Back in the bygone days of my childhood, I was at one point obsessed with collecting baseball cards — boxes and boxes of them were piled under my bed and neatly cataloged in binders. One of my favorite things to do was pore over the massive collection I had amassed, and learn the names and statistics of the youngest players in the league — the rookies. I’m not sure why rookie cards always caught my eye. Perhaps it was because I loved uncovering hidden gems and future stars in a pack of cards. More likely, however, it was because I took a weird interest in finding low batting averages and high ERAs.
If it was high ERAs I was after, there wasn’t a more interesting pitcher than LaTroy Hawkins really the first five years of his career. As a youngster, I liked Hawkins, perhaps because his entrance to my card collection represented the first time I realized people could have interesting names like LaTroy. For a kid growing up in the lily-white suburbs of Central Pennsylvania, it was quite a discovery that not everyone was named Michael, Matthew, Robert, and Jonathan.
Hawkins came up with the Minnesota Twins in 1995 as a starter and posted an 8.67 ERA in six starts. He wasn’t much better the following year, giving the Twins a 8.20 ERA in seven games. The Gary, Indiana native finally got promoted to Minnesota full-time in 1997, and promptly gave the Twins a 23-40 record with a 6.16 ERA. He walked nearly as many as he struck out, and allowed well over a hit per inning. Needless to say, although I was fond of LaTroy Hawkins, I would not have expected to be able to find his baseball card in a fresh pack of cards in 2015.
But, by reinventing himself as a solid, right-handed reliever, Hawkins has managed to stay in the game of baseball. This year marks his 21st season, and he will hang them up upon its completion. Now, at the age of 42, Hawkins has done something that none of the all-time great closers — think Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman — have failed to do. He has recorded a save against each of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball. Hawkins completed the rare feat by recording the final out last night against the Twins. Twelve years removed from his last appearance in the Twin Cities, Hawkins’ career had come full circle.
Recording a save against all 30 teams is not an especially noteworthy accomplishment. With Hawkins’ addition to the club, only 12 others have done it, and the list of names is not filled with Hall of Famers. For example, Jose Mesa, Armando Benitez, Jose Valverde, and Bob Wickman are on the list. The only player to close out all 30 teams that could have bona fide Hall credentials is Jonathan Papelbon. Really, to make this list, a closer needs only to bounce around to a few teams and be reasonably effective with each. Hawkins has done that, pitching for 11 teams in all six divisions. He’s only saved 127 games in his career and been the primary closer in just three seasons.
While it’s not a feat that will garner Hawkins any Hall of Fame votes, what he accomplished last night is a testament to his perseverance and willingness to reinvent himself and work hard at each step of his career. He’s been through the ups-and-downs, the injuries, and the decline in skill that comes with age, and has continued to be very effective into his final months in the big leagues. Hawkins will complete his career as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, helping to mentor a young, raw bullpen that has struggled at times this year. For a pitcher who has seen it all, against every team in the league, it is the perfect final role of a surprisingly lengthy and successful Major League career.