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Mike Downey

Were Twin Fans Having a Devil of a Time?

October 28, 1987|Mike Downey

The neglected winner of the 1987 World Series was a fellow called Joe Hardy. Joe represents all the suffering baseball fans of Washington, who once gave their hearts to a baseball club called the Senators, and oh, what old Joe would have given to have waved a Homer Hanky last week. He would have sold his soul to the devil for one.

Joe Hardy was the armchair martyr who sacrificed himself for the needy Senators in the Broadway musical "Damn Yankees."

He could not stand to see his favorite nice guys finish last anymore. So, he made a pact with the Man Downstairs, agreeing to go from a crying fan into the fire if he could just see Washington get to the World Series for once, instead of damn New York.

Applegate, the devil, sealed the deal by transforming his new client into Joe Hardy, superstar center fielder, who did indeed lead the Senators to the pennant. For all we know, Kirby Puckett, the center fielder of the Minnesota Twins, made the same bargain. If we never see Puckett again, we will know that he lost the ultimate arbitration.

Baseball fans do take their devotion to the game seriously, in real life as well as fiction.

A gentleman in Fond du Lac, Wis., wild about the Twins, was watching Game 7 of the World Series on television when Don Baylor barreled toward home plate and slid clear of the catcher's tag. Umpire Dave Phillips, though, called Baylor out, whereupon the Wisconsin man clutched his chest and keeled over. His son called the call the cause of death.

In the stage show, Joe Hardy sat in front of his TV set and sang: "You're blind, ump! You're blind, ump! You must be outta your mind, ump!" Remember? His wife fretted that the poor soul was going to drop dead one day, right there in his chair.

Well, all we can do is pray that most of the hardy fans of the Twins, nee Senators, survived last week's ordeal. Today must be an unsettling day of sorts for any old-timers with ties to the District of Columbia, because today is the day First Fan Ronald Reagan is scheduled to welcome the champions of the World Series to the Rose Garden of the White House, which will be the first time in weeks the Twins have set foot on natural turf.

When Reagan was a younger man, the Washington Senators were easily defeated. Today, Washington's senators sometimes defeat him, as they recently did by calling out Robert Bork on a close play.

Throughout the years the President has been in office, local legislators and lobbyists have campaigned for the return of major league baseball to Washington but the only hardball they have seen is the kind Congress played in front of the nominee to the Supreme Court.

We suspect Washingtonians are now pretty much detached from the doings of the Minnesota Twins. It takes awhile for the ache to go away after a team has gone away, but all things must pass. For a year after the Colt football team's midnight exodus, a Baltimore TV station carried every one of Indianapolis' games. But never thereafter. Absence does not always make the heart grow fonder.

Funny, but the President of the United States very easily could have found himself congratulating the Tampa Bay Twins instead.

Had it not been for Harvey Mackay, who, in his own peculiar way, has become the Joe Hardy of Minneapolis, this baseball team would have pulled up roots a couple of years ago, just as it had a couple of decades previously, and gone where the grass was greener, not to mention longer. Minnesotans today would be celebrating nothing. The only thing they'd be using hankies for is blowing their noses.

The owner of the team, fed up with skimpy attendance, loopholed his stadium lease to read that unless the Twins averaged 1.4 million customers a year in the next three seasons, he would be justified in transporting them to the city or cities of his choice.

What he had in mind was a flip-flop of Twin Cities, trading Minneapolis and St. Paul for Tampa and St. Pete, with nobody to be named later.

Enter Harvey Mackay and friends. Mackay, who runs a Minneapolis envelope company, stuffed several of his finest and largest envelopes with cash contributions that he elicited from local businessmen.

Then, he started buying tickets. One day, for instance, with TV cameras whirling, Mackay stepped up to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome ticket window, unhooked the fastener on one of his nice Manila models, and said: "I'd like $20,000 worth of the $6 tickets, please."

The tabs were paid. The team stayed and played. And Mackay felt wonderful the other day when the Twins won the World Series.

"This is the best thing to happen here since the Minnesota Gopher football team won the national championship," he said.

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