You never know when you’re going to have a Minnesota Twins moment.
There I was watching re-runs of Mary Tyler Moore, the Minneapolis-based sitcom that first hit the airwaves in September 1970, when it happened. Mary Richards, trying her best to help her boss, Lou Grant, patch things up with his wife, Edie, joins Lou and the rest of the WJM newsroom in a bar for a drink. The others at the table: Anchorman Ted Baxter, Weatherman Gordy Howard (played by actor John Amos) and news writer Murray Slaughter.
Here’s how the scene unfolds:
Murray: Say, Gordy, what did the Twins do last night?
Gordy: Oh, it was too much. They were falling all over themselves.
Mary: Gordy, I didn’t know you had twins!
Lou: No, Mary, he’s talking about the Minnesota Twins.
This was episode 21 of the first season, so it was well into 1971 when the Twins became a bit for the show. Was this the first and only time the Twins were mentioned? I can’t imagine that it was. After all, the series was set in Minnesota and in a newsroom.
So were the Twins “falling all over themselves” as Gordy says? Well, they weren’t very good in 1971. After winning the division in 1970, the Twins slumped to a record of 74-86, good enough for fifth place in the division. They scored 654 runs that season, but allowed 670 runs, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
The longest losing streak was six games, including in July which contributed to a 9-17 record that month. The Twins struggled against the Baltimore Orioles (2-10), who again had a monster year by winning the AL East by 12 games. But oddly enough, the Twins went 8-4 against their nemesis, the New York Yankees.
They swept the Bombers at home early in the season and even had some success at Yankee Stadium.
On July 21, 1971, the Twins’ Jim Kaat got the ball for a day game against the Yanks before only 10,000 fans. I guess it’s good those Yankee fans stayed home because Kaat allowed a run on three hits over nine innings with two walks and seven strikeouts. Not only was it a complete game but also a complete effort because Kitty, according to the box score, had a hit and stole a base in the 2-1 win.
Kaat apparently put an unusual pitch to work to beat the Yanks, according to the Minneapolis Tribune.
“As the game went along, I got a pretty good screwball,” he told the paper. “In fact, everything started to come around. Usually I don’t mess with a screwball much, but today it was probably the best it’s ever been.”
Kaat went 13-14 in 1971. He made 38 starts, pitched 15 complete games, tossed four shutouts and logged 260 innings with a 3.32 ERA. As good as those numbers were, his long career with the Twins was coming to a close. In 1973, he was picked up off waivers by the Chicago White Sox. How did he wind up on the waiver wire? After pitching for the Twins since 1959, the team probably thought he was done as a pitcher. But over the next three seasons with the Pale Hose, he won 45 games with a 3.10 ERA. He finished fourth in the 1975 AL Cy Young award vote.
Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, Newspapers.com