The dinner bell is scheduled to clang for the 17th Turkey Banquet today at precisely 2 p.m. Through its history, this has been a feast worthy of Miles Standish, with huge, golden, pen-raised turkeys, mounds of stuffing, rich-brown gravy and lump-free mashed potatoes, butter-soaked yams, and fresh pumpkin, apple and mincemeat pies.
Sadly, this banquet could wind up being catered by White Castle, if the greedy, irresponsible kitchen and wait staffs do not agree to a few changes in the basic agreement with the Turkey Committee.
The salaries paid to our superstar chefs have gotten out of control. We're willing to lower the number of banquets it takes for a chef to cook out the option on his services, if they agree to cap their salaries. We're willing to raise the minimum wage paid to the kitchen help, if the union agrees to give up the money earned through the licensing of cookbooks. And, all management is asking from the waitpersons is a 50-50 split in tips.
If the strike occurs as scheduled this afternoon, the real losers will be the little people who buy tickets to the banquet. Yes, the fans are the ones who always end up paying for the greed of the banquet staff. Management is saddened by the prospect of this strike, but the short-term pain our guests will feel wolfing down those White Castle sliders today will be rewarded with the long-term survival of the Turkey Banquet.
Big, basted birds or sliders, either way, the time has come to bring in this year's class of Turkeys:-Don Fehr and Gary Bettman. When you cut to the bone, these are the two people responsible for the fact there was no finish to the 1994 baseball season and no start to the 1994-95 National Hockey League season. Fehr, the director of the union, led the baseball players into a strike. Bettman, the NHL commissioner, locked out the hockey players.
- Jeff Reboulet. The Reb is the Twins' assistant player representative and was an outspoken critic of management when the strike hit in mid-August. A great American, Billy Gardner, once said of striking utility infielder Chuck Baker: "Three outfits want him - the Army, the Navy and the Marines." Remember that, Reb, as your precious days in the major leagues evaporate, one after the other. - Don Shelby. Richard Pryor's concerts were funny. Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine was funny. At their best, none of these gentlemen was as funny as Shelby as he walked across the court of an empty Target Center last spring and shared with the WCCO-TV audience his innermost thoughts on the proposed sale of the Timberwolves to a New Orleans group. Great material, Don. We were on the floor, kicking our feet, crying, we were laughing so hard.
- Michael Jordan. There are a minimum of 25,000 people in the Western Hemisphere with a greater aptitude for hitting a baseball, and that includes several members of the Coors Silver Bullets.
- Mike Veeck. How about this guy? He is trying to get the politicians in St. Paul to spend millions for a riverfront stadium for his Class N (never-were, never-will-be) ballplayers. Before Mayor Norm Coleman gets carried away, he would be advised to remember the Kicks, the early years at Canterbury Downs and the early minutes at St. Croix Meadows. The Saints - stale jokes and all - are a phenomenon that too shall pass.
- Scott Erickson. Too bad the strike came. Erickson might have been able to equal his 19 defeats from 1993 and earn another big raise from the Twins.
- Mike Brown. The Timberwolves must be represented by a player at the banquet. Late in a recent game, Brown had too much pride to tell coach Bill Blair that his long streak of consecutive games played was on the line. Don't you know, Big Brown Bear, that pride isn't an issue with this pack of mutts?
- Sean Salisbury. The quarterback was trying to get the Detroit Lions interested in his services during the free-agent signing. And he suggested that NFL defenses feared the idea he could be teaming with Barry Sanders. Salisbury can be funnier than Shelby.
- Arne Carlson. Our horse-laughing chief executive knew passage of the OTB amendment would save Minnesota's grass-roots thoroughbred business and would have done nothing to add to the state's gambling problem. Carlson was afraid he might lose 50 votes from his landslide victory over John Wimpy, so he refused to take a position. OTB lost by a narrow margin. OK, sing along: "That . . . gutless ... Arne!"
- Howie Hanson. He was a leader of the fight to reject the Department of Natural Resource's deal with the Mille Lacs Band of the Chippewa on treaty fishing rights at the big walleye lake. Thanks to Howie's dogged fight against the settlement, the Chippewa figure to wind up with fishing rights over a 12-county area of East Central Minnesota. Don't worry, Howie. You can always pick up a couple of pounds of walleye filets at Byerly's.
- Bill Sexton. This former Slayton basketball coach badly wanted the Timberwolves. He just didn't want to pay for them.
- Ken Burns. Too many hours of Burns' PBS documentary, "Baseball," were devoted to his cast of pretentious dweebs: George Will, Daniel Okrent, Thomas Boswell and John Thorne. There was even an off-the-wall poet going through a bad hair day. Burns' invitation to the Turkey Banquet was secured when he chose Bob Costas - born in 1952 - to give us the exciting details of Willie Mays' catch in the 1954 World Series.
- Martina Navratilova. She retired. Big deal. For a number of years, Martina has been Willie Mays (him again) playing for the Mets. You knew Navratilova was washed up when the crazed German did not bother to account for Martina in his plot to return Steffi Graf to the world's No. 1 rating.
- Sid Hartman. Many of his close personal friends have been honored by the Turkey Committee, but this is Sid's first invitation. Our beloved colleague earned it by using the bully pulpit of his newspaper column and his Sunday radio show to convince every living, breathing resident of Minnesota that Coach Wacky's football Gophers had a real shot at an upset in the season opener. Final: Penn State 56, Gophers 3.
- Tonya and Nancy. You didn't believe it when you first heard of the possibility that she was involved, but it turned out Tonya Harding was the Ma Barker of figure skating. And the rival who wound up getting hit with the stick - Nancy Kerrigan - has since come across as such a brat that the only difference between her and Dennis Rodman is pink hair.
The Turkey Committee's final meeting was held Tuesday. There were strong arguments offered that Harding and Kerrigan should be named co-winners of The Herschel - the Turkey of the Year trophy named in honor of that legendary Viking, Herschel Walker. Eventually, the committee members were persuaded that, with such marvelous Twin Cities candidates available, we should stick to the local bias the award has had in recent years.
Tonya and Nancy were eliminated from grand-prize consideration, and the debate raged into the evening. It's my feeling, if there was not a television playing in the meeting, that we would have a woman staking a full claim to The Herschel for the first time. For weeks, Chris Voelz, the women's athletic director at Minnesota, was the front-runner. Productive, capable people who have worked for Voelz can't stand her. Productive, capable people who have worked with Voelz can't stand her. Put Voelz in a room with them and, in 5 minutes, Mother Teresa and Paul Wellstone would be trading punches.
What happened is that, at the precise moment the final vote was going to be taken, someone looked at the TV and said: "Hey, the Timberwolves are trailing Cleveland by 42."
Yes, our NBA team, the outfit that had been meticulously put together by the new general manager hired after the 1991-92 season, was 42 down to the Brad Daugherty-less Cavs. The same much-ballyhooed general manager traded for Chuckles Person, Micheal Williams, Stacey King and the aforementioned Mike Brown. Later, he drafted the high-risk J.R. Rider and gave $650,000 to the invisible Charles Shackleford.
"If we don't give it to him this time, it will be too late," a committee member said. "He won't be around here to be considered next year."
So, we have awarded The Herschel to him - Jack McCloskey.
By the way, if this year's Turkey presentation seems considerably more mean-spirited than on previous Thanksgivings, the committee is simply trying to reflect the mood of the country and the leader of the new political populism, Newton L. Gingrich.