In just a few weeks, the Twins will be celebrating perhaps the greatest baseball season in the Upper Midwest when the 20th anniversary of the 1987 World Champion Twins will be held. It should be a great event with everyone except the late Kirby Puckett and Joe Niekro expected to be there.
During the weekend, we’ll all have flashbacks to certain plays, games or series that made the year so memorable. Does it seem like 20 years ago to you that Puckett had the memorable weekend in Milwaukee? Could it be that long ago that the post-ALCS rally turned into the largest pep rally ever held? Or that it was 20 years ago Herb Carneal so dramatically, yet simply said, "Gaetti has it…over to Hrbek and the Twins are baseball’s World Champions!"
Unfortunately, 2007 also marks the 40th anniversary of the most heartbreaking season in Twins history. The Twins were in the driver’s seat heading into the final weekend of the year. They simply needed to win one of two games in Boston to go to the World Series for the second time in three years. Of course, they lost both games and Boston went on to the World Series only to lose it in seven games to Bob Gibson and the Cardinals.
I experienced the heartbreak from a unique perspective. As a childhood Twins fan, I was uprooted and moved to central Missouri after the 1965 season. My new baseball friends in Missouri reminded me regularly that the Cardinals had won the World Series as recently as 1964. Through the 1966 season, I endured constant reminders that the Twins hadn’t won a World Series ever. But in 1967, things were going to change. The Cardinals had a great team(and a great broadcasting team….Harry Caray and Jack Buck…more on that another time). It was apparent by late September that the Cardinals were the best team in the National League. It was also clear that the Twins…my Twins!…were in decent position to represent the American League. What better way to shut up the Cardinal fans than for the Twins to sweep the Cardinals in the World Series? The Twins had a homerun champion in Harmon Killebrew…a rookie of the year in Rod Carew and a two-time batting champion in Tony Oliva. I was sure the Twins were not only going to get to the World Series but blitz the Cardinals once they got there. But, alas, it didn’t happen. Lonborg and Yazstrzemski crushed my dreams and made life miserable for me in Missouri. I won’t even tell you how bad it got for me as a Minnesota sports fan when the Chiefs crushed the Vikings in the Super Bowl a couple of years later.
But, fast forward 20 years later and, lo and behold, the Twins got back into the World Series against….the St. Louis Cardinals! My memories of that season and Series will come later, but rest assured that when I shake hands with the members of that ’87 team in a few weeks, I’ll shake those hands a little more vigorously than some. I might get a little more emotional than some. After all, those players and that team allowed me to realize what I hoped would have happened 20 years earlier!
The All-Star game is fast approaching and at least three Twins are going to be there…Johan Santana, Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter. Pat Neshek also has a chance on the last ballot.
I know that I’m in the minority, but the All Star game is still a big deal for me. When I was growing up, the games were played in the middle of the day. Regardless of what else was happening in my little world, it stopped or was put aside for awhile as I intently watched Mays, Killebrew, Koufax etc…compete for the claim of baseball’s best league.
Back in those days, the National League won almost every year to the point where it became a ritual. Back then, they did have superior talent and it showed. Ask Joe Torre what his biggest thrill as a player was and he’ll tell you it was catching the entire 1965 All Star game at Metropolitan Stadium and catching Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal in the same game. Four Hall of Famers pitched against the American League in the same game! No wonder the National League won.
The National League dominance extended into the early 80’s. In 1982, in Montreal to cover Kent Hrbek’s All Star appearance for a local station, I heard first hand why the National League held the edge for all those years. At the press conference the day before the game, the American League captain, Carlton Fisk was asked about the superiority of the National League. He said that there was no imbalance of talent and that the American League approached the game as an exhibition and downplayed the significance of the outcome. The National League captain that year was Pete Rose. When it was his turn at the microphone, he didn’t even have to be asked a question before stating that the National League WAS better and that they intended to prove it the next night and that "losing ******!" Of course, Pete epitomized the intensity the National League brought to the All Star game. In fact, I ran into Ray Fosse at our hotel the other night…sorry bad pun. After chatting for awhile and going off on our separate ways, I couldn’t help identifying Fosse to my family as the guy Pete Rose flattened in the All Star game a long time ago.
Now, both leagues treat the game as an exhibition. Lately, the American League has won most the of the games. While I won’t be going to San Francisco( I have gone to six All Star games as a fan), I will be there intently watching. I’ll be hoping Johan pitches a couple of shutout innings…that Justin clubs a homerun and that Torii robs Barry again!!!!