June 6, 2016

When religion divided the Minnesota Twins

What do you do when the Twins fall to 16-40 by early June? You find a reason to avoid reading depressing box scores. For me that meant buying “Down To The Last Pitch,” sportswriter Tim Wendel’s book on the 1991 World Series between the Twins and Atlanta Braves. Many have called it the greatest World Series of all time.

Twenty-five years later and both teams are struggling. The Braves are also 16-40. But neither team was struggling in late 1991 and they finally met in a World Series that took seven games to decide. How good was it? Four of the seven games were decided on the last pitch, including Kirby Puckett’s “We’ll see you tomorrow night” game-ending Game 6 home run to force Game 7.

And then there was Game 7 itself. Twins pitcher Jack Morris went the distance, throwing an incredible 10 inning shutout to beat the Braves and win the series, 1-0.

But Wendel’s book is much more than the series. As he writes about each game of the series, he also looks at the history of the Twins and Braves, including a time when religion divided the Twins’ clubhouse.

After the Twins first World Series win in 1987, Gary Gaetti, the team’s good-hitting and slick-fielding third baseman — and arguably the best third baseman in the team’s history — became born again. Previously nicknamed the “rat” for his ability to hit the “high cheese,” Gaetti “began to arrive later at the ballpark and spend more time at his locker room reading the Bible,” Wendel writes.

That didn’t sit well with Kent Hrbek, the team’s longtime first baseman. The two of them used to hunt, fish and hit the bars together, but Hrbek asked for a separate room when Gaetti began to talk to him about Jesus Christ.

“That’s where I drew the line,” Hrbek said. “That’s the only time we had any flak between us. He was into it deep the first year, and that’s what everybody I talked to told me how it would be.”

Hrbek was later quoted as saying it was like a “death in the family.”

Gaetti was later named an All-Star in 1989, and during the player announcements before the game, Gaetti held up his glove, which read, “Jesus is Lord.” Hrbek, at home, turned off the TV.

Gaetti was not on the 1991 team. He left as a free agent for the California Angels and was replaced by the Twins with a platoon of Scott Leius and Mike Pagliarulo, the former Yankee.

Andy MacPhail, the Twins general manager at the time, said Gaetti’s faith had “zero bearing” on the team’s decision not to re-sign him.

Extra innings…

Well, after the Twins swept the Seattle Mariners, they got swept by the Oakland A’s and then dropped three of four to the Tampa Bay Rays. More bad news: Just when Miguel Sano was getting hot, he winds up on the disabled list with a partially torn hamstring, an injury that could keep him off the field for some time. Let’s hope he gets back sooner than expected. Meanwhile, Byron Buxton, recalled to the team from the minors, is playing much better the second time around. Let’s hope this keeps up.




Hi, I’m Rolf Boone, Twins fan.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.