GROTA Articles of Fame
Or: Another Baseball Philosophy Blog
There's an old saying - being a Cub fan and expecting them to win is a lot like praying to God and actually expecting an answer. Well, it's not actually an old saying, but it could be.
I was browsing through the Facebook photo album of our writer the Uncouth Sloth, who has the most ridiculous Cubs collection I've ever seen (for a needs-to-be-updated reference point, start here, or better yet, find him on Facebook and see the up-to-date basement o' glory). He's got a basement full of it -- he's got a royal blue Cubs couch and matching recliner! He's got walls covered with pictures, autographed bats, baseballs, pennants from every playoff team, he's got a commemorative brick, he's even got a seat from the ballpark! It'd be enough to make the greatest Cub fan weep in awe.
It doesn't take much of a study of that amazing basement to realize that Rob's life-long passion has been the Cubs. But, although he's been a Cubs fan since he was a kid, as the years have passed he's become a husband and father, a responsible citizen, and a pillar of morality (yes, Rob, really). Yet, if his epitaph says anything but "life long Cubs fan," I think his family and friends will be surprised, confused, and perhaps even disappointed.
Like many of us, Rob has invested his time, his money, and, most importantly, his heart into the Chicago Cubs. I doubt he would disagree when I say that he lives and dies by how well the Cubs play. I also do not think that he'd disagree were I to write that he expects the Cubs to win, even when he knows that they won't.
Atheists and even many -- but not necessarily most -- religious-types would probably suggest that praying to receive an answer is an exercise of futility. God, were He to exist, would not work that way. And yet, I doubt you'd find many people who actively pray without holding some kind of hope of seeing any kind of result, coincidental or not.
Certainly, there are Cub supporters out there who react with incredulous scorn toward those who actively and openly display an emotional response to such an apparently scientific game. If you think about baseball from an emotional, instinctive place, then they look upon you as though you should have died off with your neanderthal brethren thousands of years ago. Seriously. If they could set their phasers to Obliteration and blast you out of existence, they would. That is not an exaggeration. They believe that baseball -- and the outcomes of baseball -- should not only be viewed through a very clinical, scientific scope, but if you actually respond to poor outcomes in an emotional way then you are apparently missing the point and you are a pitiful, contemptible creature. And under no circumstances should you ever "expect" anything -- if you follow a team with the expectation of seeing a championship, then you are an indescribable fool. The team owes you nothing, they say, and you should expect nothing. We've seen these free thinkers on the net, and perhaps you've even met one or two at games or bars, although that type tends not to escape their home basements too often and people without the social skills to make real friends rarely go to pubs.
On the contrary, I think it's an extremely human reaction for us to expect certain results based on our efforts. It's just unfortunate for us that, in the world of sports, we could cheer ourselves hoarse, spend ourselves poor, and watch until we go blind, and yet our efforts have no direct effect on the final score.
Still, it is not wrong to expect results, to hope for them, and to feel crushed when they are not delivered. It's just a part of faith, where prayers are made with hopes that they will be heard, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that they aren't. In the green cathedral that is Wrigley Field, where baseball is practically a religion to some, and a divine comedy to others, there is a reason why fans are called "the faithful."
I would just caution us all to be careful -- baseball, as with life, has never promised its faithful any kind of reward. And in baseball, the only "fair" that exists is the one that rests between the two chalk lines that mark the playing field.
Expect to win. Expect to sometimes be emotionally crushed. Expecting anything else marks you as not being a fan, or a part of the faithful. Instead you're just an observer. And that's fine too. The field is big, and the stands hold tens of thousands. There's room for everybody, and we'd all benefit from remembering that.
Recently in the Shout Box, Keith wondered why Al Yellon seems to have a man crush on Kevin Millar. Were you to mosey on over to Bleed Cubbie Blue, you would read the following sentence: "I would still like to see the Cubs sign Kevin Millar to back up LF, RF and 1B... and to be that clubhouse presence that was missing, somehow, during the disastrous 2008 postseason."
Now, I'm not Al Yellon - obviously, because I permit links to and discussions about other Cubs blogs, even though to do so apparently threatens to eat into my readership and ad revenue somehow - but his desire for Millar is obviously based on more than a clinical review of the numbers. It's about a call into question regarding the intangibles of baseball.
Let's take a close look at Kevin Millar. The first thing we might notice is that the dude will be 37 next year. After that, we might encounter that he batted .234 with a .323 OBP and a .394 slugging percentage, although he did hit 20 homeruns and walk 71 times last year.
Going beyond that, we also find that, while Yellon wants Millar to serve as a backup to 1B, LF, and RF, the guy has played a grand whopping total of 3 games in the outfield in the past 3 years.
In other words, Millar's not going to win you games with his bat or with his glove. I guess that he must have a high leadership score or something, I don't know. Similar to Kyle's Scrappy White Player Factor, maybe there would be a way to clinically determine a player's Leadership Factor Score.
Some things that could go into calculating the score ...
Number of times player has had sex with a teammate's wife/girlfriend/sister/mother/daughter. A promiscuous player is perhaps well respected by certain elements of any clubhouse (like Mickey Mantle, who was a legendary skirt chaser), but if he risks crossing a line, it could negatively effect how he is seen by his teammates. If Lee Dershipman, our hypothetical example, caves in at a moment of weakness and nails every piece of tail in a teammate's immediate family, then he's going to lose Leadership Cred.
Points are assigned based on a scale of 1-10. If Lee has nailed a teammate's wife, daughter (if she is under 18, multiply this loss x5 for every year she is underage), mother, or girlfriend, he loses 10 points. He loses 5 points for a teammate's sister - which can be regained x2 if he winds up marrying her and 3 points for a cousin (1 point if the cousin is distant). If Lee sleeps with a teammate's mother but then goes on to marry her, it's still creepy and upsetting and he loses an additional 10 points. All losses are cumulative, so if Lee bangs the teammate's wife on Monday, girlfriend on Tuesday, sister on Wednesday, mother on Thursday, daughter on Friday, and a cousin on Saturday, he loses 53 points over the span of the week. If he has them all in one epic love-making session, multiply the losses x10.
Times a player has injured himself making a game saving play. There's nothing a teammate respects more than when a player will throw his body into a brick wall to make a game-changing catch. 10 points for each catch that result in a minor injury, 5 points if it just looks painful, and 20 points if the player has to go on the DL. Additional points get tallied if:
- Lee Dershipman has never been caught watching his own highlights by a teammate. Nobody likes a narcissist. -10 points if he gets caught, +10 points if he doesn't get caught.
- Lee makes the bone-crushing catch during a contract year. Points are doubled if the injury occurs before July, because he has basically sacrificed his season - and shaved millions off his potential contract offers - in the name of winning. Up to +40 points for this one.
- Lee brags constantly about his catch to the media and others. -10, unless said bragging lands him some trim, at which point it becomes +5
Times a player has delivered a game-winning hit. +2 points for every successful game-winning hit, but -1 point for each time he fails. There is also an additional cumulative effect to this calculation. If Lee wins 2 games in 2 tries, he gets his score of +4, but winning them consecutively adds a multiplier of x2. If he goes 4 for 4 in game-winning situations, Lee Dershipman scores +8 points x4, for a total of 32 points. Similarly, if Lee goes down swinging multiple times in a row, those failures culminate as well. So, if he goes 0 for 5 in a row in clutch situations, he doesn't lose 5 points, he loses 5 points x5, or 25 total.
Gives a rousing speech to his teammates. This is a tricky category because it can be used too often, but probably has to be done occasionally in order to deliver enough leadership points to make a real difference. If Lee gives a rousing speech to his teammates while they are suffering through a losing streak and they are inspired to win, he gains +10 points. However, if Lee gives these little speeches too often, they begin to lose their potency, even if the team keeps winning - 7 points for the second one, 5 for the third, 3 for the fourth, -1 for the fifth, -3 for the sixth, and so-on.
If Lee gives a rousing speech but the team loses, there is no negative effect to his score. However, if they get blown out, he receives a -5, and if they lose because he makes an error or fails to deliver a clutch hit, he receives a -10.
If Lee is more of a quiet leader type, and only gives one of these speeches per season, he gains +25 points should his team win. Also, all points are doubled if he wins the game for his team with either his glove or bat.
There are other minor factors that would go into the Leadership Factor Score. I'll outline some of them via bullet point:
- Is the first one out in a bench clearing brawl +5
- Is the last one out in a bench clearing brawl -5
- Takes a rookie under his wing +5, cumulative
- Maintains a kangaroo court in the clubhouse +5
- Yells at the manager in front of his team if the skipper is stepping over the lines +5
- Yells at the skipper in private if he is stepping over the line +10
- Never stands up for his teammates - 10 per situation
- Has won a World Championship, +0 (sorry, any idiot can win a World Series)
- Doesn't talk about his salary in the clubhouse or during a game +10
- Talks excessively about his salary -10
- Talks to the media, but only to take the blame for losses or to humbly discuss his successes +5 per time
- Talks to the media excessively -10 per time
I'm sure there are others we can include as well, but what is certain is this - no fan of baseball can accurately calculate these numbers. It would take an impartial player in the clubhouse to observe and log all of the relevant factors toward the LFS.
But is this Kevin Millar? Does he have such a high LFS that it makes up for his poor production, his lack of defensive skill, and his age? I dunno, are we having this conversation because he was the one who coined the term "idiots" and said "cowboy up" to the Red Sox during their '04 drive?
Regardless of what Millar's LFS is, I would have to argue that it's just a smidgen overrated. I mean, yes, I'm the same guy who wrote recently about the Cubs not having that guy on their team, which spurned a debate at Another Cubs Blog, but I've never suggested - nor would I - that that guy should be an over-the-hill hack like Kevin Millar. If the Cubs even need that guy, then he should be somebody who can actually hit the ball and play regularly.
Besides, for some reason I think I've heard stories about what an unmitigated douchebag Millar is.
So, Keith, to answer your question, Al Yellon is caving in to the worst kind of overthinking fan mentality. He's subscribing to the magic bullet - or, in this case, magic baseball bat - theory that one player of a certain type can make all the difference in a season. I don't know if Yellon took this point of view 10 years ago, but it's the same sort of thing as proclaiming that 1998 19-game winner Kevin Tapani "knows how to win" because he did it so often that year, despite posting a 4.85 ERA. I guess Tapani must've immediately forgotten "how to win," though, because he went on to lose 15 more games than he won over the next 3 years (his record was 6-12, 8-12, and 9-14 each of those years).
If Kevin Millar "knows how to win," if he has that intangible, leadership quality the Cubs so desperately lacked these past two years, if he swings a hefty, magic baseball bat, then how did the Orioles lose damn close to 100 games?
So much for leadership.
First of all, sincere congratulations on the arc of your wildly successful film career. You have not only made a success of yourself in Hollywood--which, let's face it, Rob Schneider and Adam Sandler have proven doesn't necessarily require any particular skill or talent to accomplish-- but your evolution as an actor has a uniqueness that I'm not sure has ever been matched. Early on, you delighted this 7 year old kid with your star turn in "Meatballs". Shortly after "Meatballs", you did two films that have stood up as timeless comedies, "Caddyshack" and "Stripes". "Ghostbusters" made you rich beyond your wildest dreams, and you have been able to pick and choose your work since then. As a result, you have proven yourself a true craftsman. Rather than resort to tired crap just because it represented the path of least resistance, you have done some serious quality. Your turn as Ernie McCracken in "Kingpin" was sublime. And your work in the Wes Anderson's films, "Rushmore" "The Royal Tennenbaums" and "Life Aquatic" (which I feel is one of your best, and most underappreciated roles) have cemented yourself as something waaaay more than just some sort of deadpan comic actor. Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes". Hell, you even did Shakespeare, with your turn as Polonius in "Hamlet". Finally, you earned an Oscar nomination--something that I'm sure few people expected back in 1978--with your incredibly nuanced role in "Lost in Translation". For good measure, you did an equally nuanced--although not as recognized-- role in "Broken Flowers" from which one of your fellow Chicagoans, Roger Ebert, ascribed this uniqueness which I earlier described as unmatched.
Some actors give the kinds of performances where we want to get out of the room, stand on the lawn and watch them through a window. Murray has the uncanny ability to invite us into his performance, into his stillness and sadness. I don't know how he does it. A Bill Murray imitation would be a pitiful sight: Passive immobility, small gestures of the eyes, enigmatic comments, yes, those would be easy, but how does he suggest the low tones of crashing chaotic uncertainty?
I remember reading, a few years back, that Bill Veeck's outstanding autobiography "Veeck as in Wreck" (written with Ed Linn) was rumored to be made into a film. Further, talk was that you would play the role of the maverick Veeck, another fellow Chicagoan who, though dead for twenty years, is, as I'm sure you know, a link to the last true Golden Age of the Cubs. The prospect of playing such a role must be an enticing one for you, I'm sure. For all I know, it could still happen.
I can see why this role would be enticing for you. I remember hearing once that your son's name is Homer Banks, as that was what what you saw in the papers everyday in the box score when you were a kid. Even though I was actually in attendance at the game you broadcast in lieu of Harry Caray in '87, I saw a tape of the game later, and you proved yourself as someone who knew what the hell he was talking about. You knew Tim Wallach was a Cub-killer and therefore took the liberty of openly rooting for Wallach to fall down the dugout steps while attempting to catch a pop-up.
Your love of the Cubs is genuine. Furthermore, unlike many of your fellow Chicago expatriates living in Hollywood, you rarely prostitute yourself about this. Let Dennis Farina talk about "we" on HBO while giving credence to a stupid, media-driven curse. Let Jeff Garlin let an absentminded, thoughtless poor excuse for a Cub fan off the hook for screwing things up. Let William Petersen narrate all of the pithy documentaries about the Cubs.
In the last fifteen years, in fact, being a Cubs fan has somehow seemed to have become tres chic, which is probably why you are nowhere to be found. Sure, you followed through on your promise in 1998 to only sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" when the Cubs made the playoffs when you sang during the one-game playoff against San Francisco later that year (as well as an Opening Day here or there afterwards), but for the most part we don't see you beating your chest, letting everyone know that you're such a big Cubs fan.
Which tells me that you're as fed up as the rest of us. I suspect that, unlike a lot of people, you don't think what has gone on with this shambles of a ballclub is cute. Or lovable. Or that it's somehow neat to root for a team that has sent generation after generation of people to their graves withour rewarding them, and will currently refuse to manage their club in a proactive manner so long as their ballpark is full.
Tell me I'm wrong, Bill. Tell me I'm wrong.
But I wouldn't believe you.
Here' my plea to you, Bill--and I'd be surprised if this thought hasn't rattled around your strange but brilliant mind: round up some of the high roller producers in Hollywood, pitch in about $80 million of your own cash, and buy this flippin' team from Tribune Corporation.
I know you could do it, Bill, because it's something you'd want to do.
I'm certain that, being the high-minded Cub fan that you are, you're aware of the story of Bill Veeck's father, Bill Veeck Sr. A sportswriter in the early 1920's, Veeck had written harshly of the Cubs' organization. Lacking the insecurity that riddles the current Cubs administration--like when Andy MacPhail publicly berated Tribune beat reporter Paul Sullivan for being less than bootlickish--owner William Wrigley Jr. turned to Veeck and asked, simply, "If you think it's so easy, then why don't you give it a shot?"
Veeck answered Wrigley's challenge, accepted the role of Cubs' General manager, and four pennants in the next ten years later, proved that you don't need to be part of a good ole' boys network to succeed in baseball management.
Not that I'm suggesting you actually run the team. We'll leave that to Billy Beane, or whomever else you'd feel fit to hire. But this needs to be done. How many more seasons do we have to suffer through, bearing the considerable weight of not only our own torment, but that of our parents and grandparents and, in many cases, great-grandparents as well? Many people like to joke that the Cubs are planning to go an entire century without a title. However, the way things are going, it's hard to see them winning after 101 years, 102 years etc., either. 100 is just a number anyway. Who's to say any of us will ever see this team in the World Series? Ever?
I've already decided that if the Cubs show no promise of turning things around in the next couple years, that I will break this vicious cycle and raise my infant daughter to cheer on some other ballclub or, at the least, refrain from indoctrinating her into this sado-masochism. Like yet another great Chicagoan, the late, great Mike Royko, who felt guilty at having raised his kids as Cubs fans, I suspect you've had days when you felt bad about raising your kids similarly.
Suffering's good for the soul, but being kicked in the groin, repeatedly, by an indifferent, PR-conscious media conglomerate is not good for anyone's soul.
That's why it's time one of us takes this team back. And Bill, you're just the guy to do it. Call up Spielberg, the Weinstein brothers. You know people with money. I mean, sheesh--you've only been in Hollywood for three decades. Put in your own considerable 10% in and be the face of the franchise. Shoot, get some of your brothers to pitch in. Hell, you could collect $1,000 from 10,000 Cubs fans. That's 10 mildo right there. Regular schmucks like me can find a grand to pitch in and stake a claim to a share, I assure you. Even if you weren't a die-hard, it'd be a good investment--Tribune will sell this team for possibly as much as twenty-five times what they paid for it merely twenty-five years ago, so your investment will only appreciate.
In the meantime, get rid of these bums that choose profit over winning, and let's end this thing. Seventy-five years of inept PK Wrigley/Chicago Tribune ownership is enough. You're one of us, Bill, but with the ability to get something done that we've all been waiting our entire lives to get done.
Bill Murray, Cub nation turns its bleeding eyes to you, sir.
PART ONE: THE MINNESOTA FALLACY
On September 9th, 1994, amidst the most devastating labor strife in baseball history--and during another in an endless string of pathetic Chicago Cubs seasons-- Andy MacPhail was hired by the team as President/CEO to finally, once and for all, put the team back on track for annual title contention for the first time since Bill Veeck Sr. presided over the Cubs' last true Golden Age in the 1920's and 1930's.
Many thought MacPhail was the right person for the job. Working for the small market Minnesota Twins as General Manager, MacPhail was credited with bringing two World Series Titles to the Twin Cities. However, upon closer inspection, MacPhail lived a very charmed life in Minneapolis, and his failures have been masked long enough for him to survive twelve seasons in Chicago with a much longer leash than the one his three predecessors who ran the Cubs for the Tribune got.
Hired in 1985 by Minnesota, MacPhail inherited a Twins team that competed in the Al Worst, err, West in the 1980's, unarguably the worst overall division among the four divisions in baseball at the time. It was a division of slack--dominated in the first half of the decade by the Kansas City Royals and, in the second-half of the decade, by the Oakland A's. To be sure, Kansas City and Oakland were both very good teams, winning one World Series each, but when either suffered through a down year, it was usually beatin' time in the AL for whomever was held up as a sacrifice for the AL East playoff entrant.
Going all the way back to 1975, the Al pennant winner had come out of the Eastern division in nine out of ten seasons, with the sole exception being the 1980 Royals. The new decade that Kansas City ushered in with their '80 AL flag was really just an aberration, however, as the East subsequently won four more in a row after that season.
The Royals were very good teams, even if they did get to fatten up on patsies in their own division. In a 10-year period, from 1976 through 1985, the Royals won six-and-a-half division titles (In 1981, they won the "second half" of the strike-shortened campaign), two pennants, and a World Series title. Pretty solid work for a decade. That's way more than any living Cub fan's enjoyed in a lifetime, but let's not lose perspective.
The Royals were good.
The 1987 Minnesota Twins, on the other hand, were not good. They were lucky and we, as Cubs fans, have been paying the price for that luck since Bill Clinton's first term in office.
Andy MacPhail was hired as the Twins' General Manager in August, 1985. He was only thirty-two years old, but had come from a baseball lineage that stretched back to the 1930's when his grandfather, Larry MacPhail, a hard-drinking, bellicose WWI vet took over the Cincinnati Reds who, aside from their gift-wrapped World Series title given to them by the White Sox in 1919, had been one of the more perennially woeful senior circuit clubs.
Larry, however, set out to change the losing atmosphere in Cincinnati. In his short stint in the Queen City, Larry MacPhail may be best known for bringing lights to Crosley Field, the first team to do so, but--thanks in part to the revenue brought in by night baseball--he also laid the groundwork for Cincinnati's first two pennants in 20 seasons, with their first legitimate World Series championship coming in 1940. By that time, however, MacPhail's hard-drinking and tempestuousness had conspired to shorten his stay in Cincinnati, (as it pretty much would everywhere he went) and he was long gone, having set up shop in Brooklyn--another franchise that had been dormant since the end of World War I.
In Brooklyn, MacPhail continued to work the marketing strings to maximize revenue as he had in Cincinnati by forging a partnership between the Dodgers and radio. This ancilliary marketing aspect to running ballclubs would be duplicated by his grandson fifty-five some odd years later with the Cubs but, unlike his grandson, Larry MacPhail also proved to be deft at building a winning ballclub on the field. In 1941, under his leadership, the Brooklyn Dodgers broke a 21-year pennant drought when they captured the National League flag. While WWII temporarily changed the landscape of baseball for the next few years after this noteworthy Dodgers' triumph, Brooklyn was back with a vengeance after D-Day, winning National League pennants in '47 and '49, setting the stage for six more pennants through 1960. Again, though, MacPhail was already long gone by the time his foundation had begun to flourish. He had re-enlisted for WWII after Pearl Harbor and, when he came back stateside, had gone to work for the Yankees.
Yeah. The Yankees. No need to do much work there. Sure enough, in his second season, 1947, the Yanks won it all--beating MacPhail's old Dodger team. MacPhail got drunk at the celebration, threw up on everybody (metaphorically--he really just yelled and punched people--but probably literally a little bit, too), and then abruptly quit his job.
That's apparently the kind of guy Larry MacPhail was. A maverick, some say. Or an inspiring lush. Take your pick.
Anyway, Larry the Mad Genius Alcoholic had a son, Lee, who is Andy MacPhail's father. Like Bill Veeck Jr. who, as a young man got to hang around Wrigley Field while his dad, Bill Veeck Sr., built the Last Great Cubs Team, Lee MacPhail continued to work for the Yankees after his father's dissapearing act. Hell, the Yankee organization probably felt sorry for the kid, seeing what a complicated, troubled mess he had for an old man. And, like Veeck Jr., Lee MacPhail eventually broke out and got his own piece of the pie, the Baltimore Orioles, whom he cultivated into the eventual pennant contenders of the 1960's by building up a great farm system and pulling off the still-famous trade for Frank Robinson.
And then there's Andy. At first blush, one would quickly assume that Andy had inherited this baseball genius and continued to allow it to flourish. After all, the man went up into the hinterlands of Minnesota--with one pennant in their Great White North existence, which was already only one fewer than the total number of pennants the franchise had acquired in the fifty-plus years that they toiled near the bottom of the American League as the Washington Senators--and brought two World Series championships home.
Andy was Boy Wonder. He was a genius. He was in-step with his ancestry.
If only it were true.
From 1961 through 1981, the Twins (and their football counterpart Vikings) had played their games in the crisp outdoor air in Bloomington, Minnesota. Having emigrated from our nation's capital in '61, the Twins enjoyed success early on, winning the pennat in '65 and winning the AL West in '69 and '70, challenging for contention each year in between. At the same time, the Twins were almost always first, second, or third in attendance.
Later, when the Twins' fortunes shrunk, people stopped going to Metropolitan Stadium. The Twins were bad and nobody watched them. Rather than fix the team, the powers-that-be instead decided to convince everybody that attendance was down because nobody wanted to brave the elements in the Minnesota April and May to watch baseball, despite the fact that, when they were winning, cold weather didn't deter the fans. Because the Minneapolis-St. Paul area--a very beautiful area, in this cold-blooded writer's opinion--exists in a relatively arctic part of the country, the town fathers felt it wisest that the local professional baseball club play all of their games indoor.
Hence, the ugliest, most hideous, creepiest and ridiculous monstrosity that has ever been built was foisted upon baseball, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Not only is the Metrodome an aesthetic horror, it has to be the most seriously funked-up place for a ballplayer to ever have had to have played pro ball.
Unless you're the home team. And you're winning. Then you have the potential to be a digitized, post-apocalyptic version of Christian lion-feeding. Something so incongruous with the natural beauty of baseball that one could call it unholy.
And unholy is what the 1987 Minnesota Twins were.
In 1984, the year before MacPhail was hired by Minnesota, the Twins finished the season 81-81. They were only 1/2 game out first place as late as September 24th, but lost their final six games of the season. It possibly may not have mattered, as Detroit was unstoppable that season and, as we'll discuss later, because the AL West would not have had home-field advantage in '84, the Twins wouldn't benefit by their particular advantage in that area.
As it was, the Twins in 1984 had some decent talent. Kirby Puckett made his big-league debut in May, and started in centerfield from that day all the way up to his retirement in 1995.
Kent Hrbek was a solid first baseman. Gary Gaetti actually suffered through a mysterious power outage in his third big-league season in '84 (Following up '82 and '83 seasons in which he had hit 25 and 21 home runs, respectively, with 5 in 162 games in '84), but still managed to put together a nice career in Minnesota. Tom Brunansky was another clubber in the Twins lineup. On the bump in '84 was Frank Viola, a 24-year old who went 18-10 in the breakthrough season of an eventual solid career.
Puckett, Hrbek, Gaetti, Brunansky and Viola constituted the nucleus of what would later become the World Series champs in 1987, and none of them had been drafted into the system by Andy MacPhail, who replaced interim GM Howard Fox as General Manager after Calvin Griffith sold the Twins to Carl Pohlad in September, 1984. The subsequent transition eventually concluded with MacPhail's hiring in August of 1985.
In his second full season, Andy MacPhail's team--led by Puckett, Gaetti, Viola and all of these guys that were with the team when Andy was hired--won the American League West with the second-lowest win total (85) ever for a division winner in a non-abbreviated season (the '73 Mets had 82). The fact that Kansas City had a down season (a banged-up George Brett was limited to 115 games) paved the way for the Twins, who augmented their 56-25 home record at the Metrodome with an awful 29-52 record on the road.
They were twenty-three games below .500 on the road!
Adding to the Twins' charmed season (their pythagorean record, incidentally, was 79-83), was the fact that, due to pre-determined arrangements that were the norm at the time, the AL West winners were guaranteed home-field advantage in the '87 ALCS, and the American League was also guaranteed home-field in the World Series.
Having sloughed their way to an 85-victory division-winning season, the Twins opened the ALCS on October 7th, 1987 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Prior to 1987, postseason baseball had been played indoors on three previous occasions--all involving the Houston Astros and their prototype indoor stadium--the Houston Astrodome. Yet, as odd as the Astrodome was, it was also--unlike the Metrodome--cavernous. While the place certainly rocked loudly during the 1980 and 1986 NLCS (and the '81 NLDS), it would prove to be no match for the insantiy of the Metrodome.
53,269 people packed into the Metrodome for Game 1 of the 1987 ALCS as the Twins rallied in the 8th inning off of Detroit starter Doyle Alexander and reliever Mike Henneman, and the Twins were on their way.
To their credit, the Twins did end up winning two out of the three games played in Tiger Stadium, as the last Tigers team to make the playoffs (until this year, of course) started showing their age. The pivotal moment came in the 6th inning of Game Four, when Darrel Evans, representing the tying run, was picked off third base with one out. Their spirit broken, the Tigers laid down in Game Five, and the Minnesota Twins had become the first dome team to make the World Series.
On October 17th, 1987, 55,171 people crammed into the Metrodome to take part in baseball history--they were first-hand witnesses to the first World Series game ever played indoors. Actually, to say they bore witness to this history is a vast understatement--armed with terrycloth towels that had been issued to them upon admittance, the fans became a part of the game. The "Homer Hankies" as they were known, came to symbolize the overall insane atmosphere inside the Metrodome, as baseball had entered a Brave New World.
Backed by the home-field advantage of a rabid, enclosed circus atmosphere, the Twins hung a seven-spot on St. Louis in the fourth inning and never looked back. In Game 2, the fourth inning proved to be the Twins big inning again, as they crossed home plate six times.
The Twins had outscored the Cardinals 18-5 in two games. The Cardinals had won 95 games in an NL East division that boasted three 90+ victory teams. They scored the second-most runs in the NL and allowed the fifth-fewest. The Twins, conversely, finished in the bottom HALF of the American League in both categories.
In any other situation, the Twins should not have stood a chance against St. Louis but, since they were fortunate enough to start the World Series off in their home Deathdome, they were able to put St. Louis on the defensive instead.
As funny as it is to this Cub fan that the Cardinals were victims of funky scheduling, it should be noted that, by any objective measure, Whitey Herzog's club was playing against a stacked deck.
Following the pattern of their fluky regular season, the Twins failed to win a single game in Busch Stadium, becoming the first team in the history of the World Series to win a seven game set without once winning away from home.
The Twins had some talent. However, it should be repeated here that Pucket, Hrbek, Viola, Brunansky, Gaetti and Burt Blyleven were already in place when supposed "Boy Wonder" Andy MacPhail came skipping into town. In fact, the only everyday position player that MacPhail had acquired was outfielder Dan Gladden--all of the other everyday starters had been in Minnesota's system before MacPhail had come on board in '85. Of their five-man rotation, the only MacPhail acquisition was aging veteran Joe Niekro, whose 6.26 ERA as the fifth starter left him out of the postseason rotation, limiting him to two innings. The only other significant pickup by MacPhail was, admittedly, a legitimate one--closer Jeff Reardon. Yet picking up a closer for a ready-made team is hardly anything more significant than what Jim Frey did for the '89 Cubs when he got Mitch Williams. At least MacPhail didn't deal a future 500 home run hitting first baseman and future 200-game winning southpaw to get his man, so he's got that going for him.
And, just to be sure, to be compared to Jim Frey as a general manager is not a good thing.
Having won the World Series--and garnering all of the extra revenue that comes with all of those playoffs games-- MacPhail had the resources that would allow him to build on this.
So what'd Dandy Andy do in his first post-championship offseason? Well, pretty much nothing. He stood pat, and the Twins went out and won 91 games. This time, though, it wasn't enough to get back into the playoffs as the Jose Canseco-led Oakland A's took home the AL West crown.
In 1989, the Twins slumped to 80 wins and it was during this '89 season that Andy MacPhail made the ONE trade that helped pave the way for his second World Series title two years later. In an act foreshadowing his latter attempts at sabotaging the Chicago Cubs from within the organization, MacPhail tried to knock Our Favorite Team out of the '89 Eastern Division race by dealing longtime ace Frank Viola to the hated rival New York Mets.
Two of the players that MacPhail got in return from the Mets, much to his amazing good fortune, helped bolster their second pennant-winning team two years later--Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera.
I'll be fair here. The '91 Twins were good. They won 95 games (their pythagorean was 94). They even managed to lose their precious home-field advantage in the ALDS by losing Game 2 in the Humpdome, and then stormed back to win three straight games in Toronto. And while Puckett and Hrbek and Greg Gagne still comprised 1/3rd of their offense, there were several other players brought in by MacPhail to augment these pre-MacPhail player--Chili Davis and Jack Morris were savvy free agent pickups, and Chuck Knoblauch and Scott Erickson proved that MacPhail was not a complete dunderhead at cultivating his own talent, as they were brought along in Minnesota's system after Andy arrived.
And had they played outdoors, the Twins might have won the World Series in 1991 anyway. But, just to be sure, they once again had home-field advanatge and, repeating the history they made four years earlier, clipped the Atlanta Braves in seven games while going winless away from the Metrodome.
Amazing. Two World Series titles while going 0-6 on the road. Before 1987, it had never been done. Now, it had been done twice. In four years. By the only dome team--still, at this point--to have made the World Series at all.
The Twins followed up their second World Championship with a 90-win season in 1992. And the '92 Twins turned out to be the last +.500 season for Andy MacPhail's Minnesota teams. In nine full seasons from 1986-1994, the Twins amassed a 751-707 record, but only finished above .500 in four of those nine seasons. So even after their first title, the Twins only finished above .500 in three of the following seven seasons. This pattern of inconsistency--which indicates a major lack of planning-- was not only something that would be evident in MacPhail's later years in Chicago, but was actually averted in Minnesota by MacPhail's successor Terry Ryan, who is in the process of finishing his sixth consecutive winning season for the Twins.
Also, in spite of their two World Championships, the Twins in the MacPhail Era only finished first in AL attendance one time--1988--and finished in the bottom half of attendance five times. But while the Twins had trouble raking in the dough from attendance, the 1987 miracle covered up a multitude of sins.
1987 allowed the Twins to gain massive revenue from two ALDS and four World Series games. Enjoying the typical spike in attendance that comes the season following a championship season, Minnesota had amassed a healthy financial cushion. This cushion gave Andy MacPhail four years to rebuild around the nucelus of players that had delivered him his first ill-gotten championship. And, while MacPhail surely deserves recognition for the '91 Twins, it may never have existed had the Twins not stunned the baseball world with their unlikely title in '87. Not only did the mediocre Twins benefit from their freakish dome-field advantage in 1987, but that team was hardly put together by Andy MacPhail in the first place.
But all anybody looked at was the fact that Andy MacPhail was the general manager for two World Series winners. The Tribune Company, having already proven by 1994 that they were one of the most unthinking baseball owners in history, easily took this bait and--presumably-- still wholeheartedly believe, to this day, in the Myth of Boy Wonder, Andy MacPhail.
MacPhail has now been here twelve seasons, so we no longer need to strenuously argue about his flukish success in Minnesota; his voluminous amount of failure here is a matter of public record. However, I felt it was necessary to do so because this success in Minnesota has managed to provide protection for MacPhail while he's here in Chicago. His defenders will somehow ignore the empirical evidence of failure that his dozen years has wrought--so it's important to nip this Minnesota Fallacy in the bud.