Book Review: "We're Gonna Win Twins," by Doug Grow

2010 is the 50th season of Twins baseball, an especially exciting one because of the team and the bright newness of Target Field, and so it's not surprising that several publishers have released Twins books this spring. One of the better ones you're likely to read is We're Gonna Win Twins!: 50 Years of Minnesota's Hometown Team, by former Star Tribune and current MinnPost.com writer Doug Grow.

If you grew up reading the Strib, as I did, you'll probably remember a lot of Grow. He was a sports columnist at the paper from 1979 to 1987, then was a metro-section columnist who regularly wrote about sports for another 20 years or so. It's not too surprising, then, that the book begins with the story of the Twins' return to Minneapolis in 1987, after winning the ALCS, when 60,000 people jammed the Metrodome for a small-town-style welcome back. In a lot of ways, 1987 was the zenith for the Twins; Grow was there to document it, and it's a perfect way to begin the book.

From there, the book turns back the clock to 1961. There's an chapter for each year in Twins history, sometimes only tangentially relating to the season (given the number of boring, forgettable years in Twins lore). This cannot be said to be a definitive history of the Twins, for sure, but that's not the book's intent; instead, it's more a collection of essays and stories.

Honestly, this is for the best. An example: the 1976 chapter is all about Bert Blyleven, including a few stories about his contract battles with Calvin Griffith, and about his dad, Johannes Blyleven. Given that the team finished in third place that year, I'd much rather read about Blyleven than a blow-by-blow account of Bob Randall's rookie season at second base.

It's an entertaining read, especially for those of us who weren't actually around for most of Twins history - especially for the years of the Twins that get so little coverage. And common narratives do emerge; Griffith is a regular character until the Carl Pohlad years begin, after which the narrative turns into the classic World Series teams of 1987 and 1991, at which point talk turns to factors less to do with baseball and more to do with stadium discussions. It is possible to sit down and read this book cover to cover; it's equally possible to devour in fifty different sittings.

Really, my only quibble is with the narrative device that begins each chapter, which stars with paragraphs about the major news in the world, nation, and state, along with some pop-culture trivia. If the book was about how each Twins team was affected by the world in which it played, this might be necessary and interesting, but that's not what the book is about. These paragraphs mostly waste 50 pages, maybe just to pad the book out a little bit, I have no idea. I'm not sure why Grow deemed it necessary that I know that 1965's top song was "Woolly Bully," by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, before reading about the team that reached the World Series. (After slogging through about four years' worth of this, I simply quit reading the first page of each chapter.)

This aside, though, it's a book that's worth your time - maybe especially for those of us who can't remember seasons before 1987. Tony Oliva, Zoilo Versalles, Roy Smalley - all get their turn, and the reader is the happier for it.

For more information, or to view a number of upcoming readings and events that Grow is participating in, you can check out the book's webpage.

(Full disclosure: This book is published by the University of Minnesota Press. I am employed by the University, though in a capacity involving no dealings with the U of M Press. All opinions are my own. They don't reflect the opinions of the U of M, nor have my opinions been altered or influenced by the 'U'.)

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