The 1986 season wasn't a good one for the Twins, who underperformed during the season, finishing sixth in the American League West and playing poorly enough that manager Ray Miller was fired after little more than one season on the job.
There aren't many good memories of Miller's time with the Twins. He'd been the Baltimore Orioles pitching coach and took over midway through the previous season.
But the death of Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock over trhe weekend sparked one of the more interesting and upbeat moments from Miller's tenure. It was when he invited Brock to spend a weekend with the Twins when they were in Detroit soon after he took over the team, and an encore visit during sping training the following March.
"If you don't want to hear Lou Brock talk about base running, you're crazy," Miller said
Brock held the attention of the team for an hour on a March morning, gathering the position players and walking with them around the diamond, stopping at each base to drop some wisdom. Later, he worked with several of the faster players individually and in small groups.
Lou Brock worked with (right to left) Kirby Puckett, Billy Beane, Ron Washington and minor leaguer Alex Marte. (John Croft photo)
It wasn't just about the fast guys: "The main thing that we try to achieve is on a 90-foot run between bases, you don't want to be 45 feet down the line before you get to your maximum speed," Brock explained.
"The stuff he's teaching is hard and I'm feeling very uncoordinated right now," outfielder Mickey Hatcher said afterward.
Brock mixed humor into his message, including teasing first baseman Kent Hrbek.
"Every time he came up with an idea, he'd say, `Kent, you don't have to do this,"' Hrbek said at the time.
Here's the story about Brock's visit as it appeared in the Star Tribune on March 5, 1986:
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Maybe the biggest lesson was learned when Lou Brock was still a young player with the Chicago Cubs in the early 1960s. He would spend time at the University of Chicago fieldhouse, working out with athletes who gained their reputations in track.
"I was considered fast in baseball," Brock recalled, "yet in the fieldhouse I couldn't keep up with those people. It was all in the technique. They showed me what to do and how to do it. Later, guys would tell me how much I had improved my speed when what I had really done was put those things into practice."
That was Tuesday's message to the Minnesota Twins. Before their regular spring training workout began, Brock gathered all but the pitchers at home plate. He walked them around the diamond, stopping at each base to deliver pointers, while giving a lecture that lasted more than an hour.
Brock will be with the Twins through Thursday, the second time he's been hired by the club as a consultant. His first visit came in July, just before the All-Star break, when the Twins were playing in Detroit.
The credentials are obvious. Brock, 46, is baseball's all-time stolen-base leader with 938 in a career that lasted from 1961 to 1979. Most of it was spent with the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1974, Brock stole 118 bases, a record that stood until Rickey Henderson, then with Oakland, stole 130 in 1982.
Manager Ray Miller said Brock was of considerable help when he visited last season. It wasn't that the Twins suddenly became base-stealing terrors - only Boston stole fewer bases in 1985 - as much as they didn't seem to make as many mistakes as before.
Most of his emphasis with the Twins has been on running bases instead of stealing them.
"He's got the stature to demand respect," Miller said. "If you don't want to hear Lou Brock talk about base running, you're crazy. Lou has so many little things about technique that are good for my club and exceptional for the organization. The minor-league managers are really going to benefit from this. If we have a couple of Alex Martes in the minors, there's no reason they shouldn't get some of this early."
Said Brock: "I think that on any team that's looking toward a championship, guys have to be able to go from first base to third on a single or from second to home. That's what I think the Minnesota Twins are trying to do as much as anything, learn how to get their guys to do that."
Everything was not geared toward speedsters. While faster players will be getting extra attention, Brock focused on things designed to help those with ordinary speed make better use of it.
"Kent Hrbek is not going to steal bases, so therefore he doesn't need to know these other things?" Brock asked rhetorically. "There are people who believe that. It seems like the fast guys are the ones who are either safe by a lot or out by a lot. The other ones are always safe or out by a couple of inches. Those are the guys who really need the help and if they can pick things up, you're really upgrading your base running.
"The main thing that we try to achieve is on a 90-foot run between bases, you don't want to be 45 feet down the line before you get to your maximum speed. If Kirby Puckett can do it in three steps, others should be able to do it in three steps."
Said Gary Gaetti, who had 13 stolen bases last year but isn't known for his speed: "When you're not real fast, any little tip that you might pick up can make a world of difference."
For Puckett and some of the others, there was some advanced instruction focusing mostly on stealing. While their teammates played a five-inning intrasquad game, Brock worked on another diamond with Puckett, Marte, Ron Washington, Alex Sanchez and Billy Beane. More players will get similar lessons today.
Twins officials declined to say how much Brock was being paid for his work, although Miller offered that he received "a few thousand" dollars for his weekend in Detroit. "He's been very cooperative with us," said president Howard Fox. "I think maybe I better keep my mouth shut on that."
Toward the end of practice, more than a few players were in the outfield working on Brock's techniques for reaching full speed quickly. It involved using the upper body instead of merely leg< strength and was foreign to some of the Twins.
"The stuff he's teaching is hard and I'm feeling very uncoordinated right now," said Mickey Hatcher, who has five stolen bases in five seasons and last got one in 1983. "But I can see how it's going to help once I get the mechanics down. I can already tell a difference in quickness. We don't have a lot of speed on our team, so we have to make up for it by getting the extra step when we can."
Only Hrbek felt a little out of place as the subject of some teasing by Brock, whose manner is low-key and can be rather playful.
"Every time he came up with an idea, he'd say, `Kent, you don't have to do this,"' Hrbek said. "They don't pay me to steal bases, anyway. Now if they had Babe Ruth come in to talk about hitting, I know I'd have to listen to him."