Gary Gaetti overcame a slow start to gain recognition as the AL’s premier third baseman by 1988. The 1980 Midwest League home run champ, Gaetti became the 47th major leaguer to homer in his first big league at-bat, September 20, 1981 off Charlie Hough in Texas. In 1982 he replaced former co-Rookie of the Year John Castino at third for the Twins.
An outstanding defensive player with multiple league leaderships in putouts, assists, and double plays, Gaetti’s offense finally caught up in 1986 (.287, 34 HR, 108 RBI) and 1987 (31 HR, 109 RBI). In the 1987 LCS he became the first player ever to hit two home runs in his first two at-bats of postseason play. He was the LCS MVP, won his second straight Gold Glove, and set a Twins third base record with a .973 fielding average in 1987.
Gaetti remained a mainstay at third base with the Twins through the 1990 season, making All-Star appearances in 1988 and 1989. (He gained notoriety in the ’89 All-Star Game when he displayed a religious slogan written on his batting gloves to the TV cameras during the pregame introductions.) Against the Red Sox on July 17, 1990, he became part of a major-league record when he started three triple plays at Fenway Park. But after his batting average slipped to .229 in 1990 Gaetti signed with the Angels, replacing Jack Howell at third.
By 1993 the Angels had realized that Gaetti was not the answer at the hot corner. He hit just 12 homers in 1992 — good enough to lead the team, but nowhere near the production California had expected. Never a selective hitter, he drew just 21 walks. Even worse, his .926 fielding percentage that year was the lowest of his career, and by the end of the season he had been shifted to first base.
After a .180 start in 1993, Gaetti was released by the Angels. He caught on with Kansas City, briefly resurrecting his career with decent offensive numbers that peaked with a 35-homer, 96-RBI season in 1995. He moved to St. Louis in ’96, but after another solid year at the plate Gaetti — now pushing 40 — began showing signs of age. Hindered by a bum knee, he wrapped up his career with two seasons for the Cubs and a brief cup of coffee with Boston, valued as much for his veteran leadership as for his bat.