When the Turkey Committee moved to new headquarters earlier this year, a number of its most important research papers were lost in the shuffle. The members of the Turkey Committee gathered in emergency session, scratched their chins - the Turkey Chairman scratched his chins, too - and decided this was the list of Grand Turkeys for the previous 10 years:
1978, Woody Hayes. 1979, Pete Rozelle and Bowie Kuhn. 1980, Bobby Knight. 1981, George Steinbrenner. 1982, Billy Martin. 1983, Paul Giel.1984, Les Steckel. 1985, Lou Holtz. 1986, Kenneth Keller. 1987, Carl Pohlad.
The Turkey Awards had a noble beginning on Thanksgiving Day 1978, when Hayes, the Ohio State football coach, was honored as the Grand Turkey for his decades of tyranny. The astuteness of this selection was verified five weeks later at the Gator Bowl. Hayes tried to mug Clemson’s Charlie Bauman after the linebacker had the temerity to intercept an Ohio State pass. Woody was fired not long thereafter.
In recent history, the Grand Turkey has started to surface closer to Minnesota, the birthplace of the Turkey Awards. The citizens of the North Star State can claim a place among the nation’s leaders when it comes to self-centered, self-promoting, tight-fisted, public-be-damned and just-plain-silly sporting figures and institutions. These are the qualities the Turkey Awards seek to honor.
Here are the Turkeys who will be sitting at the head table when the feast begins this afternoon. We’ll start down here at the end, next to the sweet potatoes, the cranberries and the mincemeat pies:
Bert Blyleven. Rik Aalbert earned his invitation by rejecting a $1.8 million contract from the Twins at midseason, then reaching back for that little extra down the stretch to finish with a 10-17 record. After being traded to California, Blyleven placed an ad in the Star Tribune, saying goodbye to the Minnesota fans. This was something of a contrast to 1974, when Blyleven first said goodbye to the Minnesota fans by giving them a one-armed salute at Met Stadium.
Andy MacPhail. Young Andrew deserves a spot for refusing to spend $5 of Carl Pohlad’s millions to give the Twins a chance to repeat as champs in 1988. First, Young Andrew gave us Joe Niekro, Tippy Martinez and Lefty Carlton, rather than seeking a starter in his pitching and salary prime. Then, MacPhail saved Pohlad more money by trading Tom Brunansky for Tom Herr. When the chance to acquire Mike Boddicker surfaced, MacPhail passed again. This Turkey’s for you, Andy.
T. Geron Bell. It was Bell, the Twins’ president, who ultimately approved the scheme to strong-arm sponsors into buying bales of discounted tickets in order to artificially surpass 3 million in attendance. The poor folks at WCCO were forced to buy so many tickets the company is now for sale.
Debi Thomas. The judges at Calgary were ready to hand Thomas the gold medal in women’s figure skating. Thomas handed it back. Michael Spinks stayed vertical longer in his showdown with Mike Tyson than Thomas did in her’s with Katarina Witt. Let’s face it. Debi choked.
Eddie Edwards. They called him “The Eagle” at Calgary, but this guy definitely is a Turkey. The bunny-hill ski jumper from Great Britain was a bigger Olympic fraud in 1988 than Ben Johnson.
Dr. Jamie Astaphan. Rather than Johnson, the Turkey Committee issued an invitation to Ben’s steroid adviser, Astaphan, the physician with the fastest needle in St. Kitt’s.
Mitch (Blood) Green. Here’s the newest instructor at the Leon Spinks Driving School. Blood not only lost a one-punch TKO to Tyson outside a Harlem haberdashery at 4 a.m., he had his driver’s license suspended for the 58th time.
Paul Erickson. Two years ago, Rudy Perpich, a devoted featherbedder, formed the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission. Erickson was named MASC’s executive director. Erickson was the driving force behind the much-ballyhooed Star of the North Games, held for the first time last summer in St. Cloud. The turnout of athletes was so low anyone connected with MASC should’ve been wearing a paper-bag mask.
Three Stooges. We invited Al Michaels, Jim Palmer and Tim McCarver, the three filibusterers from ABC who wouldn’t let a pitch go by in the National League playoffs without wrestling over the microphone to analyze it. They will be in attendance to represent the most Turkey-filled occupation in America — television sportscasting.
Thomas Boswell. We have the Washington Post’s Boswell to represent the print media. Boswell’s the guy who decided to say Jose Canseco used steroids because he figured there might be an outside chance it was true.
Wendy Anderson. The man who wanted to be a U.S. senator so badly that he named himself had another hare-brained scheme this summer. After the long overdue firing of Paul Giel as Minnesota’s athletic director, Anderson attempted to rally sentiment among his fellow Regents to bring back the Golden Boy. Wendy, you get to sit right up here at the head of the table, next to the huge, golden bird, with its chopped-Quayle (no sage) stuffing. This is when we get to the drama. A drumstick roll, please.
Third runner-up: Dino Ciccarelli of the North Stars. Whether it was his whining or his stick swinging or other quaint activities, Dino spent about as much of the year acting like a jerk as is possible for any adult.
Second runner-up: Tom Herr. The Iron Horse came to Minnesota with a chance to play an important role on a team trying to defend a championship. Herr brought with him the enthusiasm normally associated with being called to an IRS audit.
First runner-up: Dr. Frank Wilderson. As a university vice president, Dr. Frank was the overseer of Minnesota’s minority affairs and athletic departments. Take your choice of scandals. . . . If you ask this guy “What’s up, Doc?” there’s no chance you’ll get an answer. If the Grand Turkey steps down for any reason over the next 12 months, Dr. Frank, the first runner-up, will be called on to assume the duties.
The Turkey Committee would like to note that it strongly considered Gordon Gund and his brother George - the real-life, millionaire versions of Larry and one of the Darryls - as co-Grand Turkeys, but the committee prides itself on making tough choices. Example: Smilin’ Carl Pohlad was named the Grand Turkey in 1987, a month after his team won the World Series.
This year we’ve made another tough choice. The winner is a gregarious Jaguar owner and a general all-around good guy. He also managed through shrewd maneuvering of personnel to turn two franchises (Cleveland and Minnesota) into the dreariest team in the NHL within a decade.
The 1988 Grand Turkey Award belongs to Louie Nanne.
Look at it this way, Sweet Lou. It’s something to fill that spot on the mantle you were saving for a replica of the Stanley Cup.