LaTroy Hawkins pitched in over 1,000 games in his career, and was the only active pitcher to achieve this feat when he retired. He is still in the top 10 all time in career holds (a stat that we will talk about later on). His longevity can be contributed to how he had no problem with changing over and over again. He also just happens to be the godfather of Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes.** Let’s start back in 1991 to show how LaTroy became one of the best setup men over the last two decades.
In 1991, the Minnesota Twins drafted Hawkins in the 7th round (181st pick). He came straight out of West Side High School in Gary, Indiana. There wasn’t much hype around Hawkins since he was a 7th round draft pick, but he would prove anyone who doubted him wrong by lasting in professional baseball for 25 years. He played his first four years in the Twins minor league system, before being called up to the big leagues on April 29th, 1995—and was even being named the starting pitcher against the Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, his first appearance for the Minnesota Twins resulted in seven earned runs in 1 2⁄3 innings of work. His first five years in the majors were as a starting pitcher. He was 26-44 combined over those five years, with a league worst 6.66 E.R.A. in his last year as a starter.
In 2000, the Twins moved Hawkins to the bullpen and he tried his hand at being the closer. He would show promise in this position going 14 for 14 on saves during the 2000 season. However, the 2001 season would be less kind as he would have one of the worst seasons for a closer in MLB history. He would only convert 28 of 37 save opportunities and his ERA was at 5.96. After being one of the worst starters in 1999 and worst closers in 2001, it seemed like Hawkins was running out of time in the MLB.
But then, 2002 came and all things changed. The 6’5”, hard-throwing right-hander was no longer the Twins closer, yet he found his career changing role. He became a setup man and thrived! He was 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA in 2002 and 9-3 with a 1.86 ERA in 2003. He also would have 41 combined holds during these two years. Now let’s take a time-out for a minute:
What is a hold? Its an unofficial statistic for when a relief pitcher enters when his team is leading, he is not the winning pitcher, records at least one out, and leaves the game before his team gave up the lead at any point. Being the reliever in this position essentially means that you are the setup man to another reliever/closer. It was created as a stat in 1986 by John Dewan and Mike O’Donnell to show how good relievers that get fewer opportunities to record a save are. The stat wasn’t counted though until 1999 when MLB.com decided to track it. This stat came at a perfect time in Hawkins career as it showed how great of a reliever he was becoming.
Now let’s get back to what happened with Hawkins next. His excellence in his new role drew interest from teams all over after the 2003 season. After his 9 year career with the Minnesota Twins (13 year career overall including the minors), he would go on to play for ten more teams across his last twelve seasons. He finished his career with 1042 games played and 184 career holds. He is still currently eighth all time in career holds.
The third time was the charm for LaTroy. He couldn’t do it as a starter or closer but he became one of the best setup men over the last two decades.
Side note: He would actually never start another game in the MLB after leaving the Twins, but would go on to become a closer again. His best work though, of course, was being a setup man.
**I’m sure you’re wondering, if you don’t already know, but LaTroy became the godfather to Patrick Mahomes II because of the relationship between teammates Hawkins and Pat Mahomes Sr. The father to the reigning Super Bowl MVP was good friends with LaTroy because of 1993 spring training. They became close friends when Hawkins got the call up to the big leagues in 1995—close enough that Hawkins accepted the invitation to be the godfather when Patrick Mahomes II was born in 1995.