Viola won the Cy Young Award with a 24-7 record in 1988, leading the AL in wins and winning percentage and finishing third in ERA (2.64) and strikeouts (193). The curly-haired changeup artist had already established himself as one of the AL’s finest pitchers and the ace of an otherwise mediocre Minnesota staff, leading the Twins to the 1987 World Championship with a 17-10, 2.90 record. In postseason play that year, he won Game Four of the LCS after a no-decision in the Twins’ Game One victory. He was the World Series MVP, winning Game One 10-1, losing Game Four 7-2, and coming back on three days’ rest to triumph in Game Seven 4-2.
Viola came up with the Twins in 1982. After posting a combined 11-25 record and a 5.38 ERA in his first two seasons, Viola posted two consecutive 18-win years in 1984 and 1985, adding a 16-13 record in 1986, when he led the league in starts. Key to Viola’s success was a changeup taught to him by Twins pitching coach Johnny Podres; it gave Viola more confidence in his fastball, and would eventually become his signature pitch.
After going 24-7 for the second-place Twins in 1988, Viola got all but one of the 28 first-place votes for the Cy Young Award, beating out Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, and Roger Clemens. His 93 wins in the period from 1984-1988 were the most of any pitcher in baseball.
Viola’s humble and enthusiastic approach to the game earned him tremendous popularity in Minnesota. However, Twins fans were greatly offended when his agent wrote a “trade-me-or-pay-me” letter to Twins management in 1989. Local hero Kent Hrbek attacked Viola in the press and third baseman Gary Gaetti chimed in with his negative feelings regarding Viola’s contract demands.
Not surprisingly, Twins management elected to give Viola’s agent what he wanted, and Frank was dealt to the New York Mets on July 31 for Rick Aguilera, David West, and three prospects. Viola became the teammate of Ron Darling, whom he had bested in a famous NCAA playoff game between Yale and St. John’s. Darling no-hit St. John’s for 11 innings, but Viola and the Redmen won 1-0 in the 12th.
A native Long Islander, Viola found refuge in New York. In his first full season with the club, “Frankie V” went 20-12 with a 2.67 ERA, leading the league with 249 2/3 innings pitched. But the fickle New York fans soured on their new ace after various nagging injuries contributed to his terrible 2-11 record down the stretch in 1991, and Viola left for Boston via free agency after the season.
Viola’s first year with the Red Sox featured one of his most memorable moments — a no-hit bid against the Blue Jays on September 30, broken up by Devon White to lead off the ninth. Viola retired the next three hitters, taking a one-hit shutout with him. It was one of his team-high 35 starts.
The veteran left-hander had a decent season for Boston in 1993 (11-8, 3.14) but made just six starts in 1994 due to a serious elbow injury that required reconstructive “Tommy John” surgery and appeared to have ended his career. In July 1995, Viola made a comeback attempt with the Cincinnati Reds, who signed the 35-year-old to a minor-league contract. Viola made just three starts for the Reds, and six for Toronto in 1996; his last win came in May at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, the site of his very first.