Minnesota Twins have a lot to cheer about. Not only did they clinch their sixth American League Central Division championship in nine seasons; with 3.2 paid admissions, they set a franchise attendance record in the first year of their new stadium. With 2011 hopes riding high, Target Stadium faithful will welcome this addition to Triumph's 100 Things series.
100 Things Twins Fans Should Know & Do Before They Dieby Alex Halsted
With 50 years of Twins history, this lively, detailed book explores the personalities, events, and facts every Minnesota fan should know. It contains crucial information such as important dates, player nicknames, memorable moments, singular achievements, and signature calls. This guide to all things Twins covers Cretin-Derham Hall, the origin of
With 50 years of Twins history, this lively, detailed book explores the personalities, events, and facts every Minnesota fan should know. It contains crucial information such as important dates, player nicknames, memorable moments, singular achievements, and signature calls. This guide to all things Twins covers Cretin-Derham Hall, the origin of Homer Hanky, and memorabilia collecting tips from Clyde "the Collector" Doepner.
Read an Excerpt
100 Things Twins Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Alex Halsted
Triumph Books LLCCopyright © 2016 Alex Halsted
All rights reserved.
As fans, we root for players who do the little things. We root for players who hustle in the field and run out even the easiest groundouts. We root for the underdogs who overcome difficult odds to succeed. We root for the guys who arrive at the ballpark each day with a smile and greet fans with dignity. We root for the heroes and the players who say things that make us take a step back and reflect. When we wanted to root for all of these things at one time, we rooted for No. 34.
He was so great that his name resonates just by the mention of his number. The great Bob Casey once announced him like so: "And now ... the greatest Minnesota Twin ever! Number Thirty-Four ... Kirbeeeeee Puckett!" Some called him "Puck," but really Kirby needed no nickname. No matter how anyone referred to him, he was a Twin, and he was the greatest one to ever put on the uniform.
Puckett's underdog story began at a young age. Growing up on the 14th floor of an apartment building in the gloomy Robert Taylor Homes on Chicago's South Side, he was the youngest of nine children. Newsweek once called the two-mile stretch where Puckett grew up "the place where hope dies." Kirby's dreams were never deterred. Despite tough economics and a dangerous neighborhood filled with narcotics and violence, Puckett eventually prevailed. The city had two baseball teams in the White Sox and Cubs, and naturally Puckett picked up the game. Although there were no area ballfields, Puckett taught himself to throw a baseball by drawing a square with chalk on one of the apartment building's brick walls and playing what he called "strikeout" for hours. He and his friends would play baseball in his room with a broom handle and rolled up socks. Sometimes they played in the streets.
It wasn't until 1973, when his family moved to a new neighborhood and he soon after attended Calumet High School, that Puckett first stepped foot on a real baseball field. After high school Puckett attended Bradley University, where he played one season before dropping out after the death of his father. He would later enroll at Triton Junior College to be closer to his mother.
On a summer day in 1981, with Major League Baseball on strike, then assistant minor league director Jim Rantz decided to take a trip to Peoria, Illinois, with his wife and children, to watch his son, Mike, play in an Illinois summer college league game. What caught Rantz's attention was the short, 5'8" center fielder on the opposing team. He hit a double, triple, and a home run; he was the first player on and off the field each inning; and he even stayed after the game to greet fans. The kid was Kirby. When the January draft rolled around the following year, in 1982, the Twins listened to the recommendation from Rantz by selecting Puckett with the third overall pick, eventually signing the undersized outfielder for $25,000. Little did anybody know, the franchise would soon forever change.
In his first season of pro ball in 1982, Puckett hit .382 for the Elizabethton Twins in rookie ball. It was just more than two years later, in 1984, when Puckett burst onto the scene, becoming just the ninth player in baseball history to collect four hits in his debut. He would play in 128 games that rookie season, and the next he played in all but one. It was in 1986 that he introduced himself to the country. That year Puckett collected more than 200 hits for the first of an eventual five times in his career, and he made the All-Star Game.
The following year, in 1987, Puckett led the Twins to their first championship, and in 1989 he added some hardware to his collection as he hit .339 and won the American League batting title.
As the Twins returned to the Metrodome on October 26, 1991, they did so trailing the Atlanta Braves 3–2 in the World Series. The Twins would need to win the next two games to claim their second title. Kirby wasn't worried. He told his teammates and his agent Ron Shapiro the same thing.
"I remember in the 1991 World Series when the Twins were down 3–2 in Atlanta," Shapiro said. "Kirby came into a restaurant to meet me and my colleague, Michael Maas. He said, 'Don't worry, I'm going to put the team on my back and carry this team forward,' and darn if he didn't come through. That's what Kirby was all about, carrying a team and doing what it felt like they might not be able to."
His catch against the Plexiglas in left-center that night to rob Ron Gant of extra bases and the Braves of a run in the third inning was the first sign that Puckett was indeed going to carry the team on his back. The next came in the 11th inning, when Puckett became just the ninth player in baseball history to end a World Series game with a home run, sending the Twins to Game 7 and eventually their second championship.
Years later, as the team wrapped up spring training heading into the 1996 season, Puckett collected two hits in the final tune-up game before the regular season. The next morning he woke up with a dark spot in his right eye, and the diagnosis was glaucoma. He had treatments and surgeries, but by mid-season, as he still sat out, Puckett was told his career was over at the age of 36, after having spent 12 seasons with the Twins.
While his career was over, Puckett had made his mark; he had become the best player in team history. As he retired, Puckett's name could be found sitting atop the team leader board in hits (2,304), doubles (414), total bases (3,453), at-bats (7,244), and runs (1,071). He made 10 All-Star Game appearances, and his defense in center field won him six Gold Gloves. But Puckett's legacy went much further than his work on the field and in the game of baseball.
"On the field, Kirby was one of the best players in the history of the game and our franchise. He was the heart and soul of two championship teams, and he set a great example on and off the field," said team president Dave St. Peter. "He was always the first guy in the clubhouse and was very accessible to the media. He brought tremendous charisma, and he became synonymous with Twins baseball and was a tremendous ambassador for the game."
There was the trademark catch and home run in the World Series and the many awards throughout his tenure in Minnesota, but some of the greatest memories of Puckett are of his time spent off the diamond.
"There are so many special stories with Kirby, in the times I spent with him, and they all grow out of his joy, his smile, and his making people happy," said Shapiro. "Whether it be surprising a kid with a piece of baseball memorabilia that he knew would make a kid happy, bringing to the city of Minneapolis superstars from all over baseball for his tournament, or just standing up and telling people why it is important to give back."
When Puckett's career suddenly ended, there was sadness and tears. But from Puckett, there was no anger. He ensured everybody that he would be just fine, that he had given everything he had to offer. In 2001 Puckett was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot. The road to Cooperstown was seldom easy.
"There may be a few people out there who remember a time when the word on Kirby Puckett was that he was too short or didn't have enough power to make it to the big leagues," Puckett said during his speech. "Well despite the fact that I didn't get to play all the years I wanted to, I did it."
The next five and final years of Puckett's life didn't go as well. He and his wife, Tonya, got divorced, and on March 5, 2006, just shy of his 46th birthday, he suffered a massive stroke and passed away. His legacy showed one more time shortly after, when thousands of fans honored him in a Metrodome memorial ceremony despite a blizzard.
Through the years with his catches in center field and heroics on and off the field, Puckett had a lasting effect on many generations. Whether fans remember that October night in 1991 or simply listen to stories about it, when they hear the words "Thirty-Four" or "Kirby Puckett," they think about everything that Minnesota Twins baseball stands for.
"He brought to the game of baseball an infectious joy," Shapiro concluded. "That joy did so much for the game when he played it. Obviously things happened to him off the field when his career abruptly ended, but I don't think those things will define Kirby Puckett."
In a statement following Kirby's death, the late Carl Pohlad summarized things best.
"Kirby's impact on the Twins organization, state of Minnesota, and Upper Midwest is significant and goes well beyond his role in helping the Twins win two World Championships. A tremendous teammate, Kirby will always be remembered for his neverending hustle, infectious personality, trademark smile, and commitment to the community," the statement read.
"There will never be another Puck."CHAPTER 2
Welcome to Minnesota!
October 26 is one of the greatest dates in the history of the Minnesota Twins. For many, hearing that date brings back the memories from the night at the Metrodome when Kirby Puckett made his catch and hit a walk-off home run to send the Twins into the final game of the World Series. Had it not been for an October 26 several decades earlier, however, that night in 1991 might have never occurred.
There had been baseball in Minnesota before the Twins, and Metropolitan Stadium had been built before they ever arrived. Baseball in Minnesota, in fact, officially dates back to 1884, when professional baseball in the state first arrived. Up until 1902 the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul both fielded teams, and for 59 seasons after that year, they were rivals.
After the creation of the American Association, the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints each put teams on the field until 1960. They were the two winningest teams during their tenure in the league, and they played each other in the rivalry a total of 1,303 times, the Saints taking the series 680–623. Some of the players who took the field for these teams turned out to be great. The Millers saw legends including Ted Williams and Willie Mays come through while the Saints watched guys like Lefty Gomez and Roy Campanella play. Had it not been for one afternoon in October 1960, there might have been many more.
The owner of the Washington Senators, Calvin Griffith, was first ready to relocate to Minnesota in 1958, but he eventually changed his mind and kept the team in Washington. One year later, in 1959, it was reported that a move to the Twin Cities was imminent. That didn't happen either. The Senators had finished last in the American League in attendance from 1955 to 1959, and Griffith was determined to relocate the franchise. Finally, on October 26, 1960, the dream that had taken years of struggles would become a reality.
When the American League owners' meetings arrived on that day in New York, many felt pessimistic about Minnesota's chances at getting a franchise. There was thought that Dallas and Los Angeles might get teams while Minnesota would be left on the outside looking in yet again. Then came the announcement.
"The American League by unanimous vote has just decided to expand to 10 teams in 1961," Joe Cronin, president of the American League, announced at a press conference on that afternoon. "The present Washington club will be moved to Minneapolis–St. Paul next year and will play its games in Metropolitan Stadium."
What helped complete Griffith's longtime plan of relocation was that the city of Washington, D.C., would receive an expansion team to replace the departing franchise. Meanwhile, the Twins were headed to Met Stadium for the 1961 season, where plans were already being made to increase seating by nearly one-third before the inaugural season and increase the capacity to around 40,000 by the second year.
On April 11, 1961, players trotted onto the field as representatives of Minnesota for the first time ever. It would be no easy task. The Twins would travel to the historic Yankee Stadium to face the reigning American League champion New York Yankees, who were coming off a loss in the 1960 World Series. Twins starter Pedro Ramos hadn't been all that good in the seasons leading up to 1961, but through six innings he and Yankees ace Whitey Ford tossed scoreless frames. Still scoreless in the seventh, Twins outfielder Bob Allison guessed right on a 1–0 count, crushing a curveball into the leftfield seats for a 1–0 lead and the first run in team history. Ramos allowed just three hits over nine scoreless innings and the Twins added on after Allison's homer to win their inaugural game 6–0.
When the Twins arrived at Metropolitan Stadium to play their first home game the next week, there was excitement. Not only had fans waited years for that day, but the Twins returned with a 5–1 record, as well. Their opponent carried a familiar name, too; it would be the Washington Senators, a first-year expansion team that had replaced the Twins in the city, arriving in Bloomington, Minnesota.
During that game on April 21, 1961, in front of a then-record crowd of 24,606 fans, the Senators jumped out to a quick 2–0 lead in the first inning. Marty Keough scored the first run on a double-play grounder, and Dale Long hit a home run to push Washington in front. The Twins would score three runs on home runs from Don Mincher and Lenny Green, and the teams entered the ninth inning tied 3–3.
In the top half of the inning, the Senators scored twice to regain the lead at 5–3, but the Twins had one more chance in the ninth inning to win their home opener. With the bases loaded and one out, Hal Naragon popped out to the shortstop, and pinch-hitter Pete Whisenant struck out to end the game. Still, Big League baseball had arrived.
When Minnesota finally got its team prior to that 1961 season, it was getting a franchise about which San Francisco Chronicle editor Charley Dryden had once written: "Washington Senators — First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League." But things went differently in Minnesota.
From their inaugural season in 1961 through the 1970 season, the Twins sat near the top of the league in attendance. They made it to the World Series in their fifth season, and they won the American League West in the final two years of that first decade.
What was most important, however, was that afternoon announcement in October 1960. Without that, Puckett might have never carried the team on his back some 31 years later, the Twins may have never made the trip first to the Metrodome and then to Target Field, and the team may have never had a 50plus-year history in the Twin Cities.
That day brought baseball to Minnesota and marked the beginning of a long journey.CHAPTER 3
They called him "Killer."
Half of the time the title fit just fine, the other half, not so much. On the field, Harmon Killebrew became one of the most feared hitters of his generation. He hit monstrous home runs and annihilated opposing pitchers by day and night. Off the field, he couldn't have been more different. It isn't to say Killebrew was a bad guy on the field, but his nickname stems from what he did with his bat and not his actions or his personality. Killebrew was bashful and quiet in reality, much different than many would expect based on the way he blasted the ball from home plate throughout his illustrious 22-year Hall of Fame career.
"Harmon Killebrew was one of the classiest people I've ever met in my life," former Twin Rich Reese once said. "He treated people with respect, even with the stature he had."
That stature would in time become legendary.
Born in Payette, Idaho, in 1936, Killebrew's father gave him a baseball glove when he was eight years old and worked with him and his brother out in the yard.
"You're tearing up the grass," his mother would yell.
"We're not raising grass," his father would shout back, "we're raising boys."
In reality, they were raising the "Killer."
Killebrew, who said he drew much of his strength from carrying 10-gallon milk cans onto trucks, decided to stay home after high school, and while playing for a local semi-pro baseball team, U.S. Senator Herman Welker tipped off Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith to a kid from Idaho who he thought could hit the ball pretty well. So Griffith sent his farm director, Ossie Bluege, to Idaho. As the story goes, Bluege rented a car in Boise, Idaho, and drove through the rain some 60 miles to the small town to watch Killebrew play. Finally, the skies cleared.
"And that night, I happened to hit a ball over the left-field fence — and I'd been going to that ballpark since I was a small boy and never had seen anyone hit a ball over that left-field fence," Killebrew would say later. "It was over 408 feet down the left-field line, and no one that I can recall had ever hit one over there in previous years."
The next morning, Bluege stepped off the home run and measured it at 435 feet in a nearby beet field — not a potato patch, Killebrew would point out. He left a contract in Welker's law office, for $30,000. The 17-year-old Killebrew signed on as a bonus baby in 1954 with the Senators and the rest was history.
Excerpted from 100 Things Twins Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Alex Halsted. Copyright © 2016 Alex Halsted. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
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Meet the Author
Alex Halsted has written for publications including Gameday Magazine and Twins Magazine. He first started writing at Twins-Territory.com.
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