The 77-84 season mark in 1980 was the result of off-years for several players from the previous season. On the plus side, though, was the continued development of John Castino (.302, 13 homers), rookie relief sensation Doug Corbett (8-6, 1.98, 23 saves), a new league fielding record by second baseman Wilfong (.995), a club record 31-game hitting streak by Landreaux and the solidness of veteran Koosman (16 wins), who inked a three-year contract with the club at the conclusion of the '79 season.
A red-letter date took place August 24, 1980, when Gene Mauch resigned as manager and was succeeded by coach Johnny Goryl. The team, plagued with inconsistency to that time, stabilized their play and produced at a 23-13, .639 clip, including a 12-game winning streak, the rest of the way, their 18-7 September record was the club's best ever. Goryl was subsequently signed to manage the club in 1981.
Ten miles north of all this Met Stadium action, the new home of the Twins and football Vikings was taking shape. The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, its legal and lease groundwork completed in late 1979, was due to become the first air-supported dome in major league baseball in April of 1982. Located on the eastern edge of downtown Minneapolis, the facility, with its central location and invulnerability to the elements, bore the Twins hopes of a rejuvenation for annual attendance figures.
The Major League players strike of 1981 placed a black mark on the season for all teams, and the Twins didn't fare much better on the field, finishing with a 41-68 overall mark. In the season's "second half," however, the club remained in contention for the West Division crown into the final week.
A particularly poor start in 1981 signaled a managerial change on May 22, when Billy Gardner, the Twins original 1961 second baseman, took over for Goryl. Gardner, in this his first big league managing job, was in hopes of emulating his minor league managing career, which included six championships in 13 seasons.
The Metropolitan Stadium era came to a close on September 30, with the Kansas City Royals taking a 5-2 decision in the Met's final baseball game. Almost 16,000 fans turned out for the finale, played in chilly, rainy conditions - ironically the same type of afternoon experienced for the Twins' 1961 opener at the stadium!
The 1982 season was a year of dramatic changes for the organization. The Metrodome, though saddled with first-year growing pains - a lack of air conditioning the most prominent - nonetheless proved to be an excellent stadium.
Major personnel changes were effected early on, as the club's management decided to switch its direction-following another slow start-and go with promising youngsters in the place of veterans. With that, Smalley was swapped to the Yankees for reliefer Ron Davis and minor league shortstop Greg Gagne; Corbett and Wilfong were dispatched to California for outfielder Tom Brunansky; and Erickson and Wynegar were traded to New York for Larry Milbourne, John Pacella and Pete Filson. The lack of experience among the rookies attenuated itself in a woeful 16-54 record by June 23, but from that point, the promise of these players began to blossom. The team played at a 44-48 clip the rest of the way, only a lack of solid relief pitching preventing a .500-plus mark over that span.
Standouts of '82 included Kent Hrbek, with his .301 average, 23 homers, 92 RBI and sterling defensive play; Gary Gaetti, the solid third baseman who totaled 25 home runs; Gary Ward, who slugged a club-leading 28 homers, driving in 91 runs as well; Brunansky, who rang up 20 home runs while contributing good outfield play; and Bobby Castillo, an off-season acquisition from the Dodgers who won a club-leading 13 games.
Virtually the same team returned for the 1983 season, and the added experience and cohesiveness of the group began to show with more victories. Although not a winning record, the 70-92 finish reflected a full 10-game improvement over 1982, as well as moving up two notches in the West Division standings, to fifth.
Brunansky led the Twins with 28 homers, while Hrbek drove in 84 runs and hit .297 to pace the regulars, also totaling 41 doubles to place fifth in the league. On a part-time basis, Mickey Hatcher hit a career-high .317 and Engle finished up with a .305 mark. On the pitching end, Ken Schrom (picked up in the spring as a free agent) delivered with a 15-8 record, even though he didn't join the club until the first week of May. Dominating the bullpen was Davis, who compiled the third-highest saves total in the Majors, 30.
The 1984 season began with off-field controversies grabbing the headlines. Griffith had a 20-year contract with the Metrodome which stated the club had to draw an average of 1.4 million fans in any three year period or he could break the lease and move the team. Griffith was threatening to exercise this option and move the Twins to Tampa, Florida. A group of local civic leaders banded together in an attempt to purchase enough tickets to gain support to keep the Twins in Minnesota. From mid-May to late-June, they administered a ticket buyout. On June 22, prominent local businessman Carl Pohlad stepped forward and signed an agreement in principle to purchase the team from Griffith and his sister, Mrs. Thelma Griffith Haynes, and keep the Twins in Minnesota. This ended the buyout plan, and on September 7, the deal was finalized ending an era of 72 years in which the Griffith family controlled the ballclub.
On the field, the Twins reached the .500 mark, 81-81, for the first time since 1979 (82-80). An off-season trade with Texas that brought pitchers John Butcher and Mike Smithson to the Twins in exchange for Gary Ward provided the Twins with two quality starters. The trio of Butcher, Smithson and Frank Viola combined to produce 46 of the club's 81 victories. Davis added 29 saves, while Kent Hrbek (.311, 27, 107) and Brunansky (.254, 32, 85) paced the offensive attack. 1984 also marked the emergence of rookie center fielder Kirby Puckett. He joined the team May 8 and recorded four hits in his first Major League game in California. Frank Viola led the staff with an 18-12 record, and Davis notched 29 saves.
For the first time in 20 years, in 1985 Minnesota played host to the 56th All-Star Game, July 16, as 54,960 witnessed a 6-1 win by the National League. The Twins' sole representative, Tom Brunansky, went hitless in his only at-bat, but was the winner in the All-Star home-run contest the day before the game. In a late-season deal the Twins acquired Bert Blyleven from the Indians for four players. It wasn't enough to keep them from finishing tied for fourth place (77-85), but it would pay dividends a couple of years down the road. June 21 marked a changing of the guard with Ray Miller replacing Gardner as Twins manager.
1986 was a rebuilding year. Blyleven joined Smithson and Viola for a full season. On June 20, the Twins sent Butcher to Cleveland for lefty Neal Heaton and a minor leaguer, but the pitching staff would struggle all season. Less than two months later the Twins traded struggling reliever Davis to the Chicago Cubs for relievers George Frazier and Ray Fontenot. Earlier in the season, the Twins tried to shore up their bullpen by acquiring Keith Atherton from the Oakland A's. While the pitching staff was struggling, the offense was explosive. Gaetti (.287, 34, 108) had his most productive season. Puckett went a power surge, hitting 31 home runs with 96 RBI, while hitting .328, after managing only four home runs his first two seasons. Hrbek and Brunansky added 29 and 23 homers, respectively. But the lack of pitching dropped the club to a 71-91 record and led to the firing of manager Miller on September 12. He was replaced by Tom Kelly, the third Twins manager in two years.
The off-season prior to the 1987 campaign proved to be a busy one for the Twins. The first major move occurred November 24, 1986, when Andy MacPhail was promoted to Executive Vice-President/General Manager. It didn't take him long to make his presence felt. On February 3, 1987, the Twins acquired ace reliever Jeff Reardon.
The 1988 season was one of accomplishment and also one of frustration. The Twins became the first American League team since the 1954 Yankees to improve its record the season after they won the World Series and not repeat as division champs. Even though they posted a 91-71 record, the Twins finished second in the A.L. West because the Oakland A's produced an incredible 104-58 record.
Although the Twins found themselves in second place from May 31 to the end of the season, many players had great years. Viola recorded a 24-7 record on his way to becoming only the second Twin (Perry, 1970) to win the American League Cy Young Award. Puckett hit .356, highest by a right-hand hitter in the A.L. since Joe DiMaggio's .357 in 1941. He also led the Majors in hits, multi-hit games and total bases while finishing second in batting and RBI. Hrbek (.312) and Gaetti (.301) also recorded career-high batting averages. As a team, the Twins led the Majors with a .421 slugging average.
Reardon once again proved why he was one of baseball's premier relievers by notching a club-record 42 saves, good for second in the Majors. The Twins received unexpected help from left-hander Allan Anderson. The 1982 second round pick was called up from Portland (AAA) early in the season and went on to produce a 16-9 record, with a league-leading 2.45 ERA. Combined with Viola, he helped stabilize a pitching staff that had a 3.93 ERA, lowest for the Twins since 1984 (3.85).
The Twins also set Major League records by committing only 84 errors (the previous record was 91) and by posting a .986 fielding percentage. The high-water mark for the club was 20 games over .500 and came after the final game, a 3-2 win over California. The drastic improvement was the club's 44-37 road record. The fans of Minnesota were also record-setters in 1988. The Twins became the first American League team to draw 3 million fans when 3,030,672 passed through the turnstiles.
The 1989 season will be remembered as the year the Twins gambled by trading away their best pitcher, Viola, to the New York Mets on July 31, in exchange for five young pitchers. With a lack of pitching depth, the Twins had few alternatives other than dealing Viola for what could turn out to be the nucleus of their pitching staff for years to come. In the deal, the Twins acquired a proven, 28-year-old veteran, Rick Aguilera, heralded rookie southpaw David West, considered to be the Mets' top prospect, rookie right-handers Kevin Tapani, a starter, and relievers Tim Drummond and Jack Savage. Despite struggling, the team finished in 5th place with an 80-82 record.
Allan Anderson followed up his ERA title-winning season by posting 17 wins to lead the staff. Offensively, the season will be remembered as the year Puckett won his first batting title as he hit .339. The Puck got 200+ hits (215) for the fourth straight season, including 45 doubles.
Following the '89 season, the Twins were faced with the dilemma of trying to re-sign free agents Hrbek and Reardon. After a couple of teams drove up the price on the big first baseman, the Twins finally won him back as he turned down more lucrative offers for a 5-year, $14-million contract, while the Twins allowed the veteran reliever to sign a huge three-year deal with the Boston Red Sox.