The Minnesota twins had the best logo in sports: Two fat identical twins, in baseball uniforms, shaking hands across the Mississippi River. As a child, I assumed that both men—kindly, giant, lumpen—were Harmon Killebrew.
For 21 years those Twins played in Metropolitan Stadium. When Minnesotans went to the Met, it was not to take in Aida. The Met was 343 to left, 330 to right, 402 to straightaway center—sexier measurements, to me, than Marilyn Monroe's. The place smelled like Schweigert hot dogs and Grain Belt beer and first baseman Craig Kusick.
My family would drive to Twins games in our Ford Country Squire station wagon. My dad always stopped at Cal's Market on the way and bought a five-pound sack of peanuts. Then we sat side by side in the second deck, seven of us, linked at the elbows like paper dolls. Perched a mile above the field, spent shells piling up at my feet, I felt like an assassin.
Which, in a manner of speaking, I later became. I flung Reggie Bars, like Chinese stars, at the New York Yankees' rightfielder, circa 1978. This past summer, when Twins fans showered Yankees leftfielder Chuck Knoblauch with garbage at the Metrodome, I felt at once both shame and pride.
Pride, because the Twins—whose owner made no effort to compete in the past 10 years—drew 1,782,926 fans in 2001. (The combined population of Minneapolis and St. Paul is 669,769.) In '91, when the Twins won their second World Series in five years, they drew 2.3 million to the Metrodome, where crowds generated noise equivalent to that of a DC-10 at takeoff.
Our outsized enthusiasm for baseball has always been thus. In 1979, when the Twinkies finished in fourth place in the American League West, Bombo Rivera received hundreds of write-in votes for student-council president at the University of Minnesota, where the Puerto Rican outfielder was, needless to say, not enrolled. Why, then, did unctuous baseball commissioner Bud Selig suggest last week that Minnesota can't sustain "a stable, competitive and economically viable franchise for next season"? Because Minnesota taxpayers have said repeatedly that they would rather not build a new stadium for Carl R. Pohlad, the 86-year-old billionaire banker and Twins owner who bears an uncanny resemblance to C. Montgomery Burns of The Simpsons. Wisconsinites did fund a ballpark for Selig, and hence the unstoried Milwaukee Brewers will survive for decades to come. The Twins, along with the Montreal Expos, will likely be sent packing next month.
Baseball will keep the four-year-old Tampa Bay Devil Rays and vaporize a 41-year-old Minnesota franchise whose caps crown the Cooperstown bronze busts of giants Killebrew and Kirby Puckett and Rodney Cline Carew. Bombo, Lombo, Bruno, Zoilo: We hardly knew ye.
Selig and Pohlad have robbed us of even the small courtesy of a chance to say goodbye. Though we never knew it, the last Twins game in Minnesota was an 8-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Oct 7. So all I can do here is say so long to Mudcat Grant and Tony Oliva, Butch Wynegar and John Castino, Bert Blyleven and Kitty Kaat, Hosken Powell and Lyman Bostock, Larry Hisle and George Mitterwald, Doug Mientkiewicz and Cristian Guzman and the most Minnesota Twin of all: Kent (T-Rex) Hrbek of Blooming-ton—my hometown and the former home of Metropolitan Stadium.
Before Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, Hrbek was asked what he would be doing that Sunday afternoon if he didn't have a game to play. His answer summarized the ethos of everyone I know from childhood. "I'd be watching football," he said dismissively, "like any normal American."
We are, in Minnesota, stalwart sports fans who lost the Lakers to Los Angeles, the North Stars to Dallas and now, it appears, the Twins to oblivion. Basketball came back, hockey came back, but we're unlikely to see baseball again. The game's perverse overlords will give one of their own, Pohlad, $200 million to disappear but will not contribute the same amount—nor so much as a nickel-to a new stadium. We are, to baseball owners, a "revenue stream," and that stream flows only one way. It's no longer enough to buy tickets and T-shirts and $6 beers: You must also pay for the stadium and, having done that, a license for your seat.