NONFICTION: A recounting of the 1991 “worst-to-first” World Series, the year the Twins beat the Braves.
What was the greatest World Series of all time? Some historians and fans would argue for the 1960 classic between the Pirates and the Yankees; others would opt for the 1975 Series, which matched the Reds and the Red Sox. But the 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves is probably the only one remembered as the greatest by players and fans of the winning and losing teams.
Tim Wendel, a great baseball writer and historian, relives the only time that two last-place teams rebounded the next year to play for the championship — the “worst-to-first” Series, as it was known at the time. Two superb teams — the AL pennant winners, the Twins, won 95 games during the season, and the NL champion Braves won 94 — played, with five games decided by one run, four games that weren’t decided until the final at-bat and three that went into extra innings.
After the final game, “In the Twins clubhouse Commissioner Fay Vincent declared this ‘was probably the greatest World Series ever played,’ and the Twins soon afterward broke into an impromptu rendition of Queen’s ‘We Are the Champions.’ Players on both teams talked about how the World Series trophy could have been, perhaps should have been split in half — that’s how close and well these handful of games, almost each one with is own particular hero or two, had been.”
The Twins’ heroes included ace pitcher Jack Morris, whose “bushy mustache gave him the air of an ornery aging gunslinger,” as well as All-Star first baseman Kent Hrbek, who, like his contemporaries George Brett and Tony Gwynn, played for just one team his entire career. And, of course, there was centerfielder Kirby Puckett, whom Dave Winfield would later call “the only player in the history of baseball everybody loved.”
The lasting image of the Series is Puckett, right fist in the air as he rounded the bases after hitting the 11th-inning home run that forced Game Seven. (The moment is immortalized in bronze outside Target Field.)
The Twins home games were played at the Metrodome, which was so loud that visiting players were sometimes forced to wear earplugs. Kansas City pitcher Dan Quisenberry once quipped, “I don’t think there are any good uses for nuclear weapons, but then this may be one.” The cheering at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium was no less raucous, especially when the Braves put on their “rally caps” — inside-out with the bill backward.
As Twins ace Jack Morris, who pitched 10 innings to win the final game, put it, “Somebody had to go home a loser, but nobody was a loser in my mind.”
Allen Barra’s latest book is “Mickey and Willie: The Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age.”