Pitcher Kevin Tapani
Kevin Ray Tapani, a 6 foot 187 pound right hander was born in Des Moines, Iowa and attended Central Michigan University. After being drafted in the 1986 amateur draft, Kevin signed with the Oakland A’s. The following year the A’s traded Tapani to the New York Mets in a big three team trade that included the Dodgers. Kevin made his major league debut as a New York Met on July 4, 1989 but several weeks later Tapani was swapped one more time, this time to the Twins as part of the big Frank Viola trade.
Kevin pitched in 181 games starting 180 of them for the Twins between 1989 and 1995. Kevin was considered a “workhorse” on the Twins staff and compiled a 75-63 record for the team and only had one losing season as a Twins pitcher and that was 1995 when he was traded mid season to the LA Dodgers. Tapani also pitched for the White Sox and the Cubs.
Kevin had a very nice 13 year career pitching in 361 games (starting 354 of them) and compiling a 143-125 life-time mark. Tapani threw 2,265 major league innings while striking out 1,482 batters and ending up with an ERA of 4.35. Kevin seemed to be one of the “nice guys” in baseball and you never heard anyone say a bad word about Kevin. Today Kevin is retired and living in Wayzata, Minnesota and enjoys spending time with his family.
John– Although born in Des Moines, Iowa, I understand that you were raised in Escanaba, Michigan and you quarterbacked your high school to the state championship. Any thoughts of playing football versus baseball?
Kevin – I believe that playing other sports definitely helped me become a more complete athlete and a better baseball player. I learned how to practice and prepare in different ways. There are different skills and demands unique to each sport that are required to be able to play it properly. Both the team and individual sports helped me to better understand and learn how to compete both physically and mentally. I don’t think I would have been able to come near the success I was able to have in baseball without experiencing the different challenges that each of the other sports that I was able to play provided.
John – Kevin, I believe you were drafted by the Cubs in 1985 and did not sign and then were drafted again in 1986 by the Oakland A’s in the second round and you signed a few days later. Why didn’t you sign with the Cubs a year earlier?
Kevin– I didn’t sign with the Cubs for three reasons. First and foremost, I was a college walk-on to the baseball team and went to school to get an education and wanted to complete that. The second reason was that I felt that if I was going to try to play professional baseball that it was a one shot and done deal and I needed to be as well prepared as I could be I felt another year of college baseball would help me with that. The third reason was that I had a great time at Central Michigan. I had great teammates and friends there and I was fortunate to be a part of a team that won three consecutive MAC championships and play in the NCAA regional’s each year. We had a great team coming back my senior year and I wanted to be a part of that.
John– In 1987 you were part of a 3 team deal between the A’s, Mets, and Dodgers and you ended up in New York. You made your major league debut at Houston on July 4, 1989. Do you remember your first game? What was it like?
Kevin– I don’t think anyone forgets their first game. I remember being very nervous. In fact, I was told I set a major league record that day which will never be broken. I relieved Bob Ojeda early in the game and had a runner on third. I was called for a balk before delivering my first big league pitch allowing a run to score without throwing a pitch. I was called up to replace Dwight Gooden on the Mets roster. They lost their ace to injury and added me as their long man in the pen. I also remember putting a ball in play against Mike Scott in my first at bat.
John– On July 31, 1989 you and several others were traded to Minnesota as part of the blockbuster trade for Frank Viola. What did you think of that trade at the time?
Kevin– The ’89 trade was a great opportunity. The Mets had told me in spring training that if a major league opportunity was available and I pitched well enough to earn that, they would help make that happen either with them or another club. At the trade deadline, I was in AAA but not on a road trip with the team. That seemed like a sure sign that I was headed somewhere.
John– What pitches did you throw and what was your best pitch?
Kevin– I threw a fastball, change-up, split finger, and a slider. The split finger was my primary off speed pitch. In 1996, I ruptured a ligament in my hand and lost that pitch. I had to rework how I pitched and was able to still be fairly effective and pitch in the big leagues for another five seasons.
John– You had a very nice career pitching in the major leagues for 13 years for 5 different major league teams. During that time you pitched in 361 games starting 354 of them and you finished up with a record of 143-125, those are some nice numbers. What team did you enjoy playing for the most and why?
Kevin– The 91 Minnesota Twins World Series team was special and my favorite season. I think it would also be fair to say that there never was a team that I did not enjoy playing for. I don’t think there is a bad place to be in the big leagues.
John– You pitched in 181 games for the Twins between 1989 and 1995 and you started all but one of them and you had a 75-63 won/lost record. What do you consider to be your best season as a Twin?
Kevin– 1991, from both a personal and team standpoint.
John – You beat Tom Glavine and the Braves in game 2 of the 1991 World Series in a 3-2 nail biter. I think that was the infamous game where Hrbek was accused of pushing Ron Gant off of first base and ultimately Gant was called out and the inning was over. What do you remember about that game?
Kevin– I actually don’t remember a great deal about that game other than the final score and the Hrbek/Gant play being overblown. The way I saw it, even if Ron Gant had been ruled safe, it did not put any runs on the board, take them off or have any effect on the outcome other than the normal what ifs that come up a number of times in most every game.
John– What was the highlight of your major league career?
Kevin– The 1991 World Series.
John– You spent your entire Twins career playing for Tom Kelly as your manager. Did you enjoy playing for Kelly and how did Kelly compare to other managers that you played for?
Kevin– I enjoyed playing for the Twins under Tom Kelly. He was a good manager, very well prepared and used his pitching staff very well. He knew how he wanted the game played and what he wanted done. He did a good job of getting that across to the players and making sure that it happened. It is tough to compare managers because at that level they are all very good, but no two are the same. With TK managing two World Series championship teams here with the Twins, he, obviously, was a very good one and I enjoyed the chance to pitch on his teams.
John – You were traded by the Twins to the Dodgers mid season in 1995. Was it time to move on or would you have preferred to stay in Minnesota?
Kevin– The Twins certainly felt it was time to move on and that is all that really matters. Starting in ’93, Twins baseball began to slide into a tough stretch. At the time, I would have preferred to stay and try to help turn things around. Once I was in LA and into a pennant race, the baseball was terrific and fun to be part of again. In the following years with the White Sox and Cubs, I was able to be on some very good and competitive teams. From a career standpoint, I am glad I had the opportunity to play in both leagues and was lucky to play in some great cities with terrific fan support.
John– You played in both the American and National League. You hit two home runs as a Cub and even had a stolen base there. Which league did you prefer and what are your thoughts on the DH?
Kevin– I like both leagues equally and the options they give both the fans and the players. The style of play, strategies, and even roster make up are really affected by the presence of a DH. Once I adjusted to the NL game, I really enjoyed it. Early on, there was more than once when I was sitting on the bench wondering why we didn’t have a guy on deck until I realized that it was supposed to be me. For pitchers, there are positives and drawbacks in each league. In the AL, if you are doing your job and pitching good you can stay in the game regardless of the offensive needs where as in the NL you can be pitching great but get pulled early if your spot in the line-up comes up when there in an opportunity for the team to do something offensively. Overall, I enjoyed getting to play the whole game again, taking BP and getting my at bats (most of the time).
John– Who was the best player you ever had as a teammate?
Kevin – I was fortunate to play with a lot of great players and cannot think of a single teammate in the big leagues that I did not enjoy being around. If I had to pick one player though, Kirby Puckett does stand out as the guy. He brought a lot to a team on an everyday basis; his personality, leadership in the clubhouse, on the bench and in the field, and very high level of play was very special and unique.
John– You pitched your final game for the Cubs in 2001, why did you decide to retire from the game of baseball?
Kevin– I retired because I didn’t think I could get to a level that would give the team I pitched for the best chance to win each time I took the mound. Age and injuries were taking their toll.
John– Do you follow the Twins and MLB today? How about fantasy baseball, do you play?
Kevin– Living in Minnesota, it is great to be able to still follow the Twins closely. It is a great organization and a fun team to watch. I stay away from the fantasy stuff.
John– Do you get out to the Metrodome to watch some games and what are your thoughts on the Twins new Target Field that they will play in starting in 2010?
Kevin– I am involved with a lot of youth sports and coaching so trips to the Dome are seldom these days. Target Field will be terrific and I look forward to its opening.
John– If you could have played baseball in any era, when would you have played and why?
Kevin– I have never thought about playing in another era, but it would be fun to have the experiences I had and then be able to go back and see how that would compare with other era’s, epically in the 30’s or the 50’s.
John– Ironically Kevin, I live just a couple of miles away from you. What have you been doing since you retired from baseball and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Kevin– Since retiring from baseball, I have been fortunate to get involved with some great charitable groups, serve in a few different organizations, and spend much more time with my family and be involved with their interests.
John– Any thoughts of getting back into the game of baseball?
Kevin– Currently, I don’t have any interest in trying to get back into baseball at the professional level. I am fairly active with youth baseball and am enjoying that time. What the future holds? Who knows!
John– What did you think of the 2008 Twins? How about that young but inexperienced pitching staff?
Kevin– The 2008 Twins have been fun to watch, their young staff is terrific. They can pitch, experience on a staff is a plus but having guys that can get outs comes first. These guys all have the ability to throw stuff that the hitters can’t get the good part of the bat to. Because of that, they will gain the bonus of experience by being out there a lot.
John – Thanks so much Kevin for spending this time with us.