Before they throw out the first ball in Anaheim Stadium tonight, Tom Brunansky proposes a trade between the Angels and Minnesota Twins.
"I'm willing to make a swap," the Minnesota outfielder said. "I'll give them one of my bats for one of their fishing bobs."
Thus, with a laugh, Brunansky pulled out the cork on a budding rivalry that has been bottled up since last August, when the Twins and Angels parted company in an atmosphere of insults, threats and accusations, not to mention hit batsmen and bowled-over shortstops.
Then there was the matter of Brunansky's bat, suspected by Angel catcher Bob Boone of being corked when former Angel Brunansky hit three home runs in three days in Anaheim. Umpire Nick Bremigan OKd the bat, and Brunansky instructed the Twins' clubhouse man, Jim Dunn, to make sure the Angels didn't sneak in and steal any of his cudgels.
Meanwhile, Manager Billy Gardner of the Twins countered with a suspicion of his own.
"Hell, (the Angels) could probably use (Doug) DeCinces' bat for a fishing bob," Gardner said.
Seven months later, Gardner laughed at the recollection. "You remember my line, huh?" he said to a visiting reporter from Los Angeles, who had dropped by the Twins' training camp at Orlando, Fla.
"That DeCinces, he's a heck of a player, but it's something how his hits to right field just jump right out there."
Although the war of words ended in a split decision, the Twins were a clear winner on the field. Not only did they take 9 out of 13 games from the Angels last season, they also came away with something they believed had been lacking from the Angels.
"We were after a little respect," said Kirby Puckett, the Twins' leadoff man who was hit by a pitch by Bruce Kison during the skirmishing. "And they (the Angels) didn't respect us."
If the Angels had trouble taking the Twins seriously, it was with good reason. In 1982, Minnesota lost 102 games and finished 42 games under .500. In 1983, the Twins were 72-90.
But last season, baseball's biggest bunch of overachievers were in the Western Division race until the last weekend of the season, and were eliminated only after blowing a 10-0 lead to the Indians at Cleveland.
This spring, the Twins may not be favorites in the West, but they're at least considered definite contenders.
"We've been on both ends of the pendulum," Brunansky said.
"When we lost 102 games, you couldn't pay a reporter to come into our clubhouse. Before, you'd go up to a kid and say, 'Want my autograph?' and they'd say, 'No. Who are you?'
"Last season, people couldn't see our lineup matching up against the Angels. Everybody read that and saw that, and it kind of got us all more excited. 'Who are these young kids going against these guys? They don't have a chance.'
"But I think we earned their respect, not only for our offense--we've always been able to hit and score runs--but for our pitching staff."
That staff, which had the league's worst earned-run average two years running, jumped to fourth-best last season.
At 24, Frank Viola, a second-round draft choice from St. John's, developed into one of the best left-handers in the league, with 18 wins, 4 shutouts, 149 strikeouts and a 3.21 ERA. John Butcher and Mike Smithson, imported from Texas, won 28 games between them. Ken Schrom, another former Angel, had an off-year at 5-11, but Gardner said Schrom is throwing this spring the way he did two seasons ago.
The everyday lineup had only one player, Mickey Hatcher, over 30, one reason the Twins' payroll averaged a paltry $97,980 a man, compared to the Yankees' average of $463,687. The other reason, of course, was tight-fisted owner Calvin Griffith, who since has sold the club to Carl Pohlad, a Minnesota banker.
Apparently, there is a new financial policy in the making for the Twins. Brunansky, 24, hit 32 home runs and drove in 85 runs last season, then went to salary arbitration and lost. However, Sunday the Twins announced that he had signed a six-year, multimillion-dollar contract that will pay him between $5 million and $6 million, with the first five years of the contract guaranteed.
"We don't want to lose our guys if it's humanly possible to keep them," Twins President Howard Fox said.
Brunansky is hardly the Twins' only star, however. Kent Hrbek, 24, called by Gardner "the best first baseman I've seen in 39 years," had a .311 batting average, 27 home runs and 107 RBIs. Puckett, 24, hit .296, Hatcher .302, and third baseman Gary Gaetti, 26, played in all 162 games while batting .262.
Over the winter, the Twins added Gene Mauch's nephew, Roy Smalley, to play shortstop. Smalley, who had a horrendous 1984--.239 with the Yankees, .170 with the White Sox--is in the best shape he's been in years, according to Gardner.
"We also have a hell of a shortstop in (Alvaro) Espinoza," Gardner said. "If anything happens to Smalley, we'll bring him right up. Luis Aparicio said he's one of the best young shortstops he's seen."