A lifelong Minnesotan doesn’t have much trouble naming an all-time favorite Twins team: the 1987 club that brought home the first World Series title.
There is also no debate here as to the identity of the all-time favorite non-Twins team: the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies, losers in six games to Toronto in the World Series.
There were death blows to both of these teams in a 24-hour period from Sunday to early Monday, when first Darren Daulton died of brain cancer at 55, and Don Baylor died after a long, private battle with the blood cancer, multiple myeloma, at 68.
Daulton was the backbone of the ’93 Phillies as a warrior catcher. Baylor was with the Twins for two months as the ultimate rental, yet teammates from that team talk of “Groove’’ with a respect that usually would demand a degree of longevity.
“There was immediate credibility when he walked into the clubhouse, because he had been through the wars,’’ Dan Gladden said. “He was 38 but still cut [physically] … a tough veteran who was here to win.’’
Baylor was brought in to give the Twins some righthanded punch in the designated hitter role. He was 14-for-49 with only one extra-base hit (a double) in 20 games down the stretch.
That remained his extra-base total through a five-game ALCS with Detroit and into the sixth game of the World Series vs. St. Louis. The Twins had lost three straight road games in St. Louis, and the Cardinals had their best starter, John Tudor, on the mound for Game 6 in the Metrodome.
The Twins were down 5-2 in the bottom of the fifth. And then Baylor hit a two-run home run off Tudor, and all Hades broke loose — an 11-5 victory in Game 6, and a 4-2 victory the next night to win the World Series.
Baylor’s death brought to Twitter several links to the Game 6 home run. The eruption of sound was amazing, perhaps as loud as the Dome would get during that thunderous October.
“The Dome was loud from the first game against Detroit and got louder when we came back from Detroit and walked into the Dome,’’ Tim Laudner said. “If Donnie’s home run was as loud as the Dome got that October, then it was a good time for it.’’
Roy Smalley was a Baylor teammate with the Twins, as he had been earlier with the Yankees. “Everyone with the Yankees called him ‘Groove,’ and I went with it,’’ he said. “I just read that Frank Robinson gave it to him …
“Baylor came up as a kid and someone asked him, ‘How are you going to break into an outfield as stacked as the Orioles?’ And he said, ‘I’m not worried; I got my groove going.’ ”
Robinson loved the confidence, and by 1972, he was gone and Baylor was in the Orioles outfield. He was there for four seasons, one in Oakland, six in Anaheim, three with the Yankees, in the 1986 World Series with the Red Sox, the 1987 Series with the Twins, and the 1988 Series with the A’s.
Nice way to end a playing career for Groove — three straight World Series.
The fondness for the ’93 Phillies is harder to trace. These were the reasons:
One, the Phillies were a phenomenal cast of characters; two, the manager was colorful Jim Fregosi, and the pitching coach was Johnny Podres; and three, Jim Eisenreich was thriving with those Phillies a decade after being forced to leave the Twins.
The Phillies had Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk and the Wild Thing, Mitch Williams, to name a few. Their hard-nosed leader was Daulton, the catcher who came into the 1993 season with seven surgeries on his left knee and started 143 games behind the plate.
The Phillies upset Atlanta in the NLCS to advance to play Toronto. The series was tied 2-2, and there was a play in Game 5 when Jeff Blauser was trying to score for the Braves.
Daulton planted himself on the base line, challenging Blauser to go through him. Blauser decided to take the outside route, and Daulton tagged him to end a threat.
How do you block the plate after seven knee surgeries?
“I wouldn’t block the plate for a meaningless run in April,” Daulton said. “But there are situations that demand you do everything you can to keep a run from scoring.
“That was one of those situations.”
Yes, two all-time favorite World Series teams lost two all-time competitors in a 24-hour period.