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Minnesota Sports By The Numbers: 16-20

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Minnesota Sports By The Numbers is an ongoing series celebrating the great tradition of Minnesota sports.

There was lots of sweet music in Minnesota whenever Frank Viola went to the pitcher's mound.
There was lots of sweet music in Minnesota whenever Frank Viola went to the pitcher's mound.

Once again, it's time to continue our numerical journey through the world of Minnesota sports. We hope you've been enjoying the trip so far, because we've still got a long ways to go before it's all said and done. Today, the numbers that we'll be looking at are those from the 16 to 20 range, and within you'll find triumph, tragedy, and some pretty darn good memories.

If you're joining us for the first time and would like to get up to speed with the countdown to this point, you can check out the first three installments of our series here, here, and here. For now, on with the countdown!

16 - Frank Viola, pitcher, Minnesota Twins

No discussion of the best pitchers in Minnesota Twins history is complete without mentioning the man known as "Sweet Music."  The ace of the Minnesota staff for the better part of the 1980s, Viola's career got off to a bit of an auspicious start.  An attendee of St. John's University, he was drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 1981 Major League Baseball draft, and didn't spend a whole lot of time in the minor leagues, making his Twins debut almost exactly one year later on June 6th, 1982.

He didn't get off to the best of starts, either. Between the 1982 and 1983 seasons, Viola's record was a robust 11-25, and he sported a 5.37 ERA. After that, however, he began to get comfortable in the Major Leagues, posting no fewer than 16 wins in each of the next five seasons for Minnesota. He was one of the leaders of the team, and he showed that leadership in helping the Twins achieve franchise history by winning the 1987 World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals. Viola was named the Most Valuable Player of that series, having gone 2-1 in the three games he pitched, hurling 19 1/3 innings and allowing eight runs, six of which came in Minnesota's Game Four loss to the Cardinals.

It was his 1988 season, however, that provided the high-water mark of his Twins career in terms of personal achievements. In that season, Viola was amazing, posting a record of 24-7 and an ERA of 2.64 on his way to winning the American League Cy Young Award. He was also named to the American League All-Star team for the first and only time in 1988 as well.

Unfortunately, that would be his last full season in Minnesota. In 1989, with the Twins and Viola both struggling, the Twins shipped him to the New York Mets at the trading deadline for four pitchers and a player to be named later. Viola went on to have a couple of good seasons with the Mets, but they let him go after the 1991 season, and he bounced around to the Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays for the last couple of seasons of his career. While with the Reds, he got injured and had to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Meanwhile, a couple of the players the Twins got in return for Viola played vital roles on their next World Series championship team. Those players were right-hander Kevin Tapani, who was one of the front line starters for Minnesota's 1991 World Series Champions, and Rick Aguliera, who the Twins converted to the closer's role after he had been a starter in New York.

Viola is now a part-time announcer for the Boston Red Sox's international sports channel. He was inducted into the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

Honorable Mention - Troy Hudson, guard, Minnesota Timberwolves; Doug Mientkiewicz, first baseman, Minnesota Twins; Jason Kubel, outfielder, Minnesota Twins

17 - Basil McRae, left wing, Minnesota North Stars

Basil McRae was one of the better enforcers of his day, having played for the Minnesota North Stars from 1987 to 1992. McRae played for many different teams over the course of his professional hockey career, but he experienced the greatest successes of his career with the North Stars.

In his first full season with the North Stars, the 1987-88 season, he played all 80 games for the first time in his professional career. No doubt that this helped him to lead the NHL in penalty minutes that season with 378. Wreaking havoc with fellow enforcer Shane Churla for much of the late 80s and early 90s with the North Stars, he 312 penalty minutes per season. That number, no doubt, would have been higher had injuries not limited him to 40 games in 1990-91 and 59 games in 1991-92. After the 1992 season, McRae was claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1992 NHL expansion draft, and was traded to the St. Louis Blues in 1993, where he finished out his career.

McRae has also found himself on the silver screen, as in 1992, he and then teammate Mike Modano made a cameo appearance in the Disney film The Mighty Ducks, which was largely shot in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Today, he serves as a part-owner of the London Knights of the OHL, and also works as a scout for the Blues.

And, really, that's pretty much it. The best player in Minnesota sports history to wear the number 17. Hooray? Hooray!

Honorable Mention - Filip Kuba, defenseman, Minnesota Wild; Mitch Berger, punter, Minnesota Vikings; Camilo Pascual, pitcher, Minnesota Twins

18 - Eddie Guardado, pitcher, Minnesota Twins

"Everyday Eddie" and his rubber arm had a long career with the Twins, by current baseball standards. Selected in the 21st round of the 1990 Major League Baseball draft, and finally made his way up to the big club by 1993. The Twins thought he might be a starter at first, as 20 of his first 23 appearances as a Twins were starts. In 1995, however, Guardado found his niche as a relief pitcher. He averaged nearly 70 appearances a year for the Twins over the course of the next nine seasons, largely in middle relief roles.

In 2000 and 2001, Guardado served as an occasional closer for the Twins, splitting the role with LaTroy Hawkins. When Hawkins (mercifully) departed after the 2001 season, Guardado assumed the closer's spot full time in 2002, and in his first season set the Twins' record for saves in a season with 45. He was an All-Star in 2002, as well as in 2003 when he racked up 41 saves. He even got some votes for the American League's Most Valuable Player award in 2002. Granted, he finished fifteenth in the voting, but he was still on the list. Strangely enough, those votes meant that he got more consideration for the league's MVP award than he did for the Cy Young Award that season.

After the 2003 season, Guardado left for the greener. . .and much rainier. . .pastures of the Pacific Northwest, as the Seattle Mariners gave him a whole lot of money in free agency to become their closer. Unfortunately for him, he didn't have nearly the success in Seattle as he did in Minnesota, only managing to notch a total of 54 saves in his two years in a Mariners' uniform. Granted, that wasn't entirely his fault. . .after all, the Mariners only averaged 66 wins in the two seasons he was there.

The Mariners then traded Guardado to the Cincinnati Reds, and after a stint in Texas, the Rangers traded him back to Minnesota near the end of the 2008 season. Guardado's return to Minnesota was not an overly triumphant one, however, as he pitched seven innings over the course of nine games, finishing with a 1-1 record and a horrific 7.71 ERA.

Guardado was released by the Washington Nationals in March of 2010, and even though he hasn't officially filed retirement paperwork, he acknowledges that he's done with the game.

Honorable Mentions - Sidney Rice, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings;  Ken Yackel, Minnesota Golden Gopher hockey; Grant Polutny, Minnesota Golden Gopher hockey

19 - Bill Masterson, center, Minnesota North Stars

If you base everything on purely statistical numbers, Bill Masterson did not have a terribly distinguished National Hockey League career. After originally being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, he bounced around the minor leagues from 1961 to 1963 before retiring to join the Honeywell Corporation in Minneapolis. He also played on the United States national team as an amateur after gaining his United States citizenship in 1967 (he was born and raised in Canada). The North Stars picked him up before their inaugural season in 1967, and he put his name in the record books by scoring the first goal in the history of the franchise on October 11th of that year.

In his NHL career, he played 38 games, scoring four goals and notching eight assists. But that's not what Bill Masterson is remembered for.

On January 13th, 1968 in a game against the Oakland Seals at the Met Center, Masterson was carrying the puck into the Seals' zone. He was checked by two Oakland players, and fell back onto the ice, hitting his head extremely hard on the playing surface. He immediately started bleeding from his nose and mouth, and lost consciousness shortly thereafter. He had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage that damaged the pons, which is the part of the brain that contains the nucleus that regulates the change from inspiration to expiration. . .in other words, breathing in and out.

The injury was so severe that doctors were unable to perform surgery on Masterson, and he passed away two days later. To this day, he is the only player in National Hockey League history to be killed during in-game action. His death increased the amount of lobbying that was done for helmet requirements in the National Hockey League, as they were uncommon at that time in the league. In 1979, the NHL created rules mandating the use of helmets for any player that came into the league from that season onward.

No player in the history of the franchise wore the number 19 again after that, and the number was formally retired in 1987. In Masterson's honor, the NHL created the Bill Masterson Trophy, which was first awarded following that 1967-68 season. The award is given to the player that best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. The current holder of that award is Minnesota Wild backup goalie Jose Theodore. The only North Star to ever win the award was right winger Al McAdam, who won the award for the 1979-80 season.

Honorable Mention - Tony Campbell, forward, Minnesota Timberwolves; Vern Mikkelson, forward, Minneapolis Lakers; Scott Erickson, pitcher, Minnesota Twins

20 - Dino Ciccarelli, right wing, Minnesota North Stars

One of the most prolific goal scorers in not only North Stars history, but in the history of the league, Dino Ciccarelli certainly had his share of highs and lows as a member of the Minnesota sports community. He certainly wasn't a big guy or anything like that, standing only 5'10" and weighing in at 180 pounds. . .a figure that might be a little on the generous side. Despite that, he scored the majority of his 608 career NHL goals by parking himself in front of the net and banging away against much bigger players.

Of course, Ciccarelli was no stranger to hard work. During his junior hockey days in Canada, he suffered a badly broken leg and was told that he would never be able to play hockey again. Undeterred by such nonsense, Ciccarelli worked his tail off for a year and a half of rehab to be able to get back on the ice. However, teams still had concerns about his injury history, and he went undrafted by the NHL as a result. Lou Nanne and the Minnesota North Stars, however, were interested in taking a chance on young Dino, and it paid off mightily for them. Nanne originally wanted to put Ciccarelli in the minor leagues with Oklahoma City simply to see how well his leg would hold up. However, after only 48 games in Oklahoma City, Ciccarelli had tallied 57 points (including 32 goals), and the North Stars brought him up to the big club during the 1980-81 season.

Ciccarelli did alright during the regular season with the North Stars, scoring 18 goals and putting up 12 assists in 32 games of action. But it was in that post-season where he truly shined. In Minnesota's 19 post-season games that year, Ciccarelli put up 14 goals, a record that still stands today as the most goals scored by a rookie in an NHL post-season. Unfortunately, the North Stars came up short that season, falling to the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Finals that season by a tally of four games to one. That marked the second of the Islanders' four consecutive Stanley Cups in the early 1980s.

Ciccarelli is one of the best, if not the best, player in National Hockey League history to never win a Stanley Cup. Outside of the appearance in the Cup finals his rookie year, the closest he came was in 1995-96 as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit made it to the Stanley Cup Finals again that season, but were defeated by the New Jersey Devils.

Ciccarelli finished his NHL career with 608 career goals, which is currently 17th overall on the league's all-time list. In terms of North Stars history. . .only stats that were tallied prior to the move of the franchise to Dallas. . .Ciccarelli scored 342 goals, second all-time behind Brian Bellows. He is also third in total points in franchise history with 651, trailing only Neal Broten (796) and Bellows (722). Ciccarelli is, however, the only player in the history of the franchise to average more than one point per game, having tallied his 651 points in 602 career appearances in a North Stars jersey.

After a post-hockey career that was somewhat marred by confrontations with the media, it was announced that Ciccarelli would finally, belatedly, be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. That announcement was made on June 22nd, 2010.

Honorable Mention - Bobby Bryant, cornerback, Minnesota Vikings; Darrin Nelson, running back, Minnesota Vikings

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.