Among those Twins and former Twins celebrating birthdays this week is Howard Sinker’s favorite former short stop, Lenny Faedo.
Faedo was a hot prospect in his home town of Tampa, Florida. When he was 18, the Twins made him the 17th overall pick in the 1978 amateur draft. Faedo’s professional career started on a high note in the Appalachian League. The Elizabethton Twins, with Faedo’s help, won the league title in 1978, and Faedo was named to the Appalachian League All-Star team after batting .280 in 55 games. Faedo continued to progress in the organization over the next few years, long considered the Twins’ top prospect. There was even talk of moving Roy Smalley to first base or to a different team to make room for Faedo as the starting short stop for the major league club.
Though 1980 was a down year for Faedo – he batted just .240 for Orlando, he made his major league debut as a September call up at the end of the season. The Twins were said to be happy with his fielding, but felt he had a lot of work to do with his bat. Manager Johnny Goryl characterized Faedo as having a “Bible swing – ‘Thou shalt not pass,’” referring to Faedo’s tendency to swing at just about every pitch he saw.
After his first taste of the majors, it was clear to management that Faedo had not progressed as quickly as had been hoped, and the plans to trade Smalley were temporarily put on hold. Faedo became impatient with the organization, whose stance that he was the heir apparent at short stop had significantly softened after the 1980 season, including a tough stint in the Florida Instructional League that fall. Said Faedo:
They called me up in September and I sat on the bench for 25 days and then they put me in on artificial turf in Kansas City and I made a couple of errors, and now I can’t play.
George Brophy was on me during the instructional league, but there were a lot of reasons I didn’t play well, including an injury. Both Brophy and I will be better off if we didn’t talk much to each other. I know this: if they don’t think I am going to be a big league player, the Twins can release me, and I’ll sign with another organization the next day for a lot more money.
With talk of Roy Smalley moving to third base for the start of the 1981 season, the regular short stop job was up for grabs in the spring. Instead of having it handed to him, however, Faedo was forced into a spring competition with Johnnie Walker, another young short stop that came from the Dodgers’ organization, though with a lot less fan fare than Faedo had received. After a brief time of open competition, it was announced that Smalley would remain a short stop after all, and that the battle between Faedo, Walker, and new acquisition Chuck Baker would be for the backup job. Faedo ended up starting the season in the minors, but when Smalley went down with an injury in the late summer, Faedo found himself back with the Twins. Though he only batted .195/.209/.244 in 43 plate appearances before succumbing to his own injured heel, Faedo had impressed enough on defense to be penciled in by manager Billy Gardner as the starting short stop for the 1982 season.
After Roy Smalley was finally traded four games into the 1982 season, Faedo finally got his shot as a part of the Twins’ youth movement. Faedo struggled out of the gate both at the plate (.216/.293/.216 through April 22) and in the field. Before April was over Faedo had been replaced at short stop by career minor leaguer Ron Washington. At the age of 30, Washington got his first real shot at the majors and made the most of it. Though Faedo played a lot more for the balance of the season due to Washington’s injuries, the luster had certainly been lost from the former number on draft choice.
The Twins gave Faedo another chance as a starter at the beginning of the 1983 season. Though Washington had a clear advantage at the plate, the Twins had determined that, with his fielding deficiencies and his age, Washington would serve the team better in the utility role. The chatter around the club in the spring was the hope that a young short stop acquired in Smalley trade, Greg Gagne, had the skills to either take the job himself, or at least to push Faedo to finally reach his potential. As it turned out, Gagne wasn’t ready for the role and Faedo won the job out of spring training. There was speculation that the choice of Faedo over Washington was racially motivated. Regardless of the reasons the organization gave, Washington became the every day short stop in early May when Faedo went down with an injury that cost him the bulk of the season. He returned as a regular for the last month of 1983, the Twins hoping that he would prove that he could play the position every day.
Faedo returned in the spring of 1984 in what was reported as the best shape of his career. Again the Twins brought Gagne in to camp in hopes of further pushing Faedo. As had been the pattern, Gagne was sent to the minors and Faedo began the season as the every day short stop.
Faedo had not made any friends in the organization with his comments years earlier, and had developed a long-simmering fued with manager Billy Gardner. After a critical error in a late April game in 1984, Faedo was quoted as saying “I won’t lose any sleep over it,” enough to push the final button of Gardner, who immediately pulled Faedo from the lineup and ultimately had him removed from the organization, initially on loan to the Detroit Tigers who needed a third baseman for their AA squad in Evansville. Later in the season, the Twins loaned Faedo to the Texas Rangers for their Oklahoma City AAA affiliate. Gardner indicated later that he might have pulled some strings to land Faedo in Oklahoma City in the middle of the summer:
I tell you, pal, it’s hot in Oklahoma City in the summertime – hot as it can get. Oklahoma in the summer, that’s when you find out who wants to play.
Gardner went on to make some other pointed comments in Faedo’s direction:
That other word- motivation- I hear that and it makes me sick. If being in the big leagues is not all the motivation you need, pal, you’re in trouble.
Gardner’s words turned out to be a parting shot. At the end of the 1984 season Faedo was assigned to AAA Toledo, leaving him available in the December draft. No team drafted Faedo, but the Twins cut ties by releasing him in the spring of 1985. He did sign as a free agent with the Kansas City Royals a month later, and bounced around the minor leagues for a time, but never again saw major league action.