Hrbek Says His Time Has Come : Baseball: Twins’ first baseman announces retirement effective at the end of this season.
Kent Hrbek grew up near old Met Stadium and, he says, bleeds Minnesota Twins red, white and blue.
No longer able to wear his uniform proudly, the big first baseman announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of the season.
“I feel I can still hit. The problem is getting there after I hit it,” said Hrbek, who has battled several injuries the last five years.
“Hitting the ball off the wall and not being able to make it to second base, I don’t like that. And I can’t play first base like I used to. It’s not that I really wanted to (retire), but I think I had to. I wasn’t doing the job.
“I love the game. I love the people. It’s just time for Kent to sit down and take on some other loves in the game of life -- fishing, hunting, family stuff.”
Hrbek, 34, has spent his entire career in the Twins organization. He is the only member of the current team to have worn a Minnesota uniform at the old Met, and he and Kirby Puckett are the only ones left from the 1987 World Series championship team.
“My house is painted red, white and blue. I’m going to bleed Twins colors,” he said. “I’m a Twins fan, I’ve always been a Twins fan and I will continue being a Twins fan forever.”
Hrbek, who ranks in the Twins’ top five in almost every offensive category, is the second former All-Star to retire this year.
Chicago’s Ryne Sandberg, perhaps the era’s best second baseman, didn’t wait until the end of the season to retire. He left the Cubs in May, walking away from about $15 million because he said the game was no longer fun.
Hrbek is not a probable Hall of Famer like Sandberg but has been one of baseball’s best first basemen during a 13-year career. He’s in the final season of a five-year, $14 million contract and says he’s still having fun. But he simply doesn’t feel he has played well the last couple of years.
Hrbek originally had planned to announce his retirement in September. But with a strike threatening to end the season next week, Hrbek moved up his announcement.
“I was wondering if we were even going to show up here today, the way they were talking,” he said.
The union, angry about management’s decision not to make the Aug. 1 payment to the players’ pension plan, considered walking immediately but instead decided to keep the Aug. 12 strike date.
Hrbek would be happy if the strike never happens because playing baseball for the Twins is the one thing he loves most.
“We have a lot of fun. It’s a great atmosphere in the Twins’ clubhouse,” he said. “It’s kind of like sitting by a campfire, talking about that big fish that got away. All the talking and stuff is probably the part of the game I’ll miss the most.
“There ain’t nothing wrong with hitting a home run and jogging around the bases, either. I enjoy that, also.”
Hrbek has 291 home runs, second in club history to Harmon Killebrew’s 475. This season, Hrbek’s worst, he has only eight.
“I talked to a good friend of mine, Gary Gaetti,” Hrbek said, referring to his one-time teammate and best friend who now plays for Kansas City. “He saw me round first base the other day when I hit a double in Kansas City. He said, ‘It looks like you should retire,’ the way I was running the bases.”
Hrbek went from Class A ball to the Twins on Aug. 24, 1981, and started that day at New York. He beat the Yankees with a 12th-inning home run and has anchored the Twins’ infield ever since.
He has a career batting average of .282, with 1,076 RBIs, 1,741 hits, 900 runs and 2,961 total bases. He holds the major-league record with 164 home runs in domed ballparks.
“I’m not really a big man on records,” Hrbek said. He then held up his right hand, where he wore his 1991 World Series championship ring. “I’ve got one of these on my finger and I’ve got one sitting at home. I guess that was the goal.”
Manager Tom Kelly will miss Hrbek’s hitting, fielding and have-fun attitude. Mostly, he’ll miss the way Hrbek’s big left-handed bat disrupts an opponent’s strategy.
“I know the opposing manager doesn’t want to face him,” Kelly said. “He causes confusion to the other manager and to the bullpen.”
Puckett was saddened that Hrbek’s career is ending but was happy that Hrbek is going out on his own terms.
“He lives in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and he wants to fish in all 10,000 of them,” Puckett said. “I can’t blame him.”
Hrbek, who was offered $1.5 million more to play for Detroit five years ago but decided to stay in Minnesota, said he’ll always be a Twin.
“You’ll see me in the stands cheering the Twins on,” he said, “as long as I can make it up and down the stairs.”