One of my favorite memories from childhood was hearing broadcaster Jack Buck say “the Twins are gonna win the World Series!” as Gene Larkin knocked a fly ball into the Metrodome sky in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game Seven of the 1991 Fall Classic.
The Twins had gone from being the worst team in the American League in 1990 to the world champions just one year later.
This season, the sports community speculated that the franchise might just do it again, since the Twins were atop the division going into the All-Star break.
But then a slump set in, and the Twinkies finished 85-77, six games behind the AL Central champion Cleveland Indians.
That was okay, though, because the team from the Land of 10,000 Lakes was on an upswing, ready to bust loose in 2002.
Who knows? They might even have been able to go all the way next year, claiming their third title in 15 seasons.
Note: only the Yankees have more World Series rings than the Twins in the past 15 years.
But thanks to a selfish owner named Carl Pohlad and a scheming commissioner named Bud Selig, who is about to face yet another work stoppage, my team may never get another chance to go from worst to first.
Baseball owners voted in Chicago Tuesday to contract the league from 30 to 28 teams. Although they did not announce which teams would get the ax, the Expos and the Twins were the two rumored to be on the block.
Selig claims the reasons for contraction are simple enough: eliminate the teams that aren’t making enough revenue and improve the quality of play by moving the good players on those teams elsewhere and sending the bad players back to the minors.
The targets for contraction were simple enough as well: eliminate the teams that don’t draw the big crowds. If fans in those cities don’t come to see their teams play, they probably won’t mind not having a baseball team at all.
Many sportswriters don’t think contraction would solve the revenue problem, though. Instead, they argue that Selig is only pushing for contraction in order to give himself a bargaining chip in the upcoming labor lockout.
Eliminating two clubs would force the union to accommodate at least 50 new people who would be out of work. Now that the bargaining agreement between the players and the owners has expired, Selig has the power to eliminate those 50 jobs without consulting the union.
The union, of course, does not want to see 50 of its members out of luck, so it might be willing to concede specific owner demands that it otherwise would not.
Ooh, and one more thing.
If the Twins are eliminated, the only other organization that Minnesota baseball fans could consider a pseudo-hometown team would be the Milwaukee Brewers, Selig’s former squad.
“The Brewers could benefit by a doubling of the number of households that can watch games on cable TV; by getting a high pick in any dispersal draft triggered by the elimination of teams and, over time, by pocketing more revenue-sharing dollars in the absence of the Twins, Montreal Expos or other franchises,” the Associated Press reported.
Oh, how the chips fall into place when you’re in charge, huh Buddy?
If you look at attendance numbers, the Expos are a logical choice for contraction.
They drew the fewest fans in baseball this season, averaging 7,935 people per game. And the television revenue from their games wouldn’t even support Country Ray.
I doubt anybody would miss the Expos.
The Twins, however, saw attendance rise 70 percent this year, averaging 22,286 per contest.
When debating which team to contract, owners should consider how important the respective teams are to the history of baseball and how competitive they are.
As far as the first characteristic is concerned, the Twinks are rich with history.
The Twins were the only professional team to bring a championship title to Minnesota — other than the Minneapolis Lakers way back in the day — winning the 1987 and 1991 World Series in seven games over the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves, respectively.
The Twins were the first American League team to draw over three million fans in a single season, snagging 3,030,672 people in 1988.
The Twins retired the numbers of Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett (they also retired Kent Hrbek, who may make the cut in coming years).
Two of the 25 players in the 3,000-hit club joined while in a Twins uniform (Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor).
The Twins won what is arguably the best World Series ever (yes, the 1991 Series was better than this year’s, though not by much).
And the Twins have been a part of baseball for 41 years.
Now, as far as the second characteristic is concerned, Tom Kelly spent 1993 to 2000 rebuilding a team with rookie after rookie, emphasizing fundamentals and defense.
He developed a franchise that boasted one of the strongest starting pitching rotations in all of baseball: Eric Milton, Brad Radke and Joe Mays went 47-31 this season. Mays was also the eighth-best pitcher in baseball, winning 17 games and sporting a 3.16 ERA.
The Twinks’ defense wasn’t bad either. Baseball announced yesterday that Doug Mientkiewicz and Torii Hunter each won Gold Gloves for the season.
On the offensive side, Mientkiewicz was batting over .400 into July and finished the season with the 15th best batting average in the AL.
Cristian Guzman led the major leagues in triples this year with 14, and had the 19th best batting average in the AL.
In short, this team worked for seven years toward being a contender, and now they are.
Now let’s look at other potential contraction victim in the AL.
The Devil Rays are not rich with history. They’re only four years old.
They have not worked toward being a contender. They’re still trying to figure out why they’re not in AAA.
There is no reason why the D-Rays cannot be contracted.
But, Selig doesn’t want to do that.
He’s got a much better idea.
Espn.com reported that, under the Twin-Expo plan, Carl Pohlad and Walt Disney Co. would accept substantial payments to relinquish ownership of the Twins and Angels, respectively. Expos owner Jeffrey Loria would assume ownership of the Florida Marlins. Marlins owner John Henry would then assume ownership of the Anaheim Angels.
Now, you could argue that the Devil Rays could still be eliminated from the picture because the Marlins would still satisfy the Florida market.
But there has also been talk of the Marlins leaving Florida for Washington, D.C., where Virginia legislators have proposed building a professional baseball stadium.
This would leave only one team in Florida, the infant Devil Rays.
But Virginians already have a baseball team 45 minutes outside the D.C. area: the Orioles. Why would D.C. deserve two teams when Minnesota wouldn’t have any?
Simple. They wouldn’t.
Selig just has an easy out by dissolving the Twins, because the 86-year-old Pohlad is willing to sell for the oh-so-low price of $250 million.
(Incidentally, Forbes magazine valued the club at $99 million earlier this year.)
Pohlad is about as selfish as owners come (yes, worse than Steinbrenner), and is looking to sell the team to the highest bidder.
“I’ve sat around for the last 10 years pouring money into the operation for the purpose of keeping baseball in Minnesota, and we’re in a time of recession,” Pohlad told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I have an obligation to my family, and I am going to do what is right for my family.”
The problem with this self-serving nonsense is that Pohlad is already rich. Yeah, he married into banks.
Nobody buys a baseball team for the money. Pohlad already had to be rich when he bought the team for $34 million in 1984. It’s not like he’s gone poor and now has to stick his billions into a hedge fund and wait for his wealth to grow into trillions so he can feed his grandkids.
So, you could say that today may be the first time in my life that the sporting world made me sad to be from Minnesota.
Although hockey was never really my favorite sport, I was rather disappointed when the North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993, after spending 27 seasons in Minnesota and going to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1991.
I stopped watching hockey after that, even if I was a sporadic fan at the time.
Although the Vikings gave me a thrill in 1998 when they went 15-1, I was devastated when Gary Anderson missed his only field goal of the season — a 38-yarder that would have given the Purple People Eaters an insurmountable 10-point lead over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game.
I couldn’t watch ESPN for two solid weeks, until the Super Bowl was over.
Although the Timberwolves are flying high with superstar Kevin Garnett, they still have not been able to break through the first round of the NBA playoffs, and do not show much promise for the future. They are also the first professional Minnesota team to disgrace the state with rules violations and are currently on probation.
As bad as things got, though, the Twins always used to bring a smile to my face, even when they were painful to watch. They proved they could win, they had 41 years worth of history, and they were the pride of 34 Kirby Puckett Place.
If they die in the coming days, that’s it for baseball in Minnesota. MLB isn’t going to expand again, so my only hope would be for someone to move to Minnesota.
I guess all I have left to do is pack it up and become a Cubs fan.