I started writing sports columns in the Twin Cities in 1979. There have been over 8,000 through the years. This might be my favorite -- a column written for the Star Tribune of Oct. 29, 1991. The scene was Tom Kelly’s office in the Metrodome, in the hours after the Twins won Game 7 of the World Series:
When Tom Lasorda wins the World Series, old crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Jerry Vale drop by the manager's office to schmooze. On Monday morning, 90 minutes after he had equaled Lasorda's World Series championship total (two), Tom Kelly was schmoozing with Lunch McKenzie.
"You know Lunch, don't you?" Kelly said. "He runs the visiting locker room for the Vikings and Gophers games. He's the general manager of our fantasy football team - the TKs."
Kelly and Lunch were puffing on long, dark brown cigars. Even a visitor who believes this stuff about secondary smoke is nonsense feared for his lungs in this environment. Tammany Hall never had a room filled with this much cigar smoke.
A young voice from the corner offered an observation. "I don't know why you didn't play Derrick Fenner," the voice said. It was Tom Kelly Jr., the 12-year-old son of the Twins manager.
"Derrick Fenner and Drew Hill . . . we didn't play either of 'em," Kelly Sr. said. "Fenner scored two. Hill caught a 90-yarder. We left 20 points sitting on the bench."
Lunch smiled and took another hit off his cigar. "We had other things on our minds," he said.
Lunch was distracted by his pal Kelly's attempt to manage another winner in the World Series. Sparky Anderson managed back-to-back winners in Cincinnati in 1975-76. Since then, only one manager, Lasorda, had two Series winners - in 1981 and 1988. So, by early yesterday morning, Kelly had scored the quickest World Series repeat victories, 1987 and 1991, that baseball has seen in 15 years.
Atlanta? The capital of the New South is now 0-for-82 in the quest for championships by its major sports teams. The Braves, the Hawks, the Falcons and long-departed Flames have played a combined 82 seasons, without bringing a title to the city.
The Twin Cities? We have two World Series titles in five seasons and an outstanding softball team at the University of Minnesota. How lucky can a community get?
Good and lucky over the weekend. Four years ago, pitching coach Dick Such discovered the existence of the Dome gods. This happened in the middle of the '87 season, when a tying run was scampering from first on a drive hit to deep center field.
"Make it bounce, Dome gods," Such yelled.
The ball landed, took a high hop over the fence for a ground-rule double, the tying and winning runs were stranded on second and third, and the Dome gods helped to carry the Twins all the way to their first World Series title (4-0 at home, 0-3 on the road).
On Sunday night, the Dome gods had made one of their most-dramatic intercessions. Lonnie Smith was flying off first, Terry Pendleton's drive was reaching the gap in deep left-center, and Atlanta was about to take a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning of Game 7. Then, Lonnie stopped at second, stood there, five feet past the base, looking for the whereabouts of the baseball.
"I don't want to say anything negative on the guy," Kelly said. "He was outstanding against us . . . hit three home runs. But when Lonnie stopped out there, all I could think was, `What is he doing?' "
Smith had to check in at third base. Pendleton went to second. There were no outs, but Black Jack Morris - after getting the intervention of the Dome gods - stranded Smith and Pendleton. The Twins were the team that won it, 1-0 in 10 - the team that won the
1991 World Series (4-0 at home, 0-3 on the road).
"They were some ball games," Kelly said. "They were games! Saturday night . . . Kirby (Puckett) hits the home run. Tonight, Morris . . . you don't do what he did. You can't write a script like that. And Geno Larkin? Bases loaded, one out, bottom of the 10th, no
score. A lot of guys go up in that situation a little nervous about pulling the trigger. Geno goes up there on one leg, takes a whack at the first pitch he sees, and we win. They were games!"
You have never heard the Twins manager like this on the Big Neighbor on Sunday morning. You have never seen the Twins manager like this in front of the mini-cams. It was approaching 1 a.m. and the guy from New Jersey was a combination of Jay Leno and Red Smith.
"I remember the '75 Series - Cincinnati and Boston," Kelly said. "I was just a fan, watching in Jersey, and they had all those rainouts. You didn't mind it, because that meant there would be a game to watch tomorrow. You thought, `We get tomorrow.' That Series was so good you wanted to have a tomorrow.
"It's different in the dugout - your palms are sweating, you're working, you're dying - but, for the fans watching, they probably felt the same way I did in '75. These games were so good they couldn't wait for tomorrow."
There was a knock on the door and the bearded, Latin mug of Adalberto Ortiz Jr. appeared. "Here or here?" he asked the manager, pointing at the ring fingers on his left and right hands.
"That's up to you, Junior," Kelly said.
"I'll be at the parade Tuesday, but I have to go back to Puerto Rico on Tuesday," Junior said. "I won't be able to go to the White House. I don't care. I see that guy (George Bush) on TV all the time. Who needs him?
"All I want is (ring size) 9 1/2, please. That's all . . . 9 1/2, please."
Randy Bush walked in. He played for Kelly on a championship team in Class AA Orlando in 1981. He played for Kelly on the '87 champions. He is one of T.K.'s boys. He reached over the desk and exchanged a bear hug with the manager. "Why can't we blow anybody out? Why does it always have to be one run, in extra innings?" Bush said. "We needed a blowout. This was too hard on the nerves. I have a headache. My gut is killing me. I suppose next spring, we'll blow out Mercer College, when nobody gives a darn."
Chili Davis walked in. Looked around. Saw a couple reporters and didn't know whether he wanted to say what he had to say. "What are you up to, Mr. Davis?" Kelly asked.
"Just wanted to say that I would like to play for you next year," Davis said.
Kelly stood up, shook hands with Chili and said: "Be my guest."
Tell us about Davis, Kelly was asked, after Chili had left. He seems too aloof to be a hard worker.
"You're dead wrong about that," Kelly said. "You know that machine . . . where you get in there and wheel with both arms? If I did it for four minutes, I'd be dead. This spring, I was going to ride the bike in the exercise room, and Chili climbed into that machine. He said he was going 30 minutes.
“ I told him, `No chance. No one can do that.' I had to stay and watch. Chili put those
headphones on, and he started pumping those wheels - he wasn't lollygagging, he was pumping - for 30 minutes. He didn't do that once a day in the spring. He did it twice a day."
The reporter asked about Sunday's architect of the 10-inning shutout _ Morris. "He can be an SOB," Kelly said. "Some days, he comes in with that look and you know you better come up with a line, get something stirred up and get him talking, or he is going to be walking around with that look all day.
"What a man, though. I told him after nine, `Jack, I love you, baby, but that's enough.' He looked at me and said, `I want to pitch.' What are you going to do?"
The large face of Kent Hrbek - sporting a couple of days' worth of beard - stepped in. "How did the Hogs come out?" Kelly asked. The Hogs are Hrbek's struggling fantasy football team.
"The Hogs won," Hrbek said. "That's why I'm in awe. The Twins won the World Series and the Hogs won, too."
Kelly said: "Try calling your wife again, Lunch. We got to find out about the TKs."
The line had been busy earlier; now the phone was ringing. Mrs. Lunch had been charged with monitoring the football summaries.
Kelly took the phone and the person on the other end obviously offered congratulations. "We already won that game," Kelly said. "That's old news. What we want to know is what happened with the TKs?’’