The legend of the cursed team is usually flawed. Black cats don’t lose games, and Bartman wouldn’t have become infamous if the Cubs had fielded the subsequent routine grounder.
“Cursed” teams lose big games because opponents in big games tend to be good. “Cursed” teams are victimized by officials’ decisions and injuries because all teams are victimized by bad calls and injuries.
Vikings fans whine about bad luck, but in most cases their team has lost big games to superior teams or because of deficiencies or mistakes. For all of the complaints about the 2009 NFC Championship Game, if the Vikings don’t send 12 players onto the field, they probably win.
The ’09 Vikings weren’t cursed. They were disorganized.
The recent history of the Twins, though — that’s where happenstance meets hex.
Tuesday, the Twins placed Byron Buxton on the 60-day injured list. He is their best fielder and baserunner, and before June 14, when he went on the IL because of a sore wrist, he had an on base-plus-slugging percentage of .851. He was one of the Twins’ most important players.
Tuesday, before the Twins beat Washington 5-0 at Target Field, the team announced the Buxton news, just before pitcher Michael Pineda spoke for the first time about his 60-game suspension for using a banned substance. Then manager Rocco Baldelli talked about Buxton, Pineda and his team’s other half-dozen injuries.
At that moment, former Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, now working for Philadelphia, sat in the press box, and Justin Morneau, one of the best players of Ryan’s tenure, stood in the back of Baldelli’s office, working as a broadcaster for Fox Sports North.
Morneau looked like the ghost of injuries past.
In 2004, Ryan traded A.J. Pierzynski for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser, setting them up to win the division, but Pierzynski’s replacement, Joe Mauer, injured his knee and missed the playoffs.
In 2006, the Twins put together their most impressive team since the 1991 champs, but Liriano blew out his elbow. Forget all of those losses to the Yankees — the 2006 team getting swept in the first round by the Oakland A’s was the decade’s biggest disappointment.
In 2009, Morneau’s season ended in September because of a back injury. In 2010, Morneau missed the playoffs because of a concussion that altered the course of his career.
In 2017, Miguel Sano injured his leg and missed the playoffs.
The Twins haven’t entered the playoffs with their best players healthy since 2003. And in 2001, they lost Cristian Guzman after the All-Star break and collapsed, costing them another playoff berth.
The Twins lost to the Yankees in the playoffs in 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2017. “I think the difference between us and a team like New York is depth,” Morneau said. “Their payroll’s double what ours is. We just don’t have the depth to make up for the missing pieces.
“Everybody goes into the playoffs missing someone they’d like to have out there. Unfortunately for us, it was always a key guy, and I was one of those guys. There is nothing worse than watching your team play in the playoffs and not being able to help.
“I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘cursed,’ but one of these years you’d like to go up against the best with our best.”
If there is a silver lining to the MRI machine, Morneau said, it’s that the current version of the Twins has grown accustomed to playing without Buxton.
“It’s hard to replace a guy like him,” Morneau said. “If you played a five-game series and he didn’t get a hit, he could still be one of the most valuable players in that series.
“But he’s been out for so long, it’s the newer injuries that concern me. When you’re playing, you’re so focused on who you have and what you’re trying to do, you sometimes don’t even realize who’s missing.”
Maybe not at the time, but probably for years to come.