Its only fitting that Gaetti follows Gagne, as they were teammates on the left-side of the diamond in both Minnesota and Kansas City. The 60th Greatest Royal of All-time is Gary Gaetti.
Gary Gaetti, also known as "G-Man" or "The Rat", was a power hitting third baseman in Kansas City for two and a half seasons. He was picked up off waivers by the Royals and surprised baseball by reviving his dead career in Kansas City
Gaetti hailed from Centralia, Illinois, the son of a railroad worker.
"When I was growing up, two things were big in that area: baseball and beer. It's probably still that way."
Gaetti attended Northwest Missouri State University where legend has it he once hit a five hundred foot blast while at school there. He is currently in their Hall of Fame.
MIAA Players with the Royals
Steve Mingori 1973-1979, Pittsburg State
Gary Gaetti 1993-1995, Northwest Missouri State
Steve Shifflett 1993, Emporia State
Nate Field 2002-2005, Fort Hays State University
Morgan Burkhart 2003, University of Central Missouri
Rick DeHart 2003, Washburn
The Twins selected Gaetti in the first round of the 1979 Amateur Draft Secondary Phase. He immediately hit for power, knocking fourteen home runs in 66 games, with a .522 slugging percentage in Rookie ball. He slugged twenty-two home runs in A ball the next year, then slugged thirty dingers in AA in 1981 before getting a cup of coffee with the Twins.
Gaetti would be an institution in Minnesota at the hot corner for the next nine seasons. Six times he would hit at least twenty home runs, and he would collect over 100 RBI twice while in Minnesota. In 1987, he hit .257 with 31 home runs and 109 RBI and finished tenth in MVP balloting as the Twins won the World Championship. He was even better the following year, hitting .300 for the only time in his career, and slamming 28 home runs and 88 RBI. He was no slouch with the glove either, winning four consecutive Gold Gloves at third base between 1986-1989.
Gaetti had been a wild youth early in his career, drinking heavily and chasing women. After winning the World Championship in 1987, Gaetti became a born-again Christian and found sobriety. This irked some teammates and led to some clubhouse dissension.
"I'd like to be close to him, but for whatever the reason, he doesn't seem very responsive when I talk to him...Whatever he's going through right know, he really doesn't want to talk to me about it."
-Twins outfielder Randy Bush
Gaetti's numbers also began to decline. In the next two seasons he failed to reach twenty home runs in a season, and his average slumped to .251 in 1989 and an awful .229 in 1990.
Despite his sagging numbers, Gaetti was able to land a huge four year $11.4 million deal with the rival California Angels in the winter of 1991. Gaetti continued to show disappointing numbers in 1991 with a .246 average and just eighteen home runs, and in 1992 he slumped even further hitting .226 with just twelve home runs and an anemic slugging percentage of .342. His defense also slipped and he was welcomed to boos in his home stadium.
"Gary started last year out of shape, played bad for 25 games, made a lot of errors, and it got to the point where he couldn't handle the abuse from the fans...It was brutal. "
-Angels Manager Buck Rodgers
That winter the Angels acquired first baseman J.T. Snow and third baseman Kelly Gruber and it appeared Gaetti's days in Anaheim were numbered. He began the year hitting .180 in just fifty at-bats, and by June the Angels decided to eat the remaining one and a half years left on his contract and released the veteran third baseman.
"It was a really trying time, as far as asking yourself, 'Why is it happening?' and it was absolutely no fun coming to the park, wondering if you should even be playing,"
The Royals entered 1993 with former utility infielder Keith Miller as their starting third baseman. Miller, affectionately nicknamed "Pigpen" for his hustle, was perpetually injured throughout his career. 1993 would be no different as Miller injured himself on opening day trying to beat out a ground ball. The Royals turned to hot prospect Phil Hiatt to man third base and he fared well in April. He slumped in May, and on June 19, the first place Royals turned to Gaetti to provide competition for the rookie.
With the Angels still paying the bulk of his salary, Gaetti rediscovered his stroke in Kansas City and provided much needed power. He hit .256 in a Royals uniform, and his fourteen home runs were fourth on the team, despite the fact he played in just 82 games.
"The rap on Gary was that he'd lost some of the fire, but I can see some of it coming back...And I think it's better fire than the last time. I'd rather be like the second Gaetti than the first."
-Twins and Royals teammate Greg Gagne
Gaetti began 1994 with renewed confidence and a claim on the starting third baseman job. On April 20, he hit two home runs and drove in six in an 11-6 win. During the Royals fourteen game win streak, he went on a tear, hitting 17-43 (.395) with four multi-hit games, including a four hit game, and a two home run game. He finished the year with a .287 average, his highest in six seasons, and 12 home runs and 57 RBI in the strike-shortened season.
"He's been our most valuable player so far, among the position players...He's a gamer."
-Royals Manager Hal McRae
Despite the performance, the Royals were ready to move on and play prospect Joe Randa at third base. To hedge their bets and provide competition, they re-signed Gaetti to a minor league deal, with the expectation he would split time with Randa and serve as a valuable veteran in the clubhouse. Gaetti went on a tear to begin the season, getting hits in seven of his first eight games. Randa impressed coaches with his glove, but he failed to hit that year, and Gaetti ended up getting the bulk of the playing time at third. He went on a tear in May, slugging .620 with nine home runs, including a pair of multi-home run games.
"He swings the bat like he's 20 years old, he plays like he's 20 years old,''
-Royals pitcher Chris Haney
Gaetti would finish with a monster season, hitting 35 home runs, just one shy of the Royals franchise record. It was also good for seventh in the league and was a career high at age thirty-six. Five times that season, a Gaetti home run in the eighth inning or later would win the game for the Royals, and the Royals would finish 23-9 in games in which Gaetti homered. He won the Silver Slugger Award at third base and finished tenth in MVP balloting, despite the Royals finishing with a losing record.
Royals Single Season Home Run Leaders
Steve Balboni 1985 - 36
Gary Gaetti 1995 - 35
Dean Palmer 1998 - 34
Danny Tartabull 1987 - 34
John Mayberry 1975 - 34
Gaetti was willing to return to the Royals on a one year deal to provide punch in the middle of their lineup, but the Royals offered just $1 million to the slugger. The cross-state Cardinals offered double that, and Gaetti left for St. Louis.
Gaetti would have three more productive seasons in St. Louis, then for the Cubs, before falling off in 1999, and retiring after ten hitless at bats in Boston in 2000. He retired with 2,280 career hits and 360 home runs, 70th in MLB history. Since retiring, Gaetti has served as a coach, briefly serving as the hitting instructor for the Houston Astros. In 2008 he will be a coach for the Tampa Bay Rays top affiliate in Durham, North Carolina.