Frank John Viola, Jr. (born April 19, 1960 in East Meadow, New York) is a former starting pitcher in Major League Baseball who played for the Minnesota Twins (1982–89), New York Mets (1989–91), Boston Red Sox (1992–94), Cincinnati Reds (1995) andToronto Blue Jays (1996). A three-time All-Star, he was named World Series MVP with the Twins in 1987 and won the AL Cy Young Award in 1988. Long-time Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said of Viola, “…He’s an artist; I love watching him work…” His overall career stats are impressive, with a 3.73 ERA, 176-150 record, 74 complete games, and 16 shutouts in 421 games.
He batted and threw left-handed, and was nicknamed “Sweet Music” – a nickname he picked up after a Minnesota sports writer declared that when Viola pitched, there was “Sweet Music’ in the Dome. The nickname was a play on the fact that his last name is also a name of a musical instrument. A fan began displaying a banner bearing the phrase in the outfield’s upper deck whenever Viola pitched. Twins fans considered the banner to be a good luck charm. The banner is now property of the Minnesota Historical Society. It was again displayed when Viola was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame. Frank was honored as a member of the Twins’ “All Dome” team in 2009.
Frank Viola grew up in East Meadow, New York, with his brother John and sister Nancy, and went on to attended and play baseball for East Meadow High School before playing collegiately for St. John’s University. Viola was drafted following his freshman year in the 16th round of the 1979 Major League Baseball Draft by the Kansas City Royals, but he did not sign.
Viola signed with the Minnesota Twins after the team drafted him in the 2nd round of the 1981 Major League Baseball Draft. After spending less than a full season in the minor leagues, Viola made his major league debut on June 6, 1982. Although his statistics were fairly disappointing, finishing 11-25 with a 5.37 ERA in the 1982 and 1983 seasons, Viola became a permanent fixture of the Twins’ starting staff for the next 7 seasons, picking up 112 of his 176 career wins.
Viola helped pitch the Twins to their second World Series appearance and first World Series win in 1987, finishing the season 17-10, with a 2.90 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 251 2/3 innings. Viola would then sparkle in the post-season, going a combined 3-1 with 25 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings despite a 4.31 ERA. Following the Twins’ Game 7 series clinching win, a game which Viola won 4-2, he was named the 1987 World Series Most Valuable Player).
Most baseball enthusiasts agree that Viola’s best year was 1988, his last full year with the Twins. That year, he threw his signature circle change with skill, compiling an impressive 24-7 record, with 7 complete games and 2 shutouts in 255 innings pitched with a career-low ERA of 2.64. He also gave up only 20 home runs, and 54 walks. Viola led the league in wins and would go on to win the AL Cy Young Award in a landslide, finshing with 27 of the 28 first place votes and beating out 2nd place Dennis Eckersley by 86 total votes.
New York Mets
At the trade deadline in July 1989, two years after Viola had led the Twins to a World Series title, the Twins traded him to the New York Mets for four pitchers and a player to be named later. Viola was not having a strong year and was 8-12 when he was traded, but managed a 5-5 record with the Mets and finished the year at 13-17. Meanwhile, two of the pitchers the Twins acquired in the deal went on to become key members of the team, as Kevin Tapani was one of the front line starters for the Twins in their 1991 World Series run while Rick Aguileraeventually became the team’s closer and one of the better relievers in the major leagues.
Viola had a much better year in 1990, winning 20 games for the second time in his career. He would finish third in the Cy Young Award voting behind Pittsburgh’s Doug Drabek and Los Angeles’ Ramón Martínez, and was named to the National League’s All-Star Team.
In 1991, Viola made the All-Star Game for a third time after posting an 11-5 record in the first half of the season. However, as the Mets collapsed in the second half of the year to finish with a 78-84 record, Viola collapsed with them and went 2-10 in his final 12 decisions. His last win came in his second to last start with the Mets, on September 29 at Shea Stadium against the Philadelphia Phillies. He became a free agent after the 1991 season when the Mets opted not to resign Viola.
He signed with the Red Sox in January 1992. In a spring training game on April 2, 1993, Viola and Cory Bailey combined on a no-hitter as the Red Sox defeated the Phillies 10-0 at Jack Russell Memorial Stadium in Clearwater, Florida. He was injured while with the Red Sox and underwent Tommy John surgery. He finished his career with the Reds and Blue Jays, ending his career on May 28, 1996. He finished his career with 1844 strikeouts.
Viola’s two and a half seasons with the Mets in the National League gave him 179 at bats, enough to accumulate only 25 hits. He would get 6 more at bats in 1995 with the Reds and got 1 hit. Overall 26 for 185 was a .141 batting average. With 3 walks in his career, his on base percentage was .154. However, in his last season with the Mets he became more productive picking up 10 sacrifice hits and 2 doubles. He would end his career with 6 RBI.
He only got one chance in the postseason and he certainly made the most of it. It was with the Twins in 1987. After getting past the Detroit Tigers in the 1987 American League Championship Series, Viola and the Twins had to face favorites, the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Viola pitched Game 1, when the Twins blew the Cardinals away 10-1.
Game 4 was his second start, and the Twins went on to lose 7-2. After the Twins tied the series in Game 6 with an 11-5 win thanks to a Kent Hrbek grand slam, it was up to Viola in Game 7. He pitched a gem, shutting the Cardinals out after giving up 2 runs in the 2nd inning. Jeff Reardon pitched the ninth inning and the Twins won 4-2 and won the World Series 4-3. Viola was named World Series MVP.
In retirement, Viola for a time coached baseball for Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida. He also coached with the Florida College Summer League’s Leesburg Lightning. In 2009, Frank assisted the Cleveland Indians as a coach in spring training. Frank was also a part-time, substitute game broadcast announcer for NESN, network of the Boston Red Sox. On January 26, 2011, Viola was hired as pitching coach of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ Single-A (Short Season) team.
Daughter Brittany Viola was a diver at the University of Miami and narrowly missed making the 2004 United States Olympic diving team. Son Frank Viola III pitched in the Chicago White Sox minor league system, but now stars in his own fishing television show titled “Reel Fishing”. He is also the founder of TheFishingTube.com a community based website for fishing. During baseball season, he serves as analyst for Bright House Sports Network on their studio show and for their Florida State League broadcasts. Daughter Kaley Viola currently plays volleyball at Winthrop University.
- Won the 1987 Babe Ruth Award
- World Series MVP in 1987
- Won the 1988 AL Cy Young Award
- Finished in the Top 10 in the league for innings pitched 7 times in his career
- Finished 3rd in the league shutouts in 1984 with 4
- All-Star in 1988, 1990, and 1991.
- Ranks tied for #93 in games started on the all-time leaderboard All-time GS leaders at BaseballReference.com
- Noted for his changeup.
- Gave up Rod Carew‘s 3000th career hit on August 4, 1985.
- Named pitching coach for the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones (NY Mets) on January 31, 2011.
- List of Major League Baseball leaders in career wins
- List of Major League Baseball wins champions
- Top 100 strikeout pitchers of all time
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube