The Twins were riding high, to use a cliche. They were on top of the world and sitting pretty, smelling like roses and sitting in the catbird seat; they were division winners yet again. They had six pennants in nine years, and a new ballpark that still had that new-ballpark smell, and the team’s two best players happy with long-term contracts. Maybe they lost in the playoffs to the Yankees - again - but 2010 was a good time to be the Minnesota Twins. There were blue skies above, it was bright and sunny, and more wins seemed inevitable.
Then, unexpectedly and unaccountably, the whole thing came crashing down like a budget zeppelin. Pitchers tossing beach balls and hitters swinging broom handles and fielders using frying pans instead of gloves became the team’s hallmarks, that and injuries - to everyone, all the time, everywhere.
Well, once was bad luck, and that can happen to any team. Once is a fluke. But now it’s 2012, and it’s all happening over again and it’s time to think that maybe there are larger factors in play - esoteric, unknowable factors at which we can only guess. We need to ask the questions now before this gets out of hand.
Are the Twins cursed?
More, much much more, after the jump.
Curses are as old as people; wherever you go in history, curses aren’t far away. You can’t even get to the end of the fourth chapter of Genesis before snakes, the ground itself, and Cain are all cursed, and from then on, much of the rest of the Torah and the Old Testament are devoted to the subject. The entire country of Hungary has just escaped a thousand-year curse that supposedly began in 1000 AD when King Stephen converted his country to Christianity. King Tut’s tomb, James Dean’s car, the Hope Diamond - all apparently cursed. Until Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush survived, every U.S. President from 1840 to 1960, elected in a year divisible by twenty, died in office - supposedly the Curse of Tippecanoe, or Tecumseh’s Curse.
We see curses wherever we go, in part because we see coincidences and conspiracies wherever we go. You can wade into the shallow end of this pool, into some of the not-really-odd-at-all Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences, or you can dive into the deep end of Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories and 9/11 Truth idiots and birthers and all the rest. It’s more fun to believe that the Hope Diamond carries a powerful curse than it is to decide that a few coincidences, combined with the lure of an expensive jewel, are enough to create a myth.
But it’s worthwhile asking: it is possible that maybe sometimes there’s something more out there than coincidence?
Sports fans in almost every city believe in curses. The tale of Billy Sianis and his billy goat in Chicago is perhaps the most famous, serving as it does to explain the Cubs’ centuries-old ineptitude, but there are others. There are fans in Cleveland who believe that manager Bobby Bragan cursed the Indians after being fired in 1958. Though Bragan denies this, this didn’t stop the media from bringing out a "witch" to "remove the curse" one year on Opening Day. Out in Boston, Dan Shaughnessy believed that he could make a tremendous amount of money by inventing a curse for the Red Sox (and it turns out he was right.)
It’s an attractive thing, the curse, and not just because of writers who have second mortgages to fund. It’s easier to believe that blind voodoo is at hand than it is to see the truth of failure, that teams can be poorly run and gambles on personnel can fail and that players can suddenly be terrible for no discernible reason.
Curiously, it’s the curses that provide hope; if the reasons for the losing are impossible to quantify, then resurgence must always be around the corner. If it’s plain inadequacy though - well, that’s a lot harder to fix. As the saying goes, though - just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.
With that in mind, then, I set out to try to find the source of the possible curse. If there’s a hex on this franchise, then it’s up to us to figure out what it is, so that we can lift it and lift the weight from the Twins’ shoulders. To find the curse, it’s worth asking: what’s changed since 2010?
If you’re a music fanatic - especially one who’s a fan of the Minneapolis music scene - you will have noticed a shift in the Twins’ ballpark playlist. After the 2010 season, the Twins began playing more of the traditional favorites and Top 40 hits that permeate every other stadium in the country, and it has not gone unnoticed. "The Baseball Project" frontman Steve Wynn had this to say:
A shout-out to our friend Kevin Dutcher, who was choosing the music for the Twins until a few years back. Kevin was playing great stuff, with a love for cool music and a wry sense of humor. And he was playing The Baseball Project in the final moments before every game during the Twins' stretch run for the division title in 2010. The next year, Kevin was replaced, bad current chart music was brought in, and the Twins have sucked ever since.
This seems like a possibility. Dutcher leaves, but on the way out, he curses the franchise, perhaps destroying a tape and vowing that the Twins will never win a title until the tape is re-created and played at the stadium. We could call it "The Curse Of Craig Finn." This sounds very plausible to me, so I get Dutcher on the phone, to ask him an important question.
"Have you cursed the Twins?" I ask.
"I do not have those kinds of powers, sadly," he says. "I wish that I did. If I did, I would use them for good, and maybe to win the lottery. "
It turns out Dutcher is still working with the club, running the right-field video board during some home games. He’s also the sometime keyboardist for Wynn’s band The Baseball Project, and is working, as he always did, on the local theater scene, as a director and a music director. (Later this summer, you can find his music direction at the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company, as the group is re-mounting its successful production of the hit play "My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding".)
Despite his denials, I press him. If there is a curse, what can we do to reverse it?
"Play The Replacements’ ‘Let It Be’ backwards," he says, playing along.
Dutcher seems thrilled to still be working for the Twins; when he’s describing the type of thing that he puts on the right-field video board, his mind immediately goes to a scenario in which Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau lead off an inning with back-to-back hits. That said, he’s wistful about the end of his tenure as music director. "We had this reputation among baseball writers, and journalists, of playing the best music of any park in the majors," he says. "I think both fans, and journalists, took those changes to heart and kind of felt like they had been cut loose... Any team needs positive energy. I think that created a lot of negative energy, which is certainly not what they were looking for, and certainly not what I would have wished upon them."
"I don’t know about karma. Karma is out of my hands."
It also turns out that the team, after hearing negative comments about the music last year and this year, has started to go back to a playlist that’s very similar to Dutcher’s, with the only thing missing being the local component.
I ask Dutcher if there’s one song he’d like to hear more at Target Field. True to form, with his love for local music and his encyclopedic knowledge of the music scene, he gives me two songs: "Constructive Summer" by The Hold Steady, and "I Will Dare" by The Replacements, which Dutcher says "just sounds like summer."
Maybe what we need to do, then, is get our stereos out at home.
I’m not the only one thinking about curses. Joe Soucheray of the Pioneer Press wrote about a letter he received from a Bill Daly in St. Paul, who had his own idea: the Curse of Wally the Beer Man. Wally, a Metrodome institution, was arrested in a sting for selling to a minor at Target Field, and though he was acquitted, he hasn’t been back to sell beer at the new park. Daly himself doesn’t believe that Wally would have invoked the curse, but that it’s the result of a malevolent "enraged beer-drinking elf."
There are players who left around the same time to consider, as well. Nick Punto may have been angry about his separation from Ron Gardenhire, the only man to ever really get him. Jon Rauch was demoted as closer halfway through the season. Orlando Hudson talked so much that it’s statistically inevitable that he would have accidentally cursed the franchise at some point.
I’ve given these a lot of thought, and I don’t think a player would go that far - they know it’s a business, after all, and all three of those players continued their careers elsewhere. As for Wally - he’s been working at a bar near Target Field, and he doesn’t have to climb a million stairs a season any more. And as for enraged beer-drinking elves, I’d think that any elf willing to spend his time drinking beer probably has no time for curses, at least not this type of cursing.
That said, if you have any other information from Hudson, Rauch, or elves that may or may not have worn #8, then you know where to find me to explore this one.
We come, now, to the hardest curse to track down, because the principals are not alive, at least not in the same way that you and I are. In some ways, it’s the best possible curse story, because there are no questions to be asked or denials to be aired; if the Twins are cursed for this one, then they might be staying cursed for a long time. I speak of Treebeard’s Curse - the curse of the center field pine trees.
When Target Field opened, fourteen Black Hills spruce trees were planted in front of the batter’s eye in center field, forming a Northwoodsy backdrop for the park. Unfortunately, the shadows cast by the trees caused hitters to fear for their safety. "It's not just that I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to see the ball to hit the ball. I'm literally scared that I'm not going to see the ball, period," said Michael Cuddyer. The trees were relocated, and that’s where the curse comes in.
"Trees suffer when being transplanted, for the added shock and stress," says University of Minnesota Urban Forestry undergrad research assistant Jeff Carroll. "And urban areas usually always add stress to urban trees, and reduce tree vigor, especially if they are planted in small areas with lots of concrete surrounding them."
The trees, then, were in trouble from the beginning - surrounded as they were by a ballpark, rather than a forest, and then transplanted so soon. Twelve of the trees made it out; ten are now in state parks, one is planted near the baseball field in Zumbrota in honor of a student that died in a car crash, and one was auctioned and now resides in Roseville. But two were meant to be planted at the entrance to Twins Way, down at the ballpark - and I’m sorry to be the one to report this, but those trees are dead.
Trees aren’t sentient, no matter how often we name them after Tolkien characters. And I don’t believe in the power of the planet and Mother Nature to fight back, like a bad M. Night Shyamalan movie. But is it so crazy to believe that we stressed out twelve trees and killed two of them, and now we’re paying the price?
And how in the world can we undo a curse that’s based on trees?
Moving the trees back won’t make things easier on them, and two are gone and two are in pri-vate hands. But that leaves ten that are still on public lands, and maybe those are the trees that we can help. "Peace offerings could be in the form laying 2-4 inches of mulch over the transplanted root system of the tree," says Carroll. "Mulch aids in retaining soil moisture and provides added nutrients to the soil as the mulch decomposes, which the tree then utilizes by absorbing this moisture and nutrients through its root system."
I’ve been in contact with the DNR, and I know which state parks got those trees. Two are in St. Croix, on the Wisconsin border east of Pine City. Of the remaining eight, one or two each are in Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi; Moose Lake and Banning, both right off I-35 north of the Twin Cities; Father Hennepin and Mille Lacs Kathio, both on the southern shore of Lake Mille Lacs; and Interstate, which is also on the Wisconsin border, near Taylors Falls.
Maybe going up to your local state park and dumping mulch on the trees isn’t a good idea, and maybe the DNR wouldn’t look kindly on mulch-bearing pilgrims. But a visit might not go far wrong, if you can find the trees. Find them. Apologize. If nobody’s around, bring mulch. It might be our only hope to reverse Treebeard’s curse.
A moment now, here at the end, to tell you the truth: I don’t really believe the Twins are cursed. I believe this season-and-a-half swoon has much more to do with injuries and a weak minor-league system than it does with curses, whether those curses involve music, trees, or beer-swilling elves.
What I believe, however, is not as important as what I want to believe: that the Twins are close to being good again. I want to believe that they’re right on the edge of a turnaround, that last year is done and this year has slipped away but next year has the potential to be better. That’s a hard belief to hold. It goes against all facts, it’s impossible to prove, and it’s the kind of thing that ignores all reason.
In short, it’s a lot like believing in a curse.
So you’ll pardon me, then, while I get my Replacements album and my bag of mulch.