Torii Hunter will turn 40 on July 18 and does not seem fearful of the idea that the end is nigh, maybe after the 2015 season, or perhaps the next. Either way, it’s going to be fun having him around, both for professionalism as an outfielder and a hitter, and for his personality.
Still, the time clock for athletes and the current state of the Twins make it unlikely that Torii will be able to gain a place among the top echelon of successful players returning to a Minnesota pro team.
Fran Tarkenton holds first place on such a list, having departed the Vikings on March 7, 1967, for four high draft choices. He would return five years later and lead the Purple to its last three Super Bowls.
General Manager Jim Finks had turned the Giants’ draft choices into Clinton Jones, Bob Grim, Ed White and Hall of Famer Ron Yary, a bonanza that assisted greatly in making the Vikings a powerhouse.
Tarkenton was about to turn 32 when Finks brought him back on Jan. 27, 1972, for Grim and not much else. Sir Francis completed 1,611 passes over the next seven regular seasons, and was the all-time leader with 3,686 completions when he retired.
Second place goes to Bert Blyleven. He was a lad of 25 with 99 victories on his résumé when traded in a very raucous atmosphere on June 1, 1976. Texas gave up Roy Smalley, Mike Cubbage, Bill Singer, Jim Gideon and $250,000 (our guy Calvin Griffith liked that part) for Blyleven.
On Aug. 1, 1985, Blyleven, then 34, came back in a deal that sent shortstop prospect Jay Bell (and others) to Cleveland. Blyleven won another 50 regular-season games for the Twins and, more notably, three in the postseason of 1987.
And No. 3? I’d say Bobby Smith. He already was the best player in North Stars history at age 25 when traded to Montreal early in the 1984-85 season … for Keith Acton and Mark Napier.
He won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986, came back for a fourth-round draft choice in 1990 and, at 33, assisted the Stars’ unlikely run to the 1991 Cup Finals.
Plus Three from Patrick
Other Twins returnees who found success:
Rick Aguilera: Traded to Boston on July 6, 1995, then re-signed that winter as a free agent. Tried to be a starter; went back to being an effective closer.
Roy Smalley: Left in a trade to the Yankees in the Twins’ salary purge of 1982, came back in 1985 and was a valuable extra player on the 1987 champs.
Sal Butera: Left as a light-hitting backup catcher in 1983, returned as a trusted backup receiver with those ’87 champs.