Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #24 Shane Mack
By Aaron Gleeman
When asked about a freshman named Shane Mack by
a Los Angeles Times reporter in 1982, UCLA coach
Gary Adams looked right into his crystal ball
and didn't pull any punches:
I really believe that Shane Mack is going to be one of the
greatest UCLA players of all time. He reminds me so much of
Jackie Robinson, but his fire is inside, not outside like
Jackie. He's not flashy like Jackie was. He just does the
job and produces.
Adams was right. After hitting .306 as a freshman Mack
emerged as one of the elite players in college baseball, hitting
a conference-best .419 as a sophomore and .352 as a junior. Mack
was a first-team All-American in both seasons, and leading up to
the 1984 draft there was heavy debate over whether Mack or USC
slugger Mark McGwire should be the first player chosen.
I've never had such a quick learner. He realize his
shortcomings and that's why they don't last very long. You
make the most of what you have, and he does. He has
everything, all the tools. I'll tell you something, Shane
isn't going to be just a major leaguer, but a super major
Under the headline "Mack or McGwire Could Be Chosen No. 1" in a
June 4, 1984 Los Angeles Times article, Dodgers scouting
director Ben Wade said, "You've got two of the best in the
country over at USC and UCLA." The next day the newspaper
described Mack as "the finest all-around player in college
baseball" and "at or near the top of virtually every
major-league club's scouting list."
The Mets surprised everyone by taking high-school outfielder
Shawn Abner with the first selection, which turned out horribly.
McGwire dropped to the A's with the 10th pick, while the Padres
were thrilled when Mack fell into their laps 11th overall. After
playing for the United States' silver medal-winning team in the
1984 summer Olympics, Mack bypassed his final year of
eligibility and began his pro career in 1985.
Mack spent the bulk of his first two years at Double-A, hitting
.260/.325/.370 in 1985 and .281/.318/.451 while repeating the
level in 1986. He moved up to Triple-A to finish the 1986
season, hitting .362 in 19 games at hitter-friendly Las Vegas.
Mack stayed there in 1987 and hit .333 with five homers while
going 13-for-13 stealing bases in 39 games. When a torn biceps
tendon forced Steve Garvey to the disabled list in late May, San
Diego called Mack up.
Debuting on May 25, 1987, Mack went 0-for-2 with two walks
starting in right field. He stayed with San Diego all season and
saw regular playing time against left-handed pitching, hitting
.239/.299/.361 in 105 games. Interestingly, after debuting in
right field Mack played almost exclusively center field, as it
quickly became apparent that he was a better defender there than
incumbent Stan Jefferson.
Mack began the 1988 season back at Triple-A and spent the year
shuttling between San Diego and Las Vegas. He hit just
.244/.336/.269 in 56 games with the Padres, but once again tore
up the Pacific Coast League with a .347 batting average and 10
homers in 55 games. Mack was back at Triple-A once again in 1989
when an elbow injury cut his season short after just 24 games.
That offseason the Padres left the 26-year-old Mack off their
40-man roster and the Twins snatched him up in the Rule 5 draft.
Mack made the Opening Day roster, but played sparingly early on,
getting just 18 at-bats in April, 33 in May, and 39 in June. In
mid-July, with Mack hitting over .300 and the Twins playing
under .500, manager Tom Kelly finally gave him a shot as an
Splitting time between all three outfield spots, Mack responded
by hitting .306 in July before slumping in August, and then
finished the year by batting .432 (38-for-88) with 17 RBIs and
six steals between September and October. Overall he hit
.326/.392/.460 with eight homers, 44 RBIs, and 50 runs scored in
353 plate appearances after entering the season as a career
Kelly was still somewhat hesitant to make Mack an everyday
player in 1991, but he started 61 times alongside Kirby Puckett
in right field while also getting 16 starts subbing for Puckett
in center field and 38 starts playing left field in place of Dan
Gladden. Mack had a huge year, hitting .310/.363/.529 with 18
homers in 143 games to rank among the league's top 10 in
slugging percentage and OPS.
Thanks in large part to Mack the Twins went from worst to first,
winning the AL West with a league-best 95-67 record after
finishing dead last at 74-88 the previous season. Mack hit .333
with three RBIs and four runs scored in the five-game ALCS win
over Toronto, but then went 0-for-15 with seven strikeouts in
the first four games of the World Series against Atlanta.
After pulling Mack in a Game 3 double-switch--leading to closer
Rick Aguilera pinch-hitting in the 12th inning--Kelly gave
designated hitter Chili Davis the Game 5 start in right field
despite Davis seeing a total of three innings defensively during
the season. Back at home and playing under AL rules, Mack
returned to the lineup for Game 6 and went 2-for-4 with a
first-inning RBI single. He went 1-for-4 in the Twins' dramatic
Game 7 win.
For the first time in his career Mack was given a chance to be a
true everyday player in 1992. Starting 150 games and playing
primarily left field, Mack hit .315/.394/.467 with 16 homers and
26 steals to rank among the AL's top 10 in batting average,
on-base percentage, and runs. He fell to .276/.335/.412 in 1993
and missed the first month of the 1994 season with shoulder
problems, but bounced back to hit .333/.402/.564 to rank among
the league leaders in batting average and slugging percentage.
A pending free agent when the players' strike ended the 1994
season early and canceled the World Series, Mack decided to take
a guaranteed payday in Japan once the work stoppage dragged on
well into the offseason. In January of 1995 he signed what was
then "the biggest contract in the history of Japanese baseball,"
agreeing to a two-year deal with the Yomiuri Giants worth $8.1
In retrospect it's easy to question his decision, but Mack was
already 31 years old when he became a free agent for the first
time, the strike continued into the 1995 season, and that was
incredible money for a non-superstar back then. Only eight AL
players made over $5 million in 1994 and the highest-paid player
in all of baseball was Bobby Bonilla at $6.3 million.
Mack hit .284/.356/.463 during two seasons in Japan, and then
returned to MLB with the Red Sox in 1997. After hitting
.313/.368/.438 in 60 games for Boston, Mack signed with Oakland
for 1998. Mack played just three games for the A's before being
traded to the Royals in April for Mike Macfarlane, and then hit
.280/.345/.449 in 66 games with Kansas City in what was his
It's easy for Mack to get lost in the long shadows of stars like
Puckett, Aguilera, Kent Hrbek, Jack Morris, Chuck Knoblauch, and
the rest of the 1991 championship team, but for five years he
was one of the best, most underrated players in baseball. A
tremendous athlete who covered tons of ground defensively
wherever the Twins put him in the outfield, Mack hit for huge
batting averages with great speed and had overlooked power.
Among hitters with at least 500 games in a Twins uniform only
three have topped Mack's 130 adjusted OPS+, and he also ranks
among the team's all-time leaders in Runs Created Above Average:
Harmon Killebrew 145 Harmon Killebrew 471
Rod Carew 138 Rod Carew 393
Tony Oliva 131 Tony Oliva 280
SHANE MACK 130 Kent Hrbek 262
Kent Hrbek 127 Kirby Puckett 254
Bob Allison 127 Bob Allison 185
Larry Hisle 127 Chuck Knoblauch 152
Kirby Puckett 124 SHANE MACK 103
That's what I'd call good company.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:
OPS .854 2nd
AVG .309 5th
SLG .479 5th
OBP .375 6th
Steals 71 15th
Triples 24 17th
XBH 210 22nd
Runs 351 23rd
Total Bases 1036 25th