Best team on losing side of 1991 Fall Classic
Twins came out on top, but case to be made for Braves being better
ATLANTA -- History loves facts, and history is into the bottom line. History says the Minnesota Twins were baseball's best team in 1991 -- you know, just because they won the World Series over the Atlanta Braves.
In this case, history is wrong.
I agree with Terry Pendleton, who suggested history isn't taking everything into account here. Said Pendleton, now the Braves' first-base coach after playing third base for Atlanta 21 years ago: "I'll probably get booed anytime I go back to Minnesota, but even though the Twins won that World Series, I wouldn't say they were the best team. There was no better team than us in baseball in 1991. That's just my opinion."
That's also my opinion.
Pendleton and I discussed the matter last week in the home clubhouse at Turner Field after the Twins arrived to face the Braves in the first stretch of official games between the two in Atlanta since their gut-wrenching seven-game roller coaster of late-late-late-night baseball known as the 1991 World Series.
Like Pendleton, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has deep memories of it all, because Gardenhire was an absolute mess at the time.
"Those games were so intense," said Gardenhire, recalling his role back then as Minnesota's third-base coach.
Gardenhire eased into a chuckle in the visiting manager's office at Turner Field before adding, "I just remember coaching third base, hardly able to walk out there, because my [body] was so tight."
Here's why: Endless drama. In many ways, the Braves and the Twins were the same team in 1991, except the former went from worst to first in the National League West while the latter did the same in the American League West. So it only figured that five of those seven World Series games were decided by a run, four went down to the final at-bat, three sprinted into extra innings and everybody watching kept trying to catch their breath.
With Gardenhire pacing back then in the third-base coaching box and Pendleton standing nearby with a glove, they often saw things during that World Series from the same vantage point.
They see things differently now.
"No question, the Twins won the trophy, and you can't take that away from them," Pendleton said. "But down in my heart, we were the best -- even though there is no way of proving that. If you put the two of us on a neutral site and made us play seven games, you might find out who's best, because we each won our games during that World Series at home."
When told of Pendleton's comments, Gardenhire praised his old friend, and then he agreed with him. Sort of.
"We were the best team in our ballpark, and that's all that really mattered," Gardenhire said. "There were some crazy things that happened. And as we know in sports, it's not always the best team that's going to win it."
About those crazy things ...
Lonnie Smith's baserunning gaffe, for instance.
Or was it a gaffe? Pendleton doesn't think so. It occurred in the eighth inning of a scoreless Game 7. With Smith at first base for the Braves, Pendleton ripped a hit-and-run double into the gap in left-center field that should have scored Smith for what likely would have been the World Series-winning run for the Braves.
Instead, Smith paused on his journey around the bases, and then he stopped at third. He never reached home during what evolved into a 1-0 loss for the Braves in 10 innings.
"I truly believe Lonnie gets too much blame, because first of all, you don't see the ball off the bat there, because of the dome's white ceiling," Pendleton said. "Lonnie was running when I hit the ball, so he couldn't see the ball [which is why he paused], and their shortstop and second baseman fooled him [by faking a potential double play]. I talked to the guys about the white ceiling before we got to Minnesota, because when I was with the St. Louis Cardinals, we played there [in the World Series] in 1987."
Other crazy things?
Well, there was the Metrodome, period.
In addition to that white ceiling, there was The Plexiglas that formed part of the left-field wall, and there was The Baggie that formed part of the right-field wall. There also were The Rumors.
To hear Pendleton and others tell it, they were more than rumors. Those rumors suggested the Twins opened and shut doors to the Metrodome, depending on which team was hitting. By doing so, those rumors suggested they could influence wind flow, and the whole process either could push fly balls toward or away from the walls.
"Yeah, there definitely were some elements that we thought were mechanically done," Pendleton said, laughing. "When the Twins were batting, there were some balls that went a lot farther than we thought they should have. And we hit a lot of balls that probably should have went a lot farther but went no place."
Gardenhire remembered other crazy things.
"Ron Gant trying to tackle [Minnesota first baseman] Kent Hrbek at first. That comes to mind, when Gant was trying to push Hrbek down," Gardenhire said with a straight face, knowing that others saw it differently.
With Gant rounding first too widely after a single in Game 2, he raced back toward first, where the significantly heavier Hrbek pushed Gant off the bag while applying the tag.
The umpires agreed with the Twins.
Still, there were more crazy things during that World Series than just Gant-Hrbek, Smith's baserunning and the quirkiness of the Metrodome. There was Kirby Puckett's leap against the Plexiglas in Game 6 to rob Gant of extra bases before slamming a walk-off homer in the 11th. There also was Braves second baseman Mark Lemke forgetting he was a lifetime .246 hitter to bat .417 in the World Series.
"[There was] Danny Gladden not tagging up on a fly ball to left, and me getting yelled at, because he got thrown out at home, running into [Braves catcher] Greg Olson," Gardenhire said with a chuckle. "Lots of good stuff. We still have the tapes of that World Series, and everybody watches it. We're always talking about it."
Pendleton frowned and said, "I can't watch."