Jim Rantz started working with the Twins in 1965 and was director of minor league operations from 1986 until he retired following the 2012 season.
Rantz was a key part of the development of Twins greats such as Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tim Laudner and Frank Viola, and he sees similarities between the way those players came up at a young age and eventually took the Twins to two World Series titles, and the potential of current prospects such as Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer and Trevor May.
The big question is if these prospects can duplicate what that group in the 1980s did, developing into a World Series champion.
“We had some injuries involved and I know these young guys were tearing it up [in the minor leagues],” Rantz recalled. “Hrbek was tearing it up in [Class A] Visalia [in 1981]. Puckett was doing the same [in 1983]. We were struggling and [owner] Calvin [Griffith] wanted to make a move and make a change and see if they could add a spark to us and they did.”
Rantz cautioned that it took those players many years to become a champion. Hrbek, Laudner and Gaetti debuted in 1981; Viola, Randy Bush and Tom Brunansky, acquired in a trade, arrived in 1982; and Puckett was called up in 1984. But the Twins didn’t post a winning record until their World Series campaign of 1987.
In fact, from 1981 to ’86 the Twins posted a 400-519 record, a .435 winning percentage.
Still when those players reached the majors, they showed signs of their potential, and the team knew they had a special group.
“They all contributed, and they all belonged,” Rantz said. “None of them got sent back, I can tell you that. Once they got called up, they were here.”
Experience is key
Buxton is only 20 years old, as is Sano, who Saturday found out he will miss all of this season because of elbow surgery. Rantz pointed out that the players who helped the team in the 1980s were a bit older when they were first called up.
“Well these guys we’re talking about are a lot younger than the guys we were talking about,” Rantz said.
Hrbek and Brunansky were 21 when they joined the Twins. Gaetti and Viola were 22 and Puckett was 24 — although until his death, it was believed he was 23.
“They had a little more experience before they got called up,” Rantz said.
New post for Maturi
Former Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi is keeping busy teaching classes at the university, and he has started hearing cases in his position as a member of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, a position he took last year. He attended his first hearing last week.
“It is a very significant committee,” Maturi said. “It handles all of the violations of Division I institutions, especially what we used to call major violations but are now called Level I and Level II violations. We as a group, or panel now, either have a conference call or meet in person to determine the sanctions.”
Maturi is not allowed to mention the schools that are involved in the panel’s hearings. He was asked how long after he hears a case will a ruling be made.
“Sometimes it’s a couple of days, sometimes it’s a few hours, dependent upon the information we’ve received, our agreement with what the institution believes and what the enforcement staff believes, and the conclusions that we come to,” Maturi said. “We try to be fair, we try to be consistent, and we look at what the committee on infractions has done previously with cases that were similar and we try to look at the involvement of the institution and how open and honest they have been. All of those factors contribute to the eventual sanctions.”
Maturi said that while there is some negativity to a job that focuses on handing out penalties for NCAA infractions, he still enjoys it because it keeps him close to college athletics.
“It’s not necessarily the most positive job sometimes,” he said. “You don’t like handing out infractions. But it keeps me connected to sports and keeps me grounded and it’s hopefully something that I can return and give back to an industry that has been very good to me for many years.”
Maturi also said that he likes having the opportunity to teach, while also poking fun at whether the students share that same outlook.
“I’m still teaching a class, I have two sections here at the university and there’s about 90 students overall,” he said. “I’m enjoying it. I don’t know if they are, but I’m having a great time.”
When asked if he misses running the Gophers athletic department, Maturi said, “I miss it a lot.”
• MLB.com ran a long feature on former Twins stars Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, who will be teammates again with the Colorado Rockies this season. Said Morneau: “[Having Cuddyer with the Rockies] makes the transition a little easier. He is a guy I have looked up to in the past and that I can go to if I need anything.” Cuddyer said Morneau has little to worry about in adjusting to his new team. “He cares about being a good friend and a good teammate,” Cuddyer said. “He cares about his guys that are with him, and he wants to do things well for them.”
• Marcus Sherels is due for a big raise from the Vikings after playing for $555,000 in 2013 and doing a great job. Sherels is a restricted free agent, and if he signs with the Vikings will be paid some $1.4 million. If the Vikings don’t sign him, he likely can make even more than that on the open market as a good punt returner who can also play cornerback.
• The Gophers baseball team is without two of its best players: Center fielder Dan Moti has his wrist in a brace and catcher Matt Halloran has elbow problems. Freshman Austin Athmann was the hitting star this season, hitting .467 going into Saturday’s doubleheader at Louisiana Tech. … Work has started on the installation of a Musco Sports Lighting System at Siebert Field. The lights were paid for by the Foundation for Minnesota Baseball, a charitable nonprofit organization that believes in baseball as a force for good that brings people together.
• Former Twins third baseman Danny Valencia is competing for the starting job with the Royals and hit a solo homer in his first spring training game.
• Former Centennial High pitcher Chris Anderson is listed as the Dodgers’ No. 5 prospect by Baseball America. Anderson, the Dodgers’ first-round pick last year out of Jacksonville University, was 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA for Class A Great Lakes.