In the late 1980’s, I began studying minor leagues and their stars. I began devouring Baseball America, trying to project who the next great star would be and the new beloved players.
And sometimes I would see a player light up the minor leagues with some dazzling numbers. And seeing I was in my teens and new at this, I assumed those great numbers would translate to success in the minors.
That brings us to German Gonzalez.
The Twins won the World Series in 1987 in kind of sort of a fluke. They were a great team at home and downright bad on the road. They won a mediocre AL West and despite having the lowest win total of any post season team, they had home field advantage in the ALCS and World Series.
They went 6-0 at home and 2-4 on the road. BAM! World Champs with a shockingly thin pitching staff.
But with Jeff Reardon, Juan Berenguer and that’s just about it in the pen, there was a player tearing it up in the minors.
Venezuelan right hander German Gonzalez was pitching well and saving games in Single A Kenosha. He got 19 saves in his 47 games, winning 8 as well. I was looking at that then. I put a lot of value on that.
If you had told me that the Twins would win another World Series in 1991 with a totally different pitching staff, I would assume that German Gonzalez would be the pitcher on the mound celebrating.
If my thoughts in 1987 were enthusiastic, 1988 all but clinched it.
As the A’s were dominating the West, German Gonzalez was a superstar budding in Double A Orlando.
He saved 31 of his 50 appearances with only one loss. His ERA was 1.02. He struck out 69 in 61 2/3 innings, He only walked only 8. Gonzalez was going to be automatic in Minnesota, once he got there.
Stardom was eminent when he skipped Triple A and went right to the majors on August 5, 1988.
In his first game, he pitched the ninth in Yankee Stadium. He retired Don Slaught before letting Gary Ward walk and Luis Aguayo single. But he settled down and got Ken Phelps and Randy Velarde out to lock down the game.
Granted, the final was 11-2, so it wasn’t exactly high pressure.
The majors looked like more of the same. He was not scored upon in his first 7 appearances. On September 10, 1988, he struck out Carlton Fisk in the 12th and earned his first big league save. There would certainly be many more.
The A’s clobbered Gonzalez with 6 runs in 1 2/3 innings on September 20th and that made his ERA shoot up from 0.96 to 3.54. It was artificially inflated. He was ready for the big time.
I remember thinking the 1989 Twins were ready to win the AL West. I thought their pitching depth was going to top Oakland and Gonzalez matching up with Jeff Reardon was no small part of my prediction.
Then 1989 happened. Gonzalez looked solid with a 1.69 ERA in April. But his numbers started to climb by May. He did not pitch badly, but he was not a difference maker either. He perfectly mirrored the Twins, who finished the season 81-81. Nothing bad, nothing great.
On September 25, 1988, he allowed score 3 runs over 2 innings of mop up ball, boosting his ERA to 4.66.
Then that was it. His career was over. Gonzalez did not make the team in 1990 and never appeared in the majors again.
The great career projections resulted in a grand total of one major league save. The Twins would put together a terrific team in time for 1991. But Gonzalez was long gone by then.
So was my scouting career.