A thought has been tumbling around in my head since New Years: we are now as close to the year 2050 as we are away from 1990. For someone who was alive in ‘90 and regards 2050 as “Jetson’s flying cars” territory, this sort of blows my mind.
Perhaps in order to appreciate how much baseball will change by that magical, mystical 2050 season, we should look backward in a similar increment. Ala Marty McFly skipping back 30 years to see his Dad get bullied and attracting the adolescent crush of his Mom, let’s take a peek at what the Minnesota Twins looked like in 1990...
After the improbable 1987 World Series championship, the Twins began a somewhat-inevitable trek down the ladder. Though perhaps even better in 1988, finishing at 91-71, so were the Oakland Athletics (104-58), and in those days the Wild Card was no more than a glint in Bud Selig’s eye. In ‘89, a .500 club (80-82) was the final result.
Unfortunately, 1990 was a bottoming-out, with the Twins finishing 74-88 (last in the AL West), a whopping 29 games behind the eventual pennant-winning A’s. The ‘90 season wasn’t lost from the opening bell: on June 6, Minnesota was just 5.5 games out of first. But losing 13 of their next 14 contests coupled with a 9-game skid in mid-August dropped them to the cellar for good. At Dome Sweet Dome the club held par (41-40), but on the road they struggled mightily (33-48). When the WAR leader totals are 3.2 (Greg Gagne) and 2.8 (Brian Harper), that’s a clue to a dismal season.
As with any baseball campaign, however, there were some positives and hope for the future when fans flipped the TV channel to MSC:
Offensively, the team was paced by solid—though not spectacular—seasons from Kent Hrbek (.287 BA, 22 HR, .850 OPS, 131 OPS+) and Kirby Puckett (.298 BA, 80 RBI, .811 OPS, 121 OPS+). A big breakout came from Rule-5 pickup Shane Mack, who in 353 PA hit .326 with a .852 OPS.
Pitching-wise, the starting staff featured five hurlers topping 144 IP: Allan Anderson, Kevin Tapani, Roy Smith, David West, & Mark Guthrie. Unfortunately, only Guthrie & Tapani had an ERA+ north of 100. However, youngster Scott Erickson was brought up mid-season and put up a 145 ERA+ in 113 innings—a portent of things to come.
In the ‘pen, Señor Smoke (Juan Berenguer) and Terry Leach were solid—but that was about it. The subtle transition of Rick Aguilera from starter to closer would pay dividends sooner rather than later, though.
Perhaps the defining moment of the otherwise nondescript season came on July 17 in Boston, where the Twins turned two Gaetti-Newman-Hrbek, around-the-horn triple plays in the same game! The first one was even hit into by former Twin Tom Brunansky. Oddly enough, the next day’s contest saw both teams combine to hit into 10 DPs, tying a major league record. A good two days to be a pitcher needing to escape a jam.
Two other items of 1990 minutiae:
-Lefty moundsman Eddie Guardado was drafted.
-Ron Gardenhire was the AA manager, while Scott Ullger and Steve Liddle both managed A-ball squads.
Maybe the most important even of the 1990 season? A four-year old boy from Fergus Falls, MN was taken by his father to his first professional baseball game. While I can’t tell you what the outcome was or who the Twins played at the Metrodome that day, I do have a distinct memory of Kirby Puckett receiving his Silver Slugger award from the previous season. It was also—fittingly—Bat Day at the Dome, and I took home a Puckett-”signed”, Wheaties-branded black bat that probably still resides in a closet at my parents’ residence.
Thirty years after a season that few fans likely want to remember, names like Hrbek & Puckett (among others) still resonate, and that 4 year-old boy now uses them to create baseball writings. What will those names be in ‘50: Buxton...Sano...Berrios? Maybe in 2020, a child will be brought to Target Field and have baseball take root inside him/her.
I’ll check back in with answers when I’m 65.