The 1980s was the decade of the third baseman. The only three men to reach 3,00 hits at the position played in this decade: George Brett, Paul Molitor and Wade Boggs. Although Gary Gaetti didn’t reach the heights of total safeties that his Cooperstown dwelling peers attained, he was superior to them all with the leather and in power. Boggs was a “Judy-hitter,” Molitor was noted for his speed and Brett hit for a high average with modest power. Gaetti on the other hand blasted 360 career homeruns, better that Brett’s 317, Molitor’s 234 and Boggs’ 118. Gaetti also won four Gold Gloves to Boggs’ two, Brett’s one and Molitor’s empty mantle.
A first round draft choice by the Twins in 1979, Gaetti had a nine-game trial with the Twins in 1981. In 1982, he was the Twins everyday third baseman as they went through a youth movement. Gary had a fine rookie season, with 25 homeruns and 84 RBI, but was denied the Rookie of the Year Award because he came up with a strong crop of freshmen which included Cal Ripken Jr. (the ROTY winner), Kent Hrbek, Wade Boggs, Jesse Barfield and Von Hayes. He led the AL in sacrifice flies as a rookie.
Gaetti’s runs scored and base hits totals raised in 1983 and he and George Brett were the only two American League third basemen to post 30 doubles and 20 homers. A mysterious power outage struck Gary in 1984 when he led the AL in games played but his ’84 season was one of just two years he played in which he failed to reach a dozen long balls. His power came back in ’85 but he enjoyed his breakout year in 1986. That season Gaetti led American League third basemen in homeruns (34) and RBI (108) and was the lone junior circuit third baseman to slug over .500.
The Twins early 1980s youth movement paid off in 1987 when Gaetti and Gang romped to a World Series victory. Gary led AL third basemen with a career high 109 RBI and carried a hot stick into postseason play. In the ALCS, Gaetti hit a pair of homers and chased six mates across the dish. He added another homerun in a World Series triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals. An All-Star nod came Gary’s way in 1988 when he led AL third basemen in homeruns and RBI. Not the high average hitter his Hall of Fame peers were, Gaetti hit .300 for the only time in his career in ’88 when he hit .301 and slugged .561 (he was the only Major League third baseman to slug over .500).
Gaetti won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove Award in 1989. After a disastrous 1990 season which saw his batting average plummet to .229, Minnesota let their Gold Glove third sacker leave via free agency. Gary signed on with the California Angels but things went any rosier out on the west coast. His career looked over when the Angels released him in June of ’93 but the Royals, whose third base prospect Phil Hiatt wasn’t panning out as hoped, took a chance on the veteran and Gaetti resurrected his career in Kansas City.
Gaetti hit .287 for the Royals during the strike shortened 1994 season then had a power explosion during the 1995 campaign. He led Major League third basemen in homers and RBI in ’95. His 35 long balls were a career high and came within one of setting a new Royals franchise record for dingers. With his career fully resurrected, Gary cashed in and signed a free agent deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. The ’96 Redbirds made it to the postseason and Gaetti hit .292 in an NLCS loss to Atlanta.
The Cardinals released a 39-year-old Gaetti late in the 1998 season and he caught on for one last hoorah with the Chicago Cubs. He showed that there was still some life left in his lumber when he joined the Cubbies and hit .320 with a .594 slugging average down the stretch. He played one more year with the Cubs and ended his career after a five-game trial with the 2000 Red Sox.
G 2,507/R 1,130/H 2,280/2B 443/3B 39/HR 360/RBI 1,341/SB 96/BB 634/SO 1,602/BA .255/SA .434/OBP .308