliever Marshall elected to return to the Twins, for which he had experienced an excellent '78 season, in the process of becoming, at that time, the highest-paid player in the club's history.
The Carew trade signaled the end of an illustrious 12-year career in Minnesota for Rod, who was on the American League All-Star team each year since 1967 and compiled a .334 lifetime batting average with the Twins. An electee to the Hall of Fame in 1991, Carew became the second Twin to have his number retired.
If Carew's departure lowered the curtain on one era, the 1979 season could be perceived as the dawning of another. After opening the season with a 7-2 road trip, the Twins continued their winning ways, taking a firm grip on first place by mid-May. A short slump loosened that grip, but nonetheless the Twins remained embroiled in a tight pennant race with Kansas City and California for the duration...with a week to go, the Twins were but two games from first. A disappointing final week dropped Mauch's men to a final 82-80, fourth-place log, but by then their authenticity had been proven.
Standouts were plentiful. Roy Smalley slammed 24 home runs, drove in 96 and played solidly in the field. In addition, Roy was voted the American League's All-Star shortstop. John Castino hit .285 in this his rookie season, displaying a magician's glove at third base and voted co-winner of the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Others, including Ken Landreaux (.305, 15 homers, 83 RBI), Ron Jackson (.271, 14, 68) and Rob Wilfong contributed to the offense and defense significantly.
On the mound, Koosman won AL Comeback Player of the Year honors with a 20-12, 3.38 campaign, capturing the imagination and support of Twins backers everywhere. Geoff Zahn chipped in a solid 13-7, 3.57 season in a supporting starter role, while Marshall was one of the league's finest in relief, pacing the loop with 32 saves, also winning ten while compiling a 2.65 ERA in his league record-setting 90 appearances.