Aside from their usually puny stolen-base totals and habitually disappointing finishes in the American League West, the Minnesota Twins are best known for:
•Leading the league in guys who go ice-fishing in the off-season;
•Playing in an acutely blue, oversized dish cover out of which baseballs fly like homesick angels;
•Having a press guide whose most important feature is its pronunciation key (See: Gaetti—Guy-ETT-ee; Hrbek—Her-bek; Lombardozzi—Lahm-bar-DOAZ-ee).
One of the Twins' better-kept secrets is that they are the division-leading Minnesota Twins. Despite all you've heard about the Royals' regal arms and Oakland's slugging prodigies, K.C., the Athletics and the Angels are all chasing the Twinkies in the AL West.
What gives? The off-season bullpen additions of Jeff Reardon from the Expos and Juan Berenguer from the Giants, plus the acquisition of eccentric leadoff hitter Dan Gladden, all acquired by a precocious new G.M. and handled by a refreshing new manager—that's what gives.
True to the tradition of Harmon Killebrew, the Twins are among the league's top home run producers (118 through Sunday, tied for fifth in the AL). However, they have usually found it difficult to do anything else. After the hopelessly overworked arms of Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven, the Twins have been notoriously pitching-poor. They were also dependably slow on the bases and low in the standings. But this year, to their surprise and delight, Minnesotans are seeing hit-and-run plays, stolen bases and starters who are pitching less and enjoying it more.
Just before the All-Star break, the visitors from the Land of 10,000 Lakes completed an eastern swing through the Bronx and Baltimore. The worldly patrons of Yankee and Memorial stadiums, when asked to name a Twin, any Twin, responded most frequently with A) "Kirby Puckett" and B) "Whatshisname—that first baseman they got."
Indeed, centerfielder and human-fire-hydrant Puckett carried the Twins early this season, and his .332 batting average is fourth-best in the league. As for Whatshisname—Horseback? Oh yes, Hrbek—well, Kent has 23 dingers and might be the best-fielding 250-pound first baseman in history.
Other than that, the Twins' anonymity is well-deserved. First of all, Minnesota is up there somewhere, over Iowa but under Manitoba. "Back East," says designated hitter Roy Smalley, whose daughters, Laura and Catherine, are, yes, twins, "people assume Minnesota is all tundra. But it's gorgeous." Moreover, Minnesota hasn't won its division since 1970 or a pennant since '65.