MINNEAPOLIS -- Now for hot stove heaven. Seldom has a World Series left so many tricky questions in its wake. Get ready for a winter of debate, and screaming, too.
How should we feel about the cheerful Twins, maybe the most unlikely team ever to win a Series? They jam our emotional gears when we think about them too long. How do we juxtapose all the valid points that coexist in their world title?
No other champion ever won fewer than 90 games, not even in 154-game seasons. So, the 85-win Twins are, by one limited definition, the weakest Series winner ever. On the other hand, look who they beat in October -- the Tigers and Cardinals, just the sort of strong clubs we expect this time of year. Perhaps no defending division winner is so poorly suited to repeating over a full year as the Twins, but if they do get back to the party, they might be the best suited to repeat in postseason. Think of the '72-'73-'74 Oakland A's, who won Series after rather modest 93-94-90 win seasons.
Can't we just kick all the numbers out the door and enjoy this phenomenon? Who knocks a 91-game loser that rebounds so far in a year? Besides, Don Baylor and Roy Smalley get their rings, at last. The Twin Cities will, of course, manage this "Grin-And-Ignore-It" trick with ease. But millions of other fans are going to talk all winter about the Twins' 62-25 Metrodome record and their 31-56 road atrocity.
Is such a lopsided team a champion by normal standards? Is the Thunderdome somehow an unfair advantage? Do the Twins cheat at home as managers Bobby Valantine, Dick Williams and Whitey Herzog have hinted? And how on earth can the Twins get the extra home game when their foes have far better season records? That would be a scandal in the NFL, NBA or NHL.
Do we go with the flow and honk our horns all night for the Twins and their marvelously civil fans? Or do we shake our heads and say, "How can a Series be so good, yet, somehow, a bummer, too?"
For that matter, how should we react to the St. Louis Cardinals who are, on one hand, a heroic team that took the '85 Series to a seventh game without Vince Coleman and went the distance against the Twins without Jack Clark and Terry Pendleton. Twice, they've had to play Games 6 and 7 on the road despite having better season marks that their foes. How can we club a team that rallied from 0-2 against the Dodgers in a playoff, then came back from 2-3 against the Giants? Isn't that heart?
Flip the coin, however, and we see the St. Louis club that has now lost five straight match-point Series games and, in those defeats, averaged 1.8 runs. Twice, John Tudor has had a world title on his racket and gotten shelled.
So, stoke up the stove. First, I doubt the Twins cheat. What happens if the secret spills when some Twin gets traded? In some cities, it might be seen as colorful. In Minneapolis, it would tar the Twins in public for years. No, it can't happen here. Herzog and Tudor pulled back just in time with their proofless hinting. They learned lessons from their bad conduct in 1985. Still, the old Cardinals paranoia isn't entirely dead. They did better this time. But not well.
On the field, the Cardinals remain the most under-valued team of the '80s. Think how close they've come to three world titles in six years.
In the year of the homer, playing in the Homerdome against the slugging Twins, the worst homer team in baseball -- playing without its two leading home run hitters -- almost won this Series with a game to spare. Perhaps baseball's variety really is infinite.
At least the resourcefulness of the Cardinals is vast. Kent Hrbek weighs 100 pounds more than Curt Ford. Tom Brunansky could carry Ozzie Smith like luggage. Gary Gaetti would love to use Tom Lawless for a bat. But baseball is only a game of might if you choose to play it that way. In this sport, there's an antidote for every poison, an answer to every style.
The Cardinals are surrounded by so many myths they overlap. For instance, it's not true that St. Louis has much home field edge. Since 1982 only two teams have shown so little difference in record at home and away (3 percent). This year, the Cardinals had the best road mark in baseball. Also, for 110 games, until Clark was hurt, the '87 Cardinals had the best offense in baseball in 30 years -- on a pace for more than 900 runs. That's why you can subtract so much from their order and still have something left.
Herzog is a contrarian to the bone. No wonder he never invests in stocks. Others believe in sluggers and starters -- traditional stars. Herzog believes in everything else: slappers, speedsters, switch-hitters, glovemen, role players, bullpen stoppers and starting pitching depth. His teams are as prone to injury as others and have bad years. But, from K.C. to St. Loo, he's shown he can build champions or near-champions from the parts other teams spurn.
The Twins and the Metrodome are a tougher puzzle. Does the Thunderdome constitute the largest home field edge in baseball history? Absolutely. It's a new phenomenon -- the baseball gym. Did it influence the Series greatly? Yes, far more than Busch Stadium helped the Cardinals. Is it unfair? No, though some think so. The Twins have replaced their bad turf. Next year, they improve the lights. If they'll paint the center of the roof, as the Astros did, humans will be able to catch a fly.
Baseball's other teams are going to have to swallow the fact that the Twins now have a permanent edge nobody else enjoys. On the other hand, maybe the Twins' road problems are somehow Dome-induced. We'll live with the Dome. Just pray nobody ever takes the Hankies away from these people. How much noise could they make if their hands were free to clap?
Yes, the Twins were lucky to play in a weak division, lucky to get the home-field edge twice, lucky to catch the Tigers drained, lucky to play the Cardinals when they were injured and with their rotation out of sync so Frank Viola could start three times but Tudor only twice. But so what? In the last 10 years, no team has won a title without a confluence of fortuitous factors. Parity reigns. You need the breaks.
Minnesota deserved a championship. And the Twins deserved the one they got.