Johan Santana

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Johan Santana

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Biographical Information[edit]


Johan Alexander Santana was born on March 13, 1979, in the remote town of Tovar, located in the Merida province of Venezuela. Known for its soccer players, cyclists and artists, this region had never produced a major leaguer, but there were some quality players in town, including Johan's father, Jesus, a full-time engineer and highly regarded part-time semipro shortstop. Johan's older brother, Franklin, also showed real promise. In fact, Jesus thought he had the most potential in the family.

Johan, a natural lefty, emulated his father in every way. When he was told lefthanders didn't traditionally play shortstop, he taught himself how to gun the ball across the infield with his right arm. Johan also played the outfield. For these throws, he used his left arm.

Johan's idols were fellow flychasers Rickey Henderson and Ken Griffey Jr. And like all boys in Venezuela, he worshiped All-Star countrymen Dave Concepcion and Andres Galarraga. Despite possessing plenty of talent and enthusiasm, Johan's first youth baseball tryout ended badly. The team's coach sent him away, claiming he was dressed improperly. The next day he returned wearing his father's jersey. When the same coached realized whose son he was, he received a much warmer welcome.

As a teenager, Johan settled into the centerfield job for his local team, the Chiquilines. He was not the best player on the club — Johan did not possess blazing speed and was not a dominant hitter — but he was a terrific athlete just waiting to grow into his body. Like Henderson, he was also a bit of a hot dog. Indeed, Johan loved to elicit oohs and aahs from the crowd with harder-than-necessary catches.

Early Playing Days[edit]

Every year the Chiquilines would compete in the national baseball tournament, and every year they would go much farther than anyone expected. Pro scouts began looking closely at the Chiquilines kids, and that is when they first noticed Johan. The problem was getting to where he played. There's the middle of nowhere, and then there's the middle of nowhere in Venezuela.

Andres Reiner, a scout for the Houston Astros, liked Johan enough to drive 10 hours through the Andes to his house. This happened during the 1994 baseball strike, when Reiner had been instructed not to spend any money. He was so excited about Johan that he dug into his own pockets to hire a car. Reiner rang the doorbell, and the teenager answered. He told the boy that he had the arm to pitch professionally.

When Reiner looked at Johan, he saw major-league pitching talent. The Astros agreed, and moved him to the mound when he joined their Dominican Summer League team in 1996. The gangly 17-year-old hurled 40 innings, primarily in relief, and enemy batters managed a meager .178 average against him.

In 1997, Johan was promoted to Houston's affiliate in the Gulf Coast League, where he threw 36 innings of relief and got hit hard. He also started a game for the Auburn Doubledays of the New York-Penn League at the end of the year. Johan was back in Auburn for most of the 1998 season, where he regained his form as a starter, winning seven games and racking up 88 strikeouts in 87 innings

Johan as a Pitching Prospect[edit]

Johan spent the entire 1999 campaign with the Michigan Battle Cats of the Class A Midwest League, under the tutelage of Al Pedrique, who would later manage the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Astros stockpiled Pedrique's pitching staff with a group of top prospects, including Roy Oswalt, Tim Redding, Mike Gallo, Jacob Whitney and Mike Nannini. Johan led the staff in starts with 26, going 8-8 with a 4.66 ERA and a team-high 150 strikeouts in 160 innings.

For the second straight season, he showed improvement in his fastball, curve and change-up, and showed arm strength well beyond his 20 years. Unfortunately, the Astros felt Johan was still years away from wearing a Houston uniform. When they had to set their 40-man roster, the last spot came down to Johan and teammate Aaron McNeal, who was coming off a 38-homer 131-RBI season. They opted for McNeal, exposing the young lefty in the 1999 Rule V Draft.

Johan and Jared Camp of the Cleveland Indians were the top two hurlers available. The Minnesota Twins had the first selection and wanted Johan. The Florida Marlins, choosing second, wanted Camp. GM Terry Ryan agreed to take Camp then swap him for Johan and some cash. Minnesota was compelled to keep Johan on the major league roster for a year. They felt he could fill a role at the back of the bullpen, then either move into middle relief or go to the minors in 2001.

The team had time on its side. The 2000 edition of the Twins had a group of young hitters at various stages of development, including Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Cristian Guzman, David Ortiz, A.J. Pierzynski and Corey Koskie. Their starting pitching was promising, with Brad Radke, Mark Redman, Joe Mays and Eric Milton.

The bullpen, however, was shaky. Johan joined the pen as a mop-up man and spot starter. He got hammered to the tune of a 6.49 ERA, but convinced the Twins that he belonged on the roster the following year. Unlike many Rule V draftees, who simply assume they will be shipped back down after a year, Johan did whatever he could to stick around.

His Breakout Season[edit]

The Twins entered 2003 as the team to beat in the AL Central — and they did not disappoint. Minnesota edged the White Sox and Royals with 90 wins. Veteran Kenny Rogers was added to the starting staff (after Milton hurt his knee in spring training) and pitched well, an important development because Mays and Rick Reed did not.

Johan was annoyed by what he considered to be the team's lack of confidence in him as a starter, but manager Ron Gardenhire felt he was still more valuable as his rally-killer out of the bullpen.

In July, the club finally decided to give Johan a shot as a starter. The move went against the manager's instincts, but Minnesota did not have the cash to sign an impact pitcher down the stretch. Johan provided that impact and then some, and helped to keep the Twins ahead of the surging Sox. His biggest victory came on September 10th, after Chicago won the first two games of a key four-game set. Johan shut down the White Sox and the Twins never looked back.

Johan wound up at 12-3, with a 3.07 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 159 innings. A perfect 8-0 down the stretch, he was Minnesota's ace heading into the postseason. The only glitch in Johan's season was a balky hamstring, which he had injured during winter ball in Venezuela. It cramped up during a September outing against Texas, forcing him to leave the mound.

That hamstring would come back into play during the Division Series against the New York Yankees. Johan was mastering the Bronx Bombers in Game One when he was unable to take the hill in the fifth inning. His leg cramped so badly he had to be carried from the dugout to the trainer’s room. The Twins won, but wondered whether their best pitcher would be able to recover in time for his Game Four start.


For the 2004 campaign, the Twins would need Johan to repeat his 2003 performance and then some. With Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins lost to free agency, and Joe Nathan an unproven closer, Gardenhire worried that his bullpen might not hold up. Also gone was catcher A.J. Pierzynski, replaced by phenom Joe Mauer. But the young catcher hurt his knee right out of the gate, further weakening the Minnesota lineup. The good news was that Shannon Stewart — picked up the previous summer at the trade deadline — was re-signed for another year.

Johan was surprisingly underwhelming early in the season. He faced the Indians in the second game of the year, and gave up two runs in four innings, before leaving with left forearm spasms. Back for his next start, Johan was still searching for his rhythm on the mound. In fact, over his first six appearances, he allowed 23 runs in just over 39 innings. At the All-Star break, his record was barely above .500.

Johan opened the second half with a victory over the White Sox, hurling six innings of one-run ball. It soon became clear that he had taken that next step as a pitcher. The lefty was setting up batters and finishing them off in ways that made them look ridiculous at times. Whereas in the past he required a few innings to get all of his pitches functioning, now they were all there when he first toed the rubber. Instead of just winging it down the middle, Johan was hitting spots with all his pitches and relying on natural movement to nip the edges. Able to pitch inside with more confidence, he transformed himself into a special pitcher.

A scorching July vaulted Johan ahead of Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling in the AL strikeout race. The only thing keeping him from joining the league leaders in victories was Minnesota's sluggish offense. Heading into August, rather than fading under the pressure of high expectations, Johan turned it up another notch. He fashioned a one-hitter against the Royals to end a losing streak that threatened to kill his club’s chances at another division title. A couple of weeks later, he matched Martinez strikeout for strikeout in a classic pitching duel that had Pedro raving about him.

At this point, Johan was pitching historic baseball. His stats for August were staggering — just 10 earned runs and 52 strikeouts in 43.1 innings — with victories coming against Boston, Oakland, New York, Seattle, Texas, and Anaheim. His sweetest W came against the Yankees in front of a near-capacity crowd... in Minnesota. Johan handled the Bronx Bombers 7-2, on national television.

He went on to win six more in September, with a mind-blowing 0.45 ERA and 52 strikeouts for the second consecutive month. He limited opponents to less than a baserunner an inning, and put himself into contention for the Cy Young Award. Overall, Johan ended the second half with a 13-0 record, plus a 1.18 ERA and .154 opponents' batting average.

After wrapping up the AL Central by nine games, the Twins packed their bags and headed east to face the Yanks in a rematch of their 2003 ALDS. Gardenhire handed Johan the ball in Game One, and the lefty delivered a 2-0 victory with seven scoreless innings. When Minnesota dropped the next two — including a painful extra-inning loss in New York — Johan was forced to take the hill on short rest in the Game Four. The Yankees waited him out, pushing his pitch count to 87 through five innings. Out of gas, he departed up 4-1, confident the bullpen would protect the lead. But the Yanks rallied for four runs in the eighth inning, and the Minnesota bats did not respond. All things considered, Johan did his job in the 2004 playoffs — 12 innings over two games, with a win and a 0.75 ERA.

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Santana completed his Twins career with three more outstanding seasons from 2005 to 2007, including a 2006 season that bettered his sparkling 2004, as he won a second Cy Youg Award while achieving a Pitching Triple Crown. In 2005, he went 16-7, 2.87 in 33 starts and led the American League in strikeouts for the second consecutive season with 238. While his ERA was second to Kevin Millwood, his ERA+ was also tops in the circuit, and he pitched 2 shutouts that season, having only managed one in his entire career until then. He was named to the All-Star team for the first time that year. In 2006, he was unquestionably the best pitcher in the American League, leading the circuit with 19 wins, part of a 19-6 record, a 2.77 ERA and 275 strikeouts. He was the unanimous winner of the Cy Young Award, finishing well ahead of the New York Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang. He was named to the All-Star team once again. The Twins reached the postseason again, and he was given the starting assignment in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Oakland Athletics at home on October 3rd. He pitched very well, allowing only 2 runs in 8 innings, while striking out 8 and walking only one batter, but left trailing, 2-1, as Barry Zito had done even better. A pair of relievers allowed another run in the 9th, and Johan and the Twins lost, 3-2, on their way to being swept in three games.

Santana struck out 17 in a 1-0 win on August 19, 2007, to set a new Minnesota Twins single-game record. The old mark had been 15. Santana allowed two hits and no walks in 8 innings before giving way to reliever Joe Nathan for the 9th of a 1-0 pitchers' duel against Kevin Millwood of the Texas Rangers. His record fell to 15-13 that season, as his ERA rose by half a run, to 3.33; this was still good for a 129 ERA+ and represented the 7th best figure in the AL, but it was off his usual lofty standards. He struck out 235 batters, four fewer than Scott Kazmir's league-leading figure, thus snapping his streak of three consecutive seasons leading the league in that category. For the third straight year, however, he made the All-Star team, but the Twins fell shy of the postseason. He was to become a free agent after the next season, and the Twins had a difficult choice to make, with a number of young stars reaching the time of their career when they could start to demand much higher paychecks. The team's management decided to invest its limited funds in slightly younger stars, namely C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau and IF/OF Michael Cuddyer. The decision proved to be justified when Mauer won an MVP Award in 2009, Morneau was a four-time All-Star from 2008 to 2010 and Cuddyer was a highly-productive player for the Twins over the next five years, but it meant that Santana's days in Minnesota were over. On February 2, 2008, the Twins traded him to the New York Mets in return for four young players: OF Carlos Gomez and Ps Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey.


Johan Santana close up-5572.jpg

One of the first things Johan Santana did after joining the Mets was sign a seven-year contract extension that made him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history, with a salary reaching $25 million over the pact's last two years. It was clear that the Twins could never had shelled out that sort of money for a single player, but there was still criticism because the four players they had obtained would turn out to be largely busts and would never contribute much in Minnesota. The Mets, however, were certain that Santana represented the last piece of the puzzle for their team. His first season in New York, in 2008, was very much in line with his best years in Minnesota. He went 16-7, with a National League-leading 2.53 ERA. He was durable, making 34 starts and pitching 234 1/3 innings, both figures also leading the circuit. His strikeout total went down again, to 206, but he still topped 200 for the 5th straight year. He was named to the All-Star team for a fourth straight season and finished third in the Cy Young Award vote, behind Tim Lincecum and Brandon Webb while receiveing four first-place votes. It was indeed everything the Mets could have hoped for, and a performance on a par with anything else he had put up before; however, when he struggled with injuries over the next few years, this tended to be forgotten, and Mets fans would often refer to Santana as a complete bust. What contributed to this sense of failure, in retrospect, was that the Mets' season ended badly. They had led the NL East as late as September 19th, but finished the year on a 7-10 run that took them out of the postseason altogether. It was not Johan's fault by any means: he registered 3 of those 7 wins himself and was 9-0 from July 1st on. But nothing could erase the bitter taste of that late collapse.

In 2009, Santana had health issues for the first time since becoming a full-time starter, and was limited to 25 starts. He was very good during those, finishing 13-9, 3.13, but the missed time meant that his usually sparkling numbers were down. He pitched only 166 2/3 innings, did not register a complete game or a shutout and struck out only 146 batters. By rate, he was still outstanding, but the sense began to grow in New York - unfairly - that he was not contributing enough in view of his large salary. The Mets were completely out of the running that season, their first in the new Citi Field, a good start being ruined by a string of injuries to players such as David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran in addition to Santana. Health problems continued in 2010, and he finished at 11-9, his fewest wins since 2003. While he was generally regarded as having had a poor season, his ERA was in fact very good at 2.98, he did pitch 199 innings in spite of missing the equivalent of a month of action, struck out 144 batters and had a 131 ERA+. But he was a victim of the tendancy of a poorly-playing team blaming its best players for its lack of success, so that Wright and him tended to become lightning rods for criticism in spite of actually being productive players if not quite performing at their previous peaks.

The frustration of Mets fans would reach a peak in 2011, when Johan missed the entire season with a shoulder problem. By then, he was considered a complete bust, someone who had forgotten how to pitch as soon as he had reached the Big Apple. This was completely unfair, but the bitterness was real. In 2012, Sanatana was back in good health and in fact showed enough to manager Terry Collins that he named him the team's Opening Day starter. He pitched five scoreless innings that day, but ended up with a no-decision, then lost his next two starts, the second of these when he was knocked out in the 2nd inning on April 17th, having already given up 6 runs to the Atlanta Braves. It was one of the worst starts of his career, and probably the nadir of his time as a Met. But the turn-around would be dramatic. While he only won one of his next 6 starts, he pitched very well in that stretch, giving the Mets 6 or more solid innings every outing. On May 26th, he shut out the San Diego Padres in a masterful performance, needing fewer than 100 pitches. Then on June 1st, he pitched the first no-hitter in the 50-year history of the New York Mets, shutting out the St. Louis Cardinals, 8-0. He needed 134 pitches to complete the game, as well as a tremendous catch by LF Mike Baxter, who ran at full speed into the outfield fence to catch Yadier Molina's line drive in the 7th, and he issued five walks, but he completed the historic game in front of hometown fans, seemingly capping his redemption. Collins explained after the game that he was conflicted about letting Johan throw so many pitches, but that he did not want him to miss his appointment with history. For his part, Santana, who had insisted that he stay in the game, told reporters that his surgically-repaired shoulder would be fine in spite of the huge effort. In spite of his assurances, he was beaten up in his next start, coughing up 4 gopher balls in a 9-1 loss to the Yankees on June 8th. The slump did not last long, as on June 30th, he came within one inning of pitching his third shutout in 5 weeks, allowing 3 hits and no runs in 8 innings in beating the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-0. He suffered another setback on July 21st, however, when the Mets sent him to the disabled list with a sprained right ankle; he had been hit hard in his previous three starts, placing his record at 6-8, 3.98 in 19 starts. He came back on August 11th, but was hit hard in his next two starts, giving him a string of 5 consecutive starts in which he had given up 6 runs of more. At that point, the Mets decided to shut him down for the remainder of the season, citing a strained muscle in his back. He ended the year with a record of 6-9, 4.85 in 21 starts, with 111 strikeouts against 39 walks in 117 innings.

An elusive return[edit]

The Mets were hoping to have Santana back for Opening Day in 2013, especially after trading their ace R.A. Dickey in the off-season, but their optimism soon faded as spring training opened. In early March, GM Sandy Alderson conceded that Johan would likely start the season on the disabled list, news which was confirmed on March 22nd. A few days later, an MRI on his throwing shoulder showed that he had re-torn the capsule, putting him in line for surgery and another missed season. After the season, the Mets declined to pick up Santana's option for 2014, making him a free agent. He was still unsigned when spring training opened; his agent arranged a throwing session in front of potentially interested major league teams on February 25th, but his fastball averaged around 77-78 mph, well below major league numbers. Still, on March 4th, the Baltimore Orioles took a chance on him, signing him to a one-year minor league deal, explaining that they had no expectation of seeing him work in a game before June 1st. His comeback was going well and he was about to join the Orioles when he suffered a freak injury in an extended spring training game in Sarasota, FL on June 6th, as he tore his Achilles tendon while trying to field a ball hit through the mound. The Orioles announced shortly afterwards that he would not be able to pitch again that season.

Santana was not ready to give up his hopes of a comeback just yet, however. On February 26, 2015, he started another go at it by signing a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, although at 36, age was starting to work against him. He had pitched just once since his injury the previous year, retiring all six batters he faced in the Venezuelan League. However, he never actually pitched in a game in the Blue Jays organization before announcing on June 27th that he was giving up his comeback attempt for the time, citing a toe infection, but adding that he still planned on pitching in winter ball. This proved to be the true end of the line for him however, even though he continued to be quoted from time to time saying he had not entirely given up on the idea of a comeback.

He became eligible for induction in the Hall of Fame in the 2018 Hall of Fame Election but received just 10 votes and dropped off the ballot. That year, he was elected to the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 4-time All-Star (2005-2007 & 2009)
  • 2-time AL Cy Young Award Winner (2004 & 2006)
  • AL Gold Glove Winner (2007)
  • 3-time League ERA Leader (2004/AL, 2006/AL & 2008/NL)
  • AL Wins Leader (2006)
  • AL Winning Percentage Leader (2003)
  • 2-time League Innings Pitched Leader (2006/AL & 2008/NL)
  • 3-time AL Strikeouts Leader (2004-2006)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 5 (2004-2008)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 1 (2004)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 5 (2004-2008)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 5 (2004-2008)

AL Cy Young Award
2003 2004 2005
Roy Halladay Johan Santana Bartolo Colon
2005 2006 2007
Bartolo Colon Johan Santana C.C. Sabathia

Further Reading[edit]

  • Rhett Bollinger: "Santana falls off HOF ballot in first year: Former Twins ace receives 2.4 percent of votes; Thome elected",, January 24, 2018. [1]
  • Anthony DiComo: "10 years later, the oral history of Johan Santana's no-hitter",, May 31, 2022. [2]
  • Do-Hyoung Park: "Johan changed Twins history as Rule 5 pick",, December 13, 2021. [3]
  • Do-Hyoung Park: "Johan on future HOF chance: 'It'd be great': Left-hander could follow paths of former Twins Oliva, Kaat to Cooperstown", December 23, 2021. [4]
  • Joe Posnanski: "In short, Santana makes for a curious Hall case: Lefty was game's dominant pitcher for six-season stretch",, January 19, 2018. [5]
  • Jesse Yomtov: "Hall of Fame countdown: Johan Santana was Koufax-esque - just not for long enough", USA Today Sports, December 3, 2018. [6]

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