GameDay, August 2007
'87 Twins: Sweet Music
Before we start peopling the story of the 1987 Minnesota Twins, let's give
thanks for the collusion that occurred among baseball owners during the 1986
Saint Paul's Jack Morris basically begged the Twins to sign him that
winter, but Morris, arguably the league's best pitcher, wound up back in
Detroit. An arbitrator ruled a year later that baseball owners had colluded to
prevent movement among that free agent class, which meant the Twins never had
any chance of signing Morris.
That signing would have expanded the Twins' pitching staff from a pair of
sterling starting pitchers - Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola - to
three, and perhaps would have led to a Twins' win total comparable to the 95
games won by their World Series opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals.
That would have wrung a lot of fun from the Twins' first championship.
Putting Morris in the rotation would have erased people's underdog view of
the team, a tattered, street urchin image that helped make the 1987 World
Champions special. You see, back in 1987 there was little expectation of
post-season baseball in Minnesota.
And Minnesota was a harbor for losers.
The Bridesmaid State
Minnesota didn't lose in just sports. Ronald Reagan had buried Minnesota's
Walter Mondale in the '84 presidential race, the second failed bid for a
man with Minnesota ties in the previous five presidential elections: former
Minneapolis mayor Hubert Humphrey came up short in '68. That was a year
before the Minnesota Vikings embarked on the first of four Super Bowl losses,
making the state a national punch line.
To sprinkle in a couple more examples of Minnesota sports frustration, after
the Minnesota North Stars lost the 1981 Stanley Cup finals the state's hockey
fans eventually lost their team, to Texas, no less.
Then there were the Twins, who lost their one World Series in 1965 - after
winning the first two games. The franchise was humiliated in the 1969 and 1970
playoffs, after which they rarely won more than they lost.
The 1987 Twins barely won more than they lost, yet they so emphatically
buried Minnesota's runner-up misery that the entire winter seemed like a warm
Every little scratch in the finish made the ride more enjoyable.
- No team had ever won as few as 71 games the season before going to the
- No team with only 85 wins had gone to the World Series.
- No team had won a World Series after being outscored during the regular
The '87 Twins qualified on all counts. They also had the highest earned run
average (4.67) of any first-place team in baseball history, they won just seven
times on the road after the All-Star break, and they did not have consecutive
winning months that season. Nothing new there: the franchise had not enjoyed
consecutive winning months during the 1980s.
Naturally, there was griping about such a team representing the American
League in the post-season, but Twins' first baseman Kent Hrbek addressed
that with his customary simplicity. "The deal at the beginning of the year
was if you win your division you go to the playoffs. We won. If people don't
like it, too bad."
Dousing 'Gasoline Alley'
Hrbek was part of the homegrown Class of '82, along with Viola, catcher
Tim Laudner, eventual team leader and third baseman Gary Gaetti,
and outfielder Randy Bush. Outfielder Tom Brunansky already was
part of the '82 team after a trade. Shortstop Greg Gagne and outfielder
Kirby Puckett soon followed, and in less than two years the '82 nucleus
that had lost 102 games was in first place. It was September 23, 1984, and
pennant fever gripped Minnesota.
Then the team went into Cleveland and the bullpen kicked away a 3-0 lead in
the 8th inning. The next night, the pitching staff blew a 10-0 lead. The Twins
lost six of their final seven games to finish at .500. They were worse in '85,
and worse still in '86.
After 34-year-old Twins' assistant vice president Andy MacPhail
mustered the courage to review the team's 91 losses in 1986, he decided
"we had more talent than wins to show for it. The bullpen was the glaring
weakness." The path from the bullpen to the pitcher's mound had become
known as gasoline alley.
So MacPhail trolled for Montreal closer Jeff Reardon, but the Expos
wanted Viola in return. MacPhail pursued Detroit's Willie Hernandez, who
invoked his no-trade clause. Finally, as pitchers and catchers were about to
report for '87 spring training, the Expos sent Reardon and catcher Tom
Nieto to the Twins for pitchers Neal Heaton, Yorkis Perez, Al
Cardwood and catcher Jeff Reed.
Reardon continued to make the ninth inning interesting for Twins' fans,
allowing a major league-leading 10 home runs in the ninth that season. But he
always wanted the ball, and his teammates had faith in him. Reardon saved 31
games, and is credited with changing the way Twins' fans view the ninth inning.
MacPhail was so serious about winning that he bought out the contract of fan
favorite Mickey Hatcher, then released him. He made five more trades
that year. They were all steals. He got utility man Al Newman,
outfielder Dan Gladden, and pitcher Dan Schatzeder for these
names: Jose Dominquez, Bryan Hickerson, Ray Velasquez, Mike Shade, Danny
Clay and Tom Schwarz.
He picked up veteran pitcher Joe Niekro in early June for catcher
Mark Salas, and added veteran bat Don Baylor for Enrique
Rios on the last day of August. Painless. Playoff opponent Detroit got
veteran pitcher Doyle Alexander - but it cost them John Smoltz.