Scott over at I’m Not a Headline Guy wrote a lovely entry explaining his devotion to the New York Yankees. And it got me to thinking about my beloved Twinkies, and, well, why they’re my beloved Twinkies. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the 1987 World Series, which I am just barely old enough to remember. Nobody expected the ’87 Twins to win it all, and with good reason I might add. They finished with a mediocre 85-77 record, which was good enough to win the weak AL West division, but was the worst winning percentage of any playoff-bound team in history (a record that would stand until the 83-78 Cardinals won it all in 2006). The 98-64 Detroit Tigers were heavily favored to win the AL pennant, with most analysts predicting a sweep of the supposedly hapless Twins. Instead it was the Twins who nearly pulled off a sweep of their own, beating the Tigers four games to one to clinch the ALCS and advance to the World Series for the first time since 1965. Once again, the Twinkies were up against a heavily-favored opponent in the St. Louis Cardinals, who were about to make their third World Series appearance in six years. And once again the Twins would pull off a stunning upset, beating the Cards in seven games and clinching their first World Series title since moving to Minnesota in 1961 (and second in team history). Frank Viola, Kirby Puckett, Dan Gladden, Gary Gaetti, all those guys on that team would become great heroes in Minnesota sports history.
And then there was the ’91 World Series, the greatest World Series of all-time. This Series had everything: dramatic walk-off home runs, fantastic pitching performances from youngsters Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and veteran Jack Morris, wrestling (Braves fans still haven’t quite gotten over that one), a new MLB record for extra-innings WS games, and two teams that had finished in last place in their respective divisions the previous season. This time around the Twins weren’t exactly considered underdogs, having finished the regular season with a 95-67 record. They steamrolled over the Blue Jays in the ALCS, winning four games to one on the way to their second World Series title in four years.
The Braves would prove to be a much more challenging opponent, however, and the Twins would have to grind out five one-run games and three extra-innings games before clinching the title. The most dramatic game of the series, however, had to be game six. The Twins were facing elimination, having dropped three straight games to Atlanta, including a 14-5 blowout in game five. The Twins took a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning, when Atlanta 2B Mark Lemke scored on a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded to tie the game. The score remained even until the bottom of the eleventh, when Kirby Puckett untied the game with a solo shot off of Charlie Leibrandt to left-center field. That shot, and Jack Buck’s now-famous call, has to be the single greatest moment of my entire childhood. The Twins would go on to win game seven in ten innings, with a walk-off bloop single by Gene Larkin. Jack Morris pitched a ten-inning masterpiece (yes, you read that right, ten innings) in that game, which to this day is one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen. Good times.
There’s been a lot of other good stuff since then, too. The 2002 team was amazingly talented, and looked like they were going to bring us another championship. Alas, it was not to be. The Angels made sure of that. The 2006 team made an incredible late-season run to win the division. Unfortunately that was as far as the Twinkies would go, as they would then get swept by Oakland in the ALDS. They really got under Ozzie Guillen’s skin that year, too. That’s always fun.
And of course, there’s this guy:
Come on, admit it. You know you love him. Even if you aren’t a Twins fan.
- I love the Wild, too, even though I complain about them a lot
Hockey in Minnesota is like hockey in Canada. Or football in Texas. It’s just what you do. It’s what we’re good at. If your hockey team has any Americans on it, chances are pretty good that they’re from Minnesota. Or that they once played for the Golden Gophers. I started off as a North Stars fan when I was a little kid. They weren’t very good for the most part, though they did make a run for the Cup in 1991. But then a very bad man decided to move the team to Dallas after the 1992 season. I was heartbroken. I cried like a little girl (of course, I was a little girl, but that’s beside the point). And I was also torn. I wanted to cheer for my Stars, even though they weren’t really my Stars anymore, because they took Mike Modano with them. And I loved him. But, like any other bitter divorce, the animosity I felt for my ex-team was too great and I just couldn’t get over it. I couldn’t bring myself to cheer for any other NHL team either. It just didn’t seem right. I was a die-hard hockey fan without a team.
So I decided to fill the hockey void in my life with my hometown Gophers. I mean, they’ve done some good things:
It just wasn’t the same as having a professional hockey team, though. So when the NHL granted Minnesota an expansion franchise to open for the 2000-2001 season, I was absolutely thrilled. Though I wasn’t crazy about the team name (what the heck’s a wild?), or the logo (or the home unis, blech), I was excited to have an NHL franchise back in Minnesota. And though the team itself hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, it’s been better than most of the old North Stars teams. And we have new heroes now:
- I root for the Vikings, and to a lesser extent, the Wolves, too
Why? Because somebody has to, that’s why. Oh there was a time when the Vikings were good. The Vikings of the late ’60s and early ’70s were some of the best football teams to never win a championship, but that was before my time. I remember the 1998 Vikes, though I’ve spent the past ten years trying to forget the NFC Championship game. And the current team is actually pretty good, it’s just missing a few key pieces. Like a starting QB. And special teams that can, um, not give up so many touchdowns (I mean really, when your punter is trying to make a tackle you know you’re in trouble). And some decent play-calling (which, by the way, helps out the starting QB a lot).
I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I do have a soft spot for the Timberwolves. I kind of feel sorry for them because they suck so bad. It’s not their fault, they’ve been mismanaged for years. And before Al Jefferson went down they had a pretty good shot at being a mediocre team this year. At least they aren’t the worst team in the league, so there’s that.
In the grand tradition started by Jimmy over at Baseball, the Yankees, and Life, I will dedicate my ranking on the leaderboard to the most notable Twin to wear the number 8: third baseman Gary Gaetti. The G-Man played a crucial role in helping the Twins during their incredible playoff run in 1987, and was an important part of the organization for nearly eight seasons. He was an ALCS MVP, a two-time All-Star (1988 & ’89), and won four consecutive Gold Glove awards for his work at the hot corner. The Twins inducted him into the franchise Hall of Fame during a pregame ceremony on August 19, 2007, nearly twenty years after he helped the team clinch its first World Series title since moving to Minnesota in 1961.
Gaetti was always one of the most productive hitters in the Twins’ lineup. He hit .255/.308/.434 with 360 home runs in his career, though is best seasons came with the Twins. The G-Man lead the league in home runs three times (’86,’88, and ’95) RBI twice (’87 & ’88) and slugging percentage twice (’86 & ’88). It is his postseason heroics, however, that have made Gaetti a fan favorite. He was, after all, named the MVP of the 1987 ALCS for a very good reason. The ’87 team was absolutely stocked with talent both in the field and on the mound, but it was Gaetti’s two home runs in his first postseason at-bats during the ALCS against the Tigers that proved so valuable in clinching the series. At the time, Gaetti was the first player to ever hit back-to-back home runs in his first career at-bats during the playoffs (a record that would stand until last season, more on that later). The heavily-favored Tigers would lose the series four games to one, and wouldn’t make another postseson appearance until 2006.
There are a couple of major-league records the G-Man set while wearing a Twins uniform. Besides the aforementioned post-season home run record, he was also the first player in MLB history to record an assist on two triple plays in the same game. It was on July 17, 1990 against the Boston Red Sox. The Twins would of course lose this game 1-0.
As Over the Baggy helpfully pointed out, I forgot to mention that Gaetti was called upon to pitch a couple of innings in relief for both the Cards and the Cubs. He posted a 7.71 ERA in 2.1 innings, so he was obviously much better at the hot corner than he was on the mound.
Gaetti left the Twins via free agency after the 1990 season, and his career kind of went downhill from there. He had a couple of mediocre seasons with the Angels before being released in 1992. The Royals took a chance on him after their regular 3B, Keith Miller, went down with an injury. Gaetti managed to turn his career around in Kansas City, and enjoyed one of his most productive seasons in 1995: batting .261/.329/.518 and hit 35 home runs, barely missing the franchise single-season record set by Steve Balboni in 1985. The G-Man signed with the Cardinals following the ’95 season, and he rewarded them with two very productive seasons, but he was never again able to match the offensive production he enjoyed with the Twins. St. Louis released him in favor of rookie phenom Fernando Tatis in 1998, and he then played a couple more forgettable seasons with the Cubs and the Red Sox before retiring after the 2000 season.
Interestingly enough, Gaetti is now the hitting coach for the Durham Bulls, Tampa Bay’s AAA affiliate. He coached a young Evan Longoria, the same player who would go on to break his post-season home run record during the 2008 playoffs.
- Bad news for our other number 8
Nick Punto is having an X-ray on his elbow after being hit with a pitch in the WBC game against Venezuela. Apparently it’s swollen and extremely painful, so it is probably broken. Although I am hardly Punto’s biggest fan, I certainly don’t wish bad things on the little guy. He might not be the greatest shortstop in baseball history, but he’s certainly not a liability in the field. He can make some very tough plays (although he sometimes struggles with the routine ones, especially in close games), and he can be a pretty good hitter (see his 2006 & 2008 stats). Considering that Brendan Harris is his backup, I really hope Punto will be back in the lineup by Opening Day.
I wasn’t too thrilled when the Twins re-signed Punto to a two-year $8 million deal during the offseason, but I wasn’t all that surprised, either. I have to say, though, that the ’06 & ’08 versions of Little Nicky will be well-worth the investment, although the Twins probably could’ve gotten either Orlando Hudson or Orlando Cabrera for less money. Either one would’ve provided a much-needed upgrade in the infield defense, and both are much more productive at the plate, as well. However, Hudson and Cabrera are also both Type A free agents, so the Twins would have had to surrender a first-round draft pick if they signed either one. I realize that this is too high of a price to pay for an organization that relies as heavily on its farm system as the Twins, so in this case they probably did the right thing in sticking with Little Nicky.
Besides, if signing Punto keeps the likes of David Eckstein off my team, then I am all for it.