Thirty years ago, during a 1984 season filled with dramas on field, off field and in the seven-team American League West standings, the Minnesota Twins offered the clearest evidence possible that anticipating the twists of a baseball season can be a foolish exercise.
The underlying concern as the Twins gathered in Orlando for spring training wasn’t whether the team would reverse its losing ways — the fans and the media expected not — but whether owner Calvin Griffith would escape his Metrodome lease and give into the overtures from Tampa Bay interests.
Minority owner Gabe Murphy had sold his 42 percent to a Tampa Bay group, and Calvin had a clause in the Dome lease that allowed him to void it if the Twins didn’t average 1.4 million paid over a three-year period. They had drawn 921,186 and 858,939, while winning 130 and losing 194 in the first two years in the Dome.
Here’s just a sample of key dates from the season of 1984:
APRIL 3: The Twins open at home and lose for a 10th straight time, to Detroit’s Jack Morris, 8-1.
MAY 7: Manager Billy Gardner, a wonderful malapropist, is waiting for the arrival of his new center fielder in Anaheim. “Where’s Punkett?’’ he says. Kirby Puckett’s plane is late, and he gets there needing $83 for cab fare. He doesn’t make his big-league debut until the next night, and gets four hits.
MAY 15: Harvey Mackay and the Minnesota Baseball Task Force say they have $6 million pledged from corporations to buy 1.4 million tickets toward enforcing Calvin’s lease. The buyout starts that night, and reaches full comedy the next day, when Mackay purchases all the tickets available for the Family Day discount. Tickets sold: 51,863. Actual witnesses: Roughly 6,000.
JUNE 4: Outfielder Jim Eisenreich ends his third attempt to play for the Twins while dealing with undiagnosed Tourette’s syndrome and goes home to St. Cloud. He returns in 1987 for Kansas City with an effective medical regimen and plays 12 more big-league seasons.
JUNE 22: Carl Pohlad completes a deal to purchase 97.5 percent of the Twins from Calvin and his sister Thelma Haynes, Murphy and another minor partner. There’s a pregame ceremony in which Calvin and Thelma sign a letter of intent to sell.
JULY 28: Frank Viola beats California 6-1 and the Twins (at 51-49) move into first place in the AL West, where they stay for 47 of the next 50 days.
AUG. 19: The Twins acquire veteran Chris Speier to replace light-hitting Houston Jimenez at shortstop. He plays one inning during what became a rainout in Milwaukee and reinjures a troublesome heel.
AUG. 22: Jimenez returns, the Twins sweep a doubleheader from the Brewers and increase their lead in the West to 5 ½ games.
SEPT. 17: Harold Baines hits three home runs for the White Sox in a 7-3 victory in the Metrodome, knocking the Twins out of first place. They regain a tie for first on Sept. 23 before falling back.
SEPT. 21: A formal pregame ceremony is held in which Pohlad takes control of the team. There’s an enthused crowd of more than 50,000 to cheer the Pohlad purchase (believe me, you cheered).
SEPT. 27: The Twins enter a four-game series in Cleveland trailing Kansas City by 1 ½ games. Reliever Ron Davis helps to blow a 3-0 lead, then gives up a game-losing home run to journeyman Jamie Quirk, in the only plate appearance Quirk ever would have for Cleveland.
SEPT. 28: The Twins, leading 10-0 after 2 ½ innings and with ace Viola on the mound, lose 11-10 and are officially eliminated when Kansas City wins that night. Gary Gaetti has a throwing error in Cleveland’s seven-run sixth and offers this candor: “It’s hard to throw with both hands around your neck.’’
Footnote: Gaetti and compadres (minus Davis) win a World Series three years later.