1991: World Series Preview

In the days leading up to the 1991 World Series, it wasn’t just baseball on some people’s minds. From Randy Furst’s article in the Star Tribune:

Protests against Atlanta Braves fans’ “tomahawk chops” and Indian-like chants escalated on the eve of the World Series, with Twin Cities civil rights organizations uniting in support of a demonstration planned for today outside the Metrodome.

Mayor Don Fraser issued a statement of “solidarity” toward the American Indians’ position Friday, and Deputy Police Chief Dave Dobrotka, who said he personally supported the protesters’ views, pledged a large contingent of police to protect them.

The U.S. Justice Department sent a race-relations mediator to the Twin Cities to investigate the issue and to try to defuse tensions.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner David Beaulieu issued statements denouncing the Atlanta team for encouraging racially offensive behavior against Indians. Leaders of the Minneapolis NAACP, Minneapolis Urban League, Centro Cultural Chicano, the state Indian Affairs Council and other groups also blasted the team.

At a news conference in Minneapolis crowded with Indian activists, civil rights leaders yesterday demanded a meeting with representatives of the Atlanta Braves, the Minnesota Twins and CBS-TV, and called for a halt to racist depictions of Indians.

Fraser offered to help arrange the meeting. “The city sympathizes with the feelings being expressed today by members of the Native American community,” he said. “We cannot condone behavior that distorts, trivializes and falsely portrays the way of life and culture of that community.”

Indian leaders have said that the waving of toy tomahawks by Atlanta fans, shown over the CBS network, has been encouraged by the Atlanta team and its owner, Ted Turner, and portrays a demeaning, warlike stereotype of Indians.

Many, including Howard Sinker, were just ready for the wait to be over:

Enough waiting already.

The Twins haven’t been on public display since winning the American League pennant Sunday, when they were leaping for joy, hugging one another and spraying all comers with champagne at Toronto’s SkyDome.

In the meantime, the pre-World Series hype hasn’t carried the excitement of a Jack Morris fastball or a Kirby Puckett home run. Watching pitchers take batting practice, baseball’s version of watching paint dry, has not been a suitable substitute for the Twins and the Atlanta Braves.

Oh, the matchups. Puckett vs. David Justice, the hard-hitting outfielders. Mike Pagliarulo vs. Terry Pendleton, the third basemen who have blossomed with their new teams. Scott Erickson vs. Tom Glavine, the 20-game winners.

Carl and Eloise Pohlad vs. Ted Turner and Jane Fonda.

Can you stand it?

The Twins will stick with their three-man starting rotation: Morris tonight, Kevin Tapani on Sunday, Erickson on Tuesday in Atlanta.

Morris has been this far before. He started Game 1 and 4 of the 1984 World Series for Detroit, winning and pitching complete games both times. A 14-year veteran, he knows there’s a time to get caught up in the excitement and a time to bear down in spite of it. The latter will come about 7 p.m., when he begins warming up. The first pitch – Morris to Atlanta’s Lonnie Smith – will come about 30 minutes later.

“By the time I go to the bullpen,” Morris said, “I know it’s time to concentrate.”

Nationwide, baseball fans will be concentrating on Minnesota and Atlanta, two teams that finished at the bottom of their divisions last year. The difference is that the Twins have known more recent success: the ’87 World Series and 91 victories the next season. From 1988-90, the Braves averaged 100 losses per 162-game season.

“You can’t understand what it’s like to lose almost every day like we did the previous three years,” said pitcher John Smoltz. “Baseball is a great game, and there’s a lot of money to be made, but losing regularly is tough to take.”

The Braves hadn’t finished higher than fifth in their six-team division since 1984, hadn’t been above .500 since ’83, hadn’t been in the World Series since ’58.

1958! They were the Milwaukee Braves back then.

Also, the Braves play outdoors, on real grass, in the league without the designated hitter. They should have underdog fanciers and baseball traditionalists on their side, two large rooting sections.

There will be subplots. We know some of them already: the quirky ballpark on the corner of 5th and Chicago; the Atlanta catcher, Greg Olson, who grew up in Edina; the tension between Braves fans who use fake tomahawks, feathers and other symbols of American Indian culture and those who find such use racist and insulting.

Others will emerge only after the first great catch, the first clutch hit, the first bit of questionable strategy.

Bet on one thing, though. Atlanta’s shocking success will cause Minnesota players to remind the world, from time to time, how far the Twins have come in the past 12 months. Puckett took on that one during one of this week’s workouts.

“Nobody gave us a chance this year because we finished last,” he said. “But we had the best record in spring training, won our division and the pennant.

“Now there’s just one thing left to do.”

…and Jack Morris offered one of my favorite baseball quotes in a press conference, as quoted by Jeff Lenihan…

But on the eve of his start in Game 1 of the World Series, Morris twice talked emotionally about his first season with the Twins. Both times, his eyes welled up with tears and his voice came close to cracking.

“I just want people here to know that I really appreciate what the fans did during my start here in the playoffs,” said Morris, who received a monstrous ovation when he warmed up in the bullpen and again when he left the game in the sixth inning. “That was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me in baseball. It was maybe the greatest feeling I’ve ever had like that. I had goosebumps for the first time in a while.”

At a news conference later in the day, Morris reflected on the season and said, “I’m a lucky guy. I mean that. I really do mean that. Sometime, I’ll think back and appreciate what has really happened.”

“Obviously, when you play someone in your own league, you know most of the guys already and you know how they respond,” Morris said. “I’m going to pretty much pay attention to the scouting reports.

“The big thing I want to know is tendencies. I want to know if a guy is a breaking-ball hitter instead of a fastball hitter and whether he likes a first-pitch fastball or a ball down and away. I’ll use that, but a lot depends on how I feel. If I feel like King Kong, I’ll throw like King Kong. If I have to be a trickster, then I’ll pull one out of my hat.”

Morris will face Charlie Leibrandt in Game 1.

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2 Responses to 1991: World Series Preview

  1. Beau says:

    Didn’t Jane Fonda lamely switch her “chop” to a flat hand, hoping it would reduce the offensiveness of the chant?

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