Good company: Joe Mauer and the move to first base

  • Updated: March 30, 2014 - 8:38 AM

Good company

Joe Mauer isn’t the first Twins Hall of Famer to switch positions. Here’s a look at three others:

 

Harmon Killebrew

The move

Killebrew was signed as a third baseman by the Washington Senators in 1954, and by the time the franchise relocated to Minnesota in 1961 he was splitting time between first and third. But before the 1962 season, team officials decided to move Killebrew to left field.

Why

Killebrew was an average defensive player, lacking range wherever he played. Before the 1962 season, the Twins acquired slick-fielding first baseman Vic Power in a trade with Cleveland and inserted rookie Rich Rollins at third, two moves that greatly strengthened the defense.

The result Killebrew played in the outfield through 1964, when team officials moved him back to the infield. He split his time between first and third for the rest of his career, with a bit of DH his final three seasons. With Killebrew, the goal always was finding a spot in the lineup for his powerful bat.

 

Rod Carew

The move

Carew jumped from Class A to the Twins’ starting second base job in 1967 on the orders of Twins owner Calvin Griffith. From 1968 through 1975 — his last year as a regular second baseman — Carew played in nine All-Star Games and won five AL batting titles. But late in the 1975 season the decision was made to move Carew to first base, where he played 14 games before becoming a full-time first baseman in 1976.

Why

The move ostensibly was made to lengthen Carew’s career. A bigger reason not often publicized was that Twins officials had grown concerned about Carew’s ability to turn the double play following a 1970 knee injury that cost him much of the season.

The result

Carew played more than 150 games his first three seasons after the switch, flirting with .400 in 1977. Carew played 19 seasons — he was traded to the Angels after 1978 — and his legs were fresh enough to have a .328 career average. Still, there are questions about the move very similar to questions that will surround the Mauer move. Offensive first basemen are relatively easy to find. It’s a bit tougher to find batting champions at either second base or catcher.

Kirby Puckett

Puckett was called up to the Twins early in the 1984 season as a skinny, speedy center fielder; he had four homers and 35 stolen bases in 289 games his first two seasons. He was a tremendous center fielder, winning six Gold Gloves his first nine seasons, known for his leaping catches at the fence to rob opponents of home runs. But in 1993 the Twins began playing Puckett in right field (47 games), and he moved there on a regular basis the next season.

Why

Puckett by 1993 had clearly lost a step in center. He added weight, helping increase his power at the plate — 31 homers in his third season — but too many balls were falling in front of him by the time the Twins made the decision to move their future Hall of Famer to right field. Puckett possessed a strong throwing arm and was an above-average right fielder, although he never won a Gold Glove after the move.

The result

We’ll never know if the move would have lengthened Puckett’s career. He awoke one morning in spring training of 1996 with vision problems in his right eye, and never played again. His last at-bat as a major leaguer was Sept. 28, 1995, when he was beaned by Cleveland’s Dennis Martinez; doctors said that injury was not related to Puckett’s vision problems the next spring.

Dennis Brackin

 

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