Back in 1981 the Minnesota Twins used their first round pick (eleventh overall) in the June Amateur draft to select power hitting third baseman Mike Sodders from Arizona State University. With their second selection in the draft and 37th pick overall the Twins went after left-handed pitcher Frank Viola from St. John’s University. Just as an FYI, with the last pick in round two the New York Yankees selected Stanford outfielder John Elway. Elway would never play in a big league baseball game but he didn’t do to shabby throwing the football for the Denver Broncos. Would He Rather Be A Unitas Or A Mantle? Sports Illustrated, April 11, 1983
After just 286 games between “A” ball and “AAA” ball the Twins gave up on Sodders and traded him to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Rusty Kuntz in June of 1983. By the end of 1984 Sodders was out of baseball without having put on a big league uniform. But this blog is not about Sodders, it is about the Twins second round pick Frank Viola.
Viola started his professional career in 1981 with the AA – Orlando Twins playing for manager Roy McMillan where he went 5-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 17 games (15 starts). In 1982 Viola started the season in AAA – Toledo but was called up by the Twins in early June and made his debut on June 6th in a start against Earl Weaver‘s Baltimore Orioles in the Metrodome. Viola lasted just 4 1/3 innings that day giving up six hits, three walks, three earned runs and three strikeouts and left the game trailing 3 to 1. The Twins tied up the game later but ended up losing the game 7-5 in 11 innings. This inauspicious start may not have been what the Twins or Viola were expecting but it was the beginning of a wonderful 15 year big league career for “Sweet Music” that would include a World Championship in Minnesota in 1987 where he took home the Series MVP trophy. The following season in 1988 Viola won the AL Cy Young award as well as being named the AL Sporting News Pitcher of the Year. In his eight years in Minnesota Viola was 112-93 with a 3.73 ERA before money became an issue and the Twins were forced to trade him to the New York Mets on July 31, 1989 for Rick Aguilera, Tim Drummond, Kevin Tapani, David West and a PTBNL that turned out to be Jack Savage. Viola played in New York for three seasons winning just 38 games but he won 20 of those in 1990. The three-time All-Star then moved on to Boston from 1992-1994, the Reds in 1995 and finished his big league career with the Bluejays in 1996.
After he retired, Viola coached baseball for Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida as well as the Florida College Summer League’s Leesburg Lightning. On January 26, 2011, Viola was hired as pitching coach of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ Single-A (Short Season) team in the New York-Penn League. He was pitching coach for the Savannah Sand Gnats in 2012-2013.
All this leads up to the reason for this post, a nice story about Frankie in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that was written by Ed Graney on June 7th as Viola return to his job as pitching coach for the Las Vegas 51’s after under-going heart surgery. You think you have had a rough year? Take a few minutes and see what Viola has gone through.
Frank’s son Frank Viola III was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2004 and spent two seasons in rookie ball, ended up leaving professional ball and now is trying a come back with a knuckleball. Viola’s daughter Brittany is a diver who competed at the United States Olympic Trials in 2004 and 2008 and made the team for the 2012 Olympics.