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|Born: February 18, 1964|
Des Moines, Iowa
|July 4, 1989, for the New York Mets|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 27, 2001, for the Chicago Cubs|
|Earned run average||4.35|
|Career highlights and awards|
Kevin Ray Tapani (born February 18, 1964 in Des Moines, Iowa) is a former Major League Baseball pitcher who played for the New York Mets, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Chicago Cubs from 1989 to 2001.
Tapani was raised in Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He quarterbacked Escanaba High School to the 1981 MHSAA Class A State Football Championship. He then went on to attend Central Michigan University where he was a star pitcher for the Chippewas from 1983 to 1986, finishing with a career record of 23-8, helping the Chippewas to three Mid-American Conference titles, and tossing a no-hitter against Eastern Michigan University in 1986.
Tapani was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 9th round of the 1985 MLB June Amateur Draft, but he did not sign. He was then selected on June 2, 1986 in the second round of the 1986 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Oakland Athletics. He signed five days later and was assigned to Medford A's of the low Single-A Northwest League. However, he didn't stay at Medford long as after stops in Modesto and Huntsville, he made his final start of his first season in professional baseball pitching for the Triple-A Tacoma Tigers and finished the year a combined 8-2 with a 2.84 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 85 2/3 Innings. 1987 found Tapani back at Single-A Modesto, despite dominating at the level the previous year, and turned in another good season with a 10-7 record, a 3.76 ERA, and 121 strikouts in 148 1/3 innings. On December 11, a three-team trade was completed that saw Tapani and fellow A's minor league pitcher Wally Whitehurst move to the New York Mets, starter Bob Welch and reliever Matt Young move from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the A's, minor league pitcher Jack Savage go from the Dodgers to the New York Mets, shortstop Alfredo Griffin and closer Jay Howell move from the A's to the Dodgers, and reliever Jesse Orosco go from the Mets to the Dodgers.
Following the trade, Tapani was again sent to single-A to start the 1988 season, but after 3 starts with the St. Lucie Mets in which he only allowed 3 earned runs in 19 innings, he was promoted to the Double-A Jackson Mets where he went 5-1 but only started 5 of the 24 games he saw action in. As fellow future-Twin Rick Aguilera would see in his own climb to the major leagues, with no openings in the 1988 Mets starting rotation of Dwight Gooden, Bob Ojeda, Sid Fernandez, Ron Darling, and young phenom David Cone, even promising starters were groomed in minor league bullpens since this was the only way to crack the big league pitching staff. 1989 saw Tapani start 7-5 with a 3.47 ERA for the Triple-A Tidewater Tides before being called up to the Mets in July.
Tapani made his Major League debut on July 4, 1989. He entered the game in the 1st inning after starter Ojeda had given up eight runs to the Houston Astros while only getting two outs. Thrown into the fire, Tapani completed 4 1/3 innings while giving up 2 hits, 3 walks, and only allowing one more run. Over the next four weeks, he would only get into two more games, pitching a total of 7 2/3 innings in relief. On July 31, just prior to the end of the non-waiver trade deadline, Tapani was included in the blockbuster trade that sent 1988 A.L. Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola, who was vocal in his desire to get a big salary increase in free agency, from the Minnesota Twins to the Mets in exchange for major league swingman Rick Aguilera, minor league relievers Tim Drummond and Jack Savage, and phenom starter David West. Tapani was then thrown into the Twins starting rotation and finished the 1989 season 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 32 2/3 innings.
After his promising debut, Tapani was made a fixture of the rotation in 1990 and finished the season 12-8 with 4.07 ERA - good enough for 5th place in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting (a distant 131 votes behind the winner, Cleveland Indians' catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. He would follow up his rookie season with perhaps his best overall season in 1991, finishing 16-9 with only 40 walks and 135 strikeouts in 244 innings with 2.99 ERA - his lowest and only sub-3.00 ERA of his career. He then garnered enough Cy Young votes to finish a distant seventh behind winner Roger Clemens and teammates Scott Erickson and Jack Morris who finished second and fourth respectively. Over his 7 seasons with the Twins, Tapani was a workhorse starter the Twins who averaged more than 13 wins and over 200 innings in his five full seasons. After suffering through three poor seasons (the beginning of what would be eight consecutive losing seasons) and looking at losing the soon to be free agent Tapani after the 1995 season, the Twins traded him on July 31 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Ron Coomer, Chris Latham, José Parra, and Greg Hansell. Unfortunately this was a largely forgettable trade on the Twins' part as only Coomer would be only useful player to come over from the Dodgers.
After finishing 4-2 down the stretch for the Dodgers, Tapani pitched in Game 3 against the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Divisional series and gave up 3 runs and 4 walks in only 1/3 of an inning in relief of starter Hideo Nomo in a 10-1 loss that capped off the Reds' 3-0 sweep. After being granted Free Agency in December 1995, Tapani signed a one-year contract with the Chicago White Sox on February 3, 1996 and turned in another typical "Tapani" season for the Sox - finishing 13-10 with a 4.59 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 225 1/3 innings.
After again being granted free agency following the 1996 season, Tapani moved across town and signed a five-year contract with the Cubs on December 13. On July 20, 1998 while playing for the Cubs, Tapani had perhaps the most memorable day of his career. Throwing 8 innings against the Braves, he allowed just three runs and topped it off by hitting a third inning grand slam off former Twins teammate Denny Neagle in an 11-4 romp over the Atlanta Braves.
In his career, Tapani pitched adeptly in both the American League and National League, and played his last game on September 27, 2001. His career record: 143 wins, 125 losses, and an ERA of 4.35. In 1998 with the Chicago Cubs, Tapani earned his best record of 19-9, though his ERA was 4.85. In 1991, with the Twins, Tapani had his lowest ERA of 2.99 to go with a 16-9 record and 7th place in the 1991 Cy Young Award voting.
After retirement, Tapani returned to his home in Minnetonka, Minnesota to live with his wife and three children, Sarah (b 1991), Ryan (b 1994), and Luke (b 1996). In 1999, Tapani was elected as a member of the Central Michigan Athletics Hall of Fame. He has been involved with little league and youth baseball since his retirement including coaching both of his sons' teams.