As Twins fans have watched their team’s bullpen struggle over the last month, it was fitting the greatest closer in franchise history, Joe Nathan, was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame last night. A key piece of the teams “Central Division Dynasty” days of the 2000s, Nathan literally closed out the Metrodome in style.
The Twins teams of that era are mostly remembered for their playoffs failures. And that’s fair. But, when you went to the Dome in those days, you were guaranteed to see a good baseball team that played hard, had several players with special abilities who, more-often-than-not, won. And Gardy might throw a fit and ejected. Ah, the good, old days!
Those of us who endured the string of 90+ loss Twins seasons this decade can really appreciate that. We all want a World Series winner, but nothing is worse than a team that isn’t competitive or relevant.
In case you forgot, and I have to admit, I kind of did: Joe Nathan was great. Really great. From 2004-08, Nathan posted ERAs of 1.62, 2.70, 1.58, 1.88 and 1.33. He saved 44, 43, 36, 37 and 39 games those seasons. In 2009, his ERA “ballooned” up to 2.10 and he notched a team-record 47 saves.
Nathan played seven seasons with the hometown club and saved 260 games in 288 attempts (that’s a 90.2% rate). His overall ERA was 2.16 and he struck out 561 batters vs 134 walks in 436 1/3 innings.
The trade that brought the 6-time All Star to Minnesota, ranks as one of the best in Twins history. Nathan came from San Francisco along with pitchers Francisco Liriano and the always memorable Boof Bonser (who had a few good seasons of his own) for catcher AJ Pierzynski.
Joe missed the Twins move to Target Field, tearing the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in right elbow which led to Tommy John surgery and a lost 2010 campaign. We were having too much fun at the time, but the signs were there, it was the end of an era.
Nathan returned in 2011 and broke Rick Aguilera’s franchise record for saves, but the Twins lost 99 games and the dominant Joe of the Dome days was gone. The Twins bought him out and Nathan took his talents to Texas, where he rebounded and notched two more All Star appearances.
After two seasons with the Rangers, Nathan moved onto Detroit, where he had productive 2014, but tore his UCL again in 2015 after 1/3 of an inning. After another Tommy John surgery, Nathan was determined to return and did, at age 41 with the Cubs and Giants in 2016. He even it gave it a go with Washington in 2017, but was released without pitching the big leagues.
All told, Nathan saved 377 games, 8th all time, with a 2.87 ERA. No player with at least 250 saves has a higher success rate than Joe at 89.3%.