Kent Alan Hrbek (/ˈhɜːrbɛk/; born May 21, 1960 in Minneapolis, Minnesota), nicknamed Herbie, is a former American Major League Baseballfirst baseman. He played his entire 14-year baseball career for the Minnesota Twins (1981–1994). Hrbek batted left-handed and threw right-handed. He hit the first home run in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on April 3, 1982, in an exhibition game against the Phillies. Fans knew Hrbek as an outstanding defensive player, perennial slugger, and charismatic hometown favorite. Former Twins pitcher Jim Kaat considered Hrbek to be the best defensive first baseman he had ever seen. Hrbek attended Kennedy High School in Bloomington, Minnesota.
After his "cup of coffee" at the end of the '81 season, Hrbek would make the team out of spring training and come into his own in 1982, playing well for Twins managerBilly Gardner. Finishing his rookie season hitting .301 with 23 home runs and 92 RBI, Hrbek would finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting (to future Hall of FamerCal Ripken, Jr.) and be selected to his only All-Star game. Although the Twins would finish 60-102, Hrbek and fellow rookies Tim Laudner, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, Randy Bush, and Frank Viola would make up the nucleus of the 1987 World Series team. Falling off slightly in his sophomore year (.297, 16 HR, 84 RBI), Hrbek would come up big in 1984, finishing the season hitting .311 (his 2nd highest career batting average) with 27 HR (his 3rd highest total), 107 RBI (his highest career total), 174 hits (his highest total), and 80 runs (his third highest total). During arguably his career year, Hrbek would power the Twins all season and the team would surprise the rest of the American League West by battling for the division crown. Although the team was as close as 0.5 games out of first place at 81-75, the Twins faded fast, losing their last six games and finishing in a tie with the California Angels, three games behind the Kansas City Royals. After the season, Hrbek was recognized for his performance, and the team's surprise September run, by his finishing second in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting to Detroit Tigers' closer Willie Hernández.
Some of his most memorable moments were during the 1987 season. He hit a career best 34 home runs to help the Twins win the AL West. Although he hit only .208, Hrbek was instrumental in capturing the World Series Championship, as he hit a grand slam in Game 6 off Cardinals reliever Ken Dayley that essentially sealed the win for the Twins. In 1991 he again helped the Twins to win the World Series after having a typical Hrbek season - hitting .284 with 20 home runs and 84 RBI. The Twins had finished the previous season in last place, as had their Series opponent the Atlanta Braves, which prompted the media to coin the phrase "Worst to First World Series". Hrbek's offense turned stale after his home run in Game 1 and he hit only .115 for the series with the one home run and 2 RBI. However in Game 7, with the score still tied 0-0 in the 8th inning, Hrbek executed a very uncommon 3-2-3 bases-loaded double play with catcher Brian Harper that saved the Twins against the Braves' biggest threat of the game. The Twins eventually won the game 1-0, with Gene Larkin hitting a bases-loaded single to center field that scored Dan Gladden in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Hrbek was involved in a controversial play with Ron Gant in Game 2 of the 1991 Series. While Gant was coming back to first base after widely rounding the base on a single, Hrbek applied a tag on Gant's leg and Gant ran into Hrbek. The umpire, Drew Coble, called Gant out, ruling that forward progress would have caused Gant to step off the bag. Gant angrily disputed the call and had to be restrained when Coble refused to change it. The move was later nicknamed the "T-Rex Tag", after Hrbek jokingly speculated on a post-baseball career in professional wrestling using the name Tyrannosaurus Rex. When the Series moved to Atlanta, Braves fans jeered him, and Hrbek received much hate mail, including a death threat.
Although he was a key part of both World Series teams, Hrbek was largely ineffective at the plate, hitting only .154 in 24 post-season games with only 3 home runs and 12 RBI. Hrbek was one of seven Twins to be part of both the 1987 and 1991World Series teams. The other six were Randy Bush, Greg Gagne, Kirby Puckett, Al Newman, Gene Larkin, who made the winning hit in Game 7 of the 1991 series, and Dan Gladden, who was the runner Larkin scored with that hit.
Frequently injured (though seldom seriously), Hrbek retired after the players strike in 1994, citing his nagging injury problems and desire to spend more time with his wife and daughter at their home in Bloomington, Minnesota. Despite operating in the same lineup as Kirby Puckett for all but two years of his career, and his long and close association with Puckett, Hrbek's numbers never approached those of the center fielder, and it is generally agreed that his career, while long and productive, was not Baseball Hall of Fame material - on the list of similar good-but-not-great players such as Eric Karros, Will Clark, Greg Luzinski, David Justice, and Vic Wertz. In 2000, his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, Hrbek garnered only 5 votes, nowhere near the 5% minimum threshold for continued eligibility, and is thus ineligible for the Hall of Fame unless voted in by the Veterans Committee. His first year of Veterans' Committee eligibility is 2015.
Kent Hrbek's number 14 was retired by the Twins in 1995, becoming at the time only the fourth (along with Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, and Tony Oliva) in franchise history. Hrbek was also inducted into the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He was also one of few players then (which is even rarer today) who played out his entire career with only one team.
In 2000, the Twins established their own "Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame" and Hrbek was one of six former Twins inducted into the initial class. The 2000 class also included MLB Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett, player and Twins coach Tony Oliva, and former owner Calvin Griffith.
Hrbek is an avid hunter and fisherman, particularly in his home state of Minnesota. He hosted an outdoor sports program on FOX 9 called Kent Hrbek Outdoors for six years ending in 2009. Hrbek is a perennial pitchman for Twin Cities-area HVAC company Carrier Heating and Air Conditioning. He has a series of baseball fields named after him in his hometown of Bloomington. Since Kent Hrbek's father died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease) in 1982, he has worked to increase awareness of the disease. Hrbek hosts an annual charity golf tournament in Minnesota to raise money for ALS research, and makes many public appearances on behalf of the cause. He also participates in an annual fundraising event called the "Black Woods Blizzard Tour", a snowmobile excursion around northern Minnesota that raises money to fight the deadly disease.