Well….it’s over. Just like that, it’s over. In October of 2015, I began my quest of replaying the season of the 1984 Minnesota Twins. And now….it’s done. It’s crazy how you can get so immersed into a replay, thinking it’ll take eons to complete. All of the sudden, you realize you’re rolling the final batters of the replay and it’s very depressing! I still can’t wrap my head for the exact reason why I picked this team — most likely because I needed a change of pace from the ’87-’89 Oakland replays I’ve done. But I wanted to take a chance on a team that was mediocre and take them to the playoffs.
I learned a lot about the 1984 Twins while I was at the Metrodome for several games during the 2009 season, the last at the ‘Dome. I attended the final two scheduled regular season games against the KC Royals. On Fan Appreciation Day, several former Twins’ greats were in the Metrodome concourses available for pictures. My brother Ben (a now-conformed APBA-holic), nephew Chris, and myself were there and scoured hallways trying to get as many photos as possible. It was awesome seeing all of these Twins greats! Tom Brunansky! Randy Bush! Al Newman! And then….RON DAVIS! YES….THAT RON DAVIS! After all of the horror stories I’d heard and read about, there he was! A rather tame and unintimidating fellow…we were able to get a quick pic of him before he and all the others had to leave.
That moment, coupled with Fox Sports North running a series that year called “The Top 100 Metrodome Moments.” The ’84 Twins were mentioned a few times during that series, and when it came down to picking a Twins’ replay, once I dug deeper about this team, I knew I found the perfect replay opportunity.
My goal was to take the Twins to the post-season. Minnesota went 81-81 that year, three games behind the 84-78 AL West Champion Royals. The replay was very much up and down. I had winning streaks of 6-7 games, followed by losing streaks of the same number. The replay went through times of intensity where I’d roll 3-4 games a day, to withdrawing from the project for two spans of three months apiece. It’s been beaten to a dead horse, but APBA will always be waiting for you when time allows. And when I was mentally ready to proceed or resume, it didn’t take long to get hooked.
The ’84 Twins held a lead in the West heading into the final month of the season. I almost made a blockbuster trade involving Kirby Puckett and Rollie Fingers to strengthen up my paltry bullpen, but common sense prevailed and I kept things as-was in terms of my roster make-up. Little by little, my lead diminished right up to the final week of the season. With the Twins being tied with the Royals on the final day of the regular season, it was Ken Schrom (DZ) outdueling Bert Blyleven (BYZ) aided by a Randy Bush homer and two RBI by Puckett, along with a Royals’ loss, that catapulted the ’84 Twins into the postseason limelight. Throughout that final month, I recapped each game on the APBA Facebook page — I think I had just as much fun writing those up as I did playing (almost).
Before I recap the postseason, I’ll touch a little on the regular season numbers. Starting pitcher John Butcher alone made this replay my most favorite of all time. Butcher, who in the real 1984 was 13-11 with a 3.44 ERA and WHIP of 1.311, totally outdid himself in the replay. Butcher went 20-5, 1.95 ERA, and WHIP of 0.978!!
He had a scoreless innings streak of 39 in the early parts of the year. He also carried that momentum into the ALCS with a huge Game 3 complete game, allowing one earned run. I’m sorry, but, in this alternate 1984, he’s the Cy Young Award winner — BAR NONE! I can’t believe I’d never heard of Butcher before this replay. Frank Viola and Mike Smithson also pitched deep into games giving me a solid 1-2-3 punch atop the rotation. Closer Ron Davis (CX, MG 6) actually did better than I thought he would do. Even though he blew 12 saves, he still ended up with 38 and a sub-5.00 ERA (1.6 WHIP – YUCK). I savored every minute with him closing, because it was going to be like winning the lottery or losing a limb depending on the outcome! I also counted on Rick Lysander and Len Whitehouse heavily down the stretch – two more guys I’d never heard of before, either. Pitching as a whole did alright. I can’t complain a whole lot considering they weren’t the 90’s Braves, nor were they the 2003 Tigers!
Offensively, when this team hit, they were unstoppable. When they didn’t, it was impossible to win. What made this team great was the top of their lineup. Puckett, Mickey Hatcher, Kent Hrbek, and Tom Brunansky carried this team most of the year.
Puckett, Hatcher, and Hrbek all managed to get 200 hits in the replay!! (DYK—the 1991 TEXAS RANGERS were the last team to have 3-200 hit teammates?? LOOK IT UP!) It helped having their cards littered with 7’s, although Puckett and Hatcher’s on-base percentage wasn’t the best. Puckett and Hatcher’s average hovered around .350 thru the All-Star break, but both came back down to almost reality as Puckett hit .313 while Hatcher hit .336 thanks to a late-season surge. Hrbek’s heroics, however, took the cake. After finishing 2nd in MVP voting in the real ’84, Hrbek needed to step his game up for team success. He did just that, helping Minnesota to the playoffs and also snatching the alternate ’84 MVP from Willie Hernandez. Hrbek was simply amazing! For me, he hit .351, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 102 runs, and OPS of 0.990. He didn’t make a single error in the field. He was lights out for about the first 100 games, then curtailed a bit, but still, those numbers are rock solid, especially for 1984. Tom Brunansky definitely was my team’s MVP in the second half of the season. Bruno ended the campaign with a team-leading 35 HR and 122 RBI. He hit 22 of his 35 HR after the break! After those four guys, it was really a crapshoot. Randy Bush batted against righties, and he belted 14 homers. So did Tim Teufel. Outside of those two, there was no chance of any power threat whatsoever. John Castino made the most of his second chances, batting .330 with an OBP of .396 in limited action. I managed to play Gary Gaetti in all 162 games, and he swatted an abysmal 4 HR in 595 plate appearances. During the last two weeks, I started Ron Washington at third and let him play until the 7th/8th inning and then swapped Gaetti in with his 5 defensive rating.
Thank goodness my light-hitting Houston Jimenez (yet another no-name I’d NEVER known of) hit 70 points higher in the replay (.271 instead of .201). That warranted some extra playing time down the stretch. I couldn’t figure out Tim Laudner. In 1984, he had 284 PA, batting .206, 10 HR, and 35 RBI. In my replay, in 269 PA, he hit .131 with 4 HR and 11 RBI. THAT AIN’T GOOD!! He had a nice single-column one, but he was immune to the 66. Dave Engle hit .260 for me but failed to go deep once. Other players like Darrell Brown, Dave Meier, Andre David, Lenny Faedo, Jim Eisenreich, Jeff Reed, and Mike Hart all took some cuts. These Twins, however, had decent base running speed, but no stolen base potential. As a team, they had a TOTAL of 14 stolen bases in 35 attempts! YEP – a 40% success rate! It was always a stretch to get the game going. I utilized sac bunts more heavily that I’ve ever done before. My team hit .280 overall, and again, did enough collectively to get the job done.
The task in the ALCS was biggie – beat the ’84 Tigers in a best-of-five. As you all know, those Tigers could mash the ball, and had a terrific pitching staff with stellar defense.
Games 1 &2 would be played in front of capacity crowds at the two year-old HHH Metrodome. In Game One, Smithson allowed five first inning singles which led to three runs. Little did Detroit know, those would be their only three of the game. However, Jack Morris and Hernandez turned the ‘Dome into morgue, allowing a lone solo homer by Brunansky as Detroit won 3-1. Game Two was the lone “blowout” of the series….if you can call a 4-run win a blowout. Lance Parrish launched a two-run homer off Viola in the first and the Tigers built an early 5-0 lead. Hrbek and Teufel would hit homers, but Dan Petry and Aurelio Lopez nailed down the doors as Minnesota was down 0-2 in the best-of-five series.
The series shifted to historic Tiger Stadium for Game Three and Games Four/Five if necessary. At this point, I was pretty much relegated to the fact that it was over. I clung onto what little hope I had as my tried-and-true John Butcher took the mound against Milt Wilcox. A Randy Bush solo homer and an RBI single by Gaetti (inserted back into the starting lineup after Washington’s 0-8 resume in the first two games) put Minnesota up 2-0 early. Dave Bergman rose the crown to its feet with a solo shot to right in the 5th. But…..that was all they got! Butcher went the distance in the Twins 2-1 win! Game Four was a rematch of Morris and Smithson. Morris took a 1-0 lead into the 7th. Hrbek tied the game in the 7th with a solo shot to RF, and his RBI single in the 8th inning put Minnesota ahead 2-1. Lysander hurled the final 1 2/3 innings to shut out the Tigers as the Twins again were 2-1 victors, forcing a decisive Game Five. At this point, all bets were off, and I truly was just happy to have a chance now to beat Detroit. Would it happen next?
Game Five pitted Frank Viola versus Dan Petry. Scoreless in the bottom of the third, Marty Castillo hit a low liner to CF for a single, but the ball scooted through Puckett’s legs. The ball rolled all the way to the 440 FT sign in center as Castillo chugged around the bases to score on a huge 3-base error for the game’s first run. In the top of the 5th, the Twins tied the game on an RBI single by Puckett and had the bases loaded with one out for their top two hitters – Hatcher and Hrbek. Both flew out to end the inning….and Minnesota’s best chance at victory.
Darrell Evans took that momentum by hitting a solo homer into the upper reaches of the second deck in RF, putting Detroit up 2-1 and the home fans into pandemonium. An RBI double by Barbaro Garbey in the 6th added an insurance run. Hernandez slammed the door in the 8th and 9th innings, retiring all six men he faced to save the game and the series for the Tigers as they beat Minnesota 3-1. Detroit was able to clinch the pennant on their home field as they did in 1984, but they certainly had to earn it! The Twins were worthy opponents in this master game replay. Dan Petry was named ALCS MVP, going 2-0 in the series.
I was so disappointed in Mickey Hatcher and Kirby Puckett, who went a combined 4-40 in the series atop my lineup. That really hurt! Hatcher alone was 1-20. He hurt me by not showing up in this replay, but hurt my in my 1988 A’s replay in the World Series when he was torrid for the Dodgers against me in that one! Grrrr — the curse of Mickey Hatcher! I was overjoyed at how close all these LCS games were, but without a doubt, the best team won. I’m just so happy the Twins were able to qualify, which was my number one goal overall.
The saddest part of this whole thing is when you put those cards back in the envelope….and you wonder if you’ll ever play with them again? In the words of The Joker in the 1989 film Batman, “There’s so much to do…..and so little time….”
In conclusion, this replay made a big difference for me. I’m so content right now with APBA, and what it’s given to me. This replay taught me so much to just enjoy the game, win or lose, and to savor the tidbits you come across. So many times, I’ve become lost on Google or baseball-reference, researching and pondering what was or what might be. This all alleviates maybe some things that I should be doing, but rather takes away from a lot of the other garbage I could be involved with or might watch on TV. I have such a greater appreciation for these 1984 Twins…the Twins team that was a prelude to the championship seasons. Who played in my favorite ballpark of all time — The Metrodome. I love Target Field, but I miss the simplicity of the ‘Dome.
A building I shared countless memories in right until the end, and even was able to bring my firstborn son to on several occasions in the summer of 2009. He’s seven now, and he’s just starting to appreciate these stories I tell him about the ‘Dome. And someday, I’ll tell Jonathan and my other two boys about this fantastic replay I’ve just finished.
What’s on the APBA docket next? No idea….but I’ll let you know when it comes to fruition. Until then, enjoy APBA-ing the best way you all see fit! Thanks for reading!