TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Baseball: Best Of Times Or Worst Of Times?

The All-Star Break has come and gone and baseball junkies can go back to their daily fixes this weekend as a full schedule of games resumes Friday. But the annual downtime in mid-July has again ramped up discussion about the general state of the game.

Just by chance, I attended the Minnesota Twins’ final game before the break. It seemed to fittingly represent so much of what’s good and bad these days about “America’s Pastime.” Does that longtime slogan still apply or has baseball passed its time?

My first hint that the game might be in trouble came the night before, when my son, Pat, turned down the offer to join me at Target Field. Pat played both high school and Legion ball, still loves watching Twins’ games and seldom passes up the chance to get a beer and a brat with his old man.

But on this occasion, the game conflicted with soccer’s World Cup final. Like a lot of millennials, Pat has caught the bug for that “other” football. It has global appeal, offers a faster pace than baseball and is really taking off in the Twin Cities now that a major league team has arrived. There’s even a new stadium close to completion.

Having better luck with someone closer to my demographic, I convinced brother-in-law Jim to join me, as the Twins took on the middle-of-the-pack Tampa Bay Rays on a warm, muggy Sunday afternoon. While Jim likes the game, he only attends occasionally, so I privately hoped the home club would put on a good show.

What followed was a mixed bag of pros and cons I could never have imagined. So let’s begin with one that somehow qualifies as both:

Jim was immediately impressed with Target Field’s amazing amenities. Countless food options include a new “Bat and Barrel” restaurant with big screens, numerous locations to sit in air conditioned comfort and avoid the high heat index, plus endless great spots to stroll around the stadium and still get a clear view of the day’s action. In fact, the Twins have done such an efficient job of appealing to the casual fan,  few are sitting in the stands. With so many choices other than baseball, it also appears debatable how many are paying attention to the action on the field.

What followed was a four hour and 38 minute marathon that included 18 runs, 14 walks, two bench clearing confrontations, a costly Rays’ balk related to a defensive shift and ultimately, a thrilling walk off grand slam by the Twins’ Brian Dozier. The Rays used nine pitchers and the Twins six. Tampa Bay started a reliever who only pitched two innings. Minnesota used their closer in the fifth inning. And, oh by the way, there was also a controversial video review of a play at the plate that left Twins’ fans skeptical of an “out” call that went against the home club.

During this time, Jim and I consumed two Polish sausages, two beers, a bag of peanuts and two Gatorades. We made four visits to the restroom, three walks around the park and discussed both in-game strategies and family vacations.

As we walked out of the stadium with dinner time approaching, Jim called it one of the “most exciting” games he’d ever attended. I agreed. Then again, we’d both contemplated leaving just minutes before. Such is the state, of a sport struggling to determine its identity while still trying to attract a wide base of followers.

 PRO: Stadiums have never been more interactive and fan friendly. Selfies, Twitter responses, quizzes and kiss cams are all ways for spectators to get noticed on the big screens.

CON: Too many of these distractions have separated fans from the game itself. Attendance is down for all but six of the 30 Major League teams in 2018. Even winning teams are seeing dwindling numbers.

PRO: Aware of its slow pace, Major League Baseball has made attempts to speed things up. There’s a running clock when pitchers take the hill, a limit of six mound visits from coaches and the waiving of four wide pitches for intentional walks.

CON: None of these cosmetic efforts has made much difference. In fact, the average game now lasts more than three hours, as batters step out frequently, pitchers shake off signs and lengthy challenges eat up minutes.

PRO: Baseball has tried to stay pro-active, with heavy reliance on analytics, defensive shifts based on statistical data and video replays to make sure umpires get important calls right.

CON: Traditionalists doubt the validity of analytics. Defensive shifts have created declining batting averages since most hitters fail to adjust. And even with numerous angles and slow motion replays, calls remain controversial and often drag on far too long.

PRO: Even the innovators and forced to look for an edge against teams with bigger budgets, teams like Tampa and Minnesota have smartly experimented with relief pitchers as starters or exaggerated shifts against dangerous pull hitters.

CON: The divide between the haves and the have-nots is getting worse, not better. Already in late July, the five American League playoff qualifiers look fairly predictable. Wealthy MLB clubs like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers all own good records and are poised to add key pieces for the stretch drive.

PRO: Baseball was wise to select young, rising stars for its’ recent Home Run Derby in Washington, D.C. Bryce Harper and his pitching father winning it at home didn’t hurt, either. Throw in the live interviews with fielders during the All-Star Game and the 10 homers launched that night and the pros scored big points with young viewers.

CON: Baseball’s silly blackout rules and unwillingness to share streaming video rights have limited their social media presence. So they shouldn’t be surprised when megatalented Mike Trout is still far less recognizable than stars like LeBron James or Tom Brady.

I’ve seen some of the suggestions for improving baseball: Shorten the game to seven innings. Ban the shifts, so sluggers can rip impressive shots in the hole and increase batting averages again. Put a runner on second base to help end extra inning games quicker.

Call me old school. But I hate all of those ideas because they water down an already beautiful game.

What has always attracted me to the sport is probably what keeps many from finding it appealing:

  1. I love the leisurely, unpredictable pace of a game with no clock. But that doesn’t mean 10-inning games need to last 4½ hours. If you want a faster game and must have restrictions, keep hitters in the box, force pitchers to work quicker and limit the actual number of pitching changes.
  2. I miss the spontaneity of a questionable call. I miss the managers and umpires going toe to toe. Use the technology if you must, but make the decision in a minute or so and live with it. We’re finding that, in all sports, there are plays that will never be clear-cut no matter how many ways we dissect them.
  3. I hate the overdependence on the long ball. Yes, home runs are eye-catching and majestic. But teach and embrace the nuances of the game we’ve gradually shifted away from. Base stealing is way down. Bunting is a lost art. Would you rather encourage inflexibility by banning shifts and encouraging strikeouts or make adjustments to an always changing sport?
  4. One of baseball’s greatest attractions has always been its personalities. I remember nicknames like Walt “No Neck” Williams. “Stan the Man” Musial. “Charlie Hustle.” Make the promotion of your most colorful and talented players your highest priority, regardless of the price. Make your product more accessible and be less greedy.

Those of us old enough to remember the Twins’ Game 7 of the 1991 World Series will undoubtedly recall the level of drama that played out that night. Many consider it the most exciting game in team history.

Interestingly enough, there were no home runs. The Twins used only one pitcher. A well-executed bunt helped set up the winning run. Defensive shifts and video challenges were not employed.

Twenty-seven years later, analytics are a smart and natural progression of the game. Advanced technology is a good thing, too. Fan-friendly stadiums and faster forms of communication all come with the territory.

Is baseball in trouble in 2018? Not necessarily. But the caretakers of the game need to remember what made it “America’s Pastime.” Taters and technology are terrific.

But I’ll still push for pace, performance and professionalism.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Grand Forks Royals Post 6 Vs. East Grand Forks Post 157

The Grand Forks Royals Post 6 jumped out to an early lead and overcame a fierce comeback by East Grand Forks Post 157 to claim a 14-10 American Legion baseball win Tuesday night at Kraft Memorial Field in Grand Forks. The Royals jumped to a 8-2 lead before falling behind 10-9. Brock Reller and Coby Tweten each went 4-for-5 at the plate to lead the Royals. Evan Estad and Jake Ososki were 3-for-5 for the losers. Winning pitcher was Peyton Lotysz, while Zach Johnson took the loss. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — FM RedHawks Vs. Lincoln Saltdogs

The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, behind a 4-for-5 performance at the plate by Devan Ahart, defeated the Lincoln Saltdogs 11-6 in American Association baseball play Saturday at Newman Field. Ahart had a home run, scored four runs  and added three RBI, while teammate Keury De La Cruz had a homer and four RBI. The winning pitcher was Will Solomon, who threw 5 1/3 innings. He walked two, struck out three while giving up three earned runs on nine hits. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Making Sense Out Of Our Futility

As I drove across town Thursday on one of the first lovely afternoons in an otherwise lousy spring, I attempted to put a positive spin on life in Minnesota. Sure, we’ve had April temperatures 30 degrees below normal. And yes, I could still see, out of the corner of my eye, those dirty, lingering snow piles along the side of the road.

But the sun was out, joggers were everywhere and I could even ponder a firing up of the old grill later that night. After all, Minnesotans savor the change of seasons, so when the weather finally does improve, we tend to appreciate it that much more.

For me, another sure sign of spring has always been the sound of  Twins baseball on my radio dial. This year it’s particularly satisfying to tune in to WCCO-AM again, the home of my beloved club for 46 years before baseball’s economics sent them on an 11-year hiatus from the “Good Neighbor” to other locations on the local airwaves. It’s something I grew up with and savor, still today.

On this occasion, there was even more reason for optimism. My Twins were just three outs away from a rare win in the Big Apple. Maybe it’s time to put that potential accomplishment into proper perspective:

The New York Yankees are baseball’s most storied franchise. They’ve won the World Series a record 27 times. They own 40 American League pennants. Throw in another 18 divisional crowns.

Sure, the Yanks have some built-in advantages. Their television revenue is so outrageous that they have their own network. Forbes Magazine recently listed the team as the second-highest valued sports franchise in the world, behind only the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

Given that the city is America’s largest and the franchise estimated to be worth somewhere around $3.7 billion dollars, it’s only logical to expect New York to enjoy at least a modicum of success against our boys. OK, maybe they should kick some butt.

But here in Minnesota, losing to The Pinstripers has become more than just a somewhat regular experience. In fact, we’ve come to know our place when it involves baseball with the Bronx Bombers. It’s essentially something like, “Shut up, don’t complain and take your medicine.”

Somehow, the Twins have made “compliance” a theme, in this painfully lopsided matchup. Let me throw some numbers at you: Since 2002, the Twins have played the Yankees 127 times. Their record is 33-94. That includes a less than scintillating 2-13 in postseason play.

Consider, too, that in spite of their haughty history, New York has won just one World Series since ’02. In fact, they’ve only appeared in two of them since that time. While the Twins have had their ups and downs after winning two World Series titles in ’87 and ’91, they’ve been good enough to compete favorably with nearly everyone else in the American League.

So why this off the charts level of ineptitude with the Evil Empire?

I’m convinced it’s in our heads. And it’s also in the Yankees’ heads. To be this one-sided over a period of 17 seasons, with so many different players and coaches on both clubs coming and going, the numbers make no sense. Yet it keeps happening again and again. In fact, there are so many bad memories, we EXPECT them to keep occurring.

So as I listened intently to Twins’ announcer Cory Provus return from a break to describe the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday, I began to put up my defenses. It’s something all Minnesotans are conditioned to do, given our track record.

“The Twins lead it 3-1 but these last three outs won’t be easy,” Provus hinted. Any warnings at this point were surely unnecessary to loyal Twins’ followers. We all knew the most recent numbers. Six straight losses on the current road trip, including three blowouts to the Bombers. The threat of a four-game sweep.

Yet once again, hope was springing eternal. The sun was shining, Kyle Gibson had been nearly perfect on the mound and for once, those Yankee bats seemed destined to go quietly into the afternoon splendor.

As I carefully merged onto the freeway and rush hour congestion engulfed me, I momentarily pictured Twins’ closer Fernando Rodney, out on that Yankee Stadium mound, confidently negotiating a similar challenge. Maybe, just maybe …

Then, like lightning, Provus painfully described a Miguel Sano boot at third base, followed by a trickling infield single that gave the Yankees two baserunners they hadn’t deserved. Just like that, the sinking feeling of Minnesota inevitability was already snapping me back into harsh reality.

Slugger Gary Sanchez was up and the traffic was now grinding to a complete halt. “And there’s a long drive to left …” Provus shouted. I didn’t need to hear any more.

Make that 33-95.

Maybe I’ll save my grilling for another night. Thank goodness the Reds are coming to town.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks Vs. Kansas City T-Bones

The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks rode the pitching of Tyler Alexander to a 5-0 win over the Kansas City T-Bones on Tuesday night at Newman Field in Fargo, and photographer Russ Hons was there. Alexander allowed just three baserunners (one hit and two walks) while striking out 13 batters in the American Association game. Third-baseman Josh Mazzola drove in three runs with a single and two-run homer for the RedHawks. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — As Hopes Peter Out, Twins Become Sellers

The dog days of August have arrived and our favorite baseball team is apparently “rebuilding” again.

For the better part of four months, the Minnesota Twins teased local fans with a brand of ball just good enough to make us believe there was hope. In fact, as recently as July 20, the Twins were within a half-game of first place Cleveland in the American League Central Division standings.

Never mind the numerous warning signs. Despite a 48-46 record on that day, the club had one of the worst home marks in the majors, had been outscored by more than 60 runs and owned an unsightly team ERA near 5.

But after losing 103 games the previous season, who could blame boosters for feeling optimistic? New front office moguls Derek Falvey and Thad Levine represented fresh faces after frequent failures … five of the previous six seasons, to be exact. Veteran pitcher Ervin Santana was having an All-Star season, the defense appeared much-improved, and youngsters like Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios and Byron Buxton all seemed headed in the right direction.

Then came the disastrous West Coast road swing, as Minnesota’s bullpen blew one game after another, losing five of six games to the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers and the middling Oakland A’s.

When I climbed out of bed on the last day of July, the Twins were suddenly seven games out of first place. Baseball’s annual trading deadline had arrived and a good deal of grumbling had returned to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

As she gulped down her coffee and headed for work, my wife had a couple of reasonable questions for me. “Is it true the Twins just traded that guy they picked up a couple of days ago? How does that make any sense?” She was correct about the first part. It’s just that my answer to the second would need more time than she had available.

“That guy” was Jaime Garcia, a solid, if not spectacular, left-handed pitcher the Twins had acquired in a trade with Atlanta for a minor-leaguer earlier in the week. In fact, Garcia was the only Twin to win on that cross country crusade to California. And that wasn’t all. By day’s end, Minnesota had also unloaded their All-Star closer, Brandon Kintzler, for cash and a no-name from Washington.

Knowing the Garcia swap to the hated Yankees would be difficult enough to explain, I was especially thankful I wouldn’t have to break down the logic behind Kintzler’s departure as well. Laurie was already out the door by then.

Meanwhile, on Facebook and Twitter, there was the familiar frustration from Twins’ fans who had seen this act before. Even veteran infielder Brian Dozier publicly expressed his disappointment with the moves, as others lamented how the big money teams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs predictably got richer while the “have-nots” were forced to start planning for the future again.

But sprinkled amidst the dissenters, was the equally predictable call for calm from those who like to think they know better. At the risk of coming off like a baseball snob, you can include me in that group.

In response to our slugging second sacker, I would like to suggest to “Doz” that perhaps his five strikeouts Sunday may have contributed to this housecleaning.  Then again, the moves by management were already happening. And they should’ve been.

Convincing casual fans like my wife, and even more passionate ones simply sick and tired of seven seasons of mediocrity, would seem more difficult. But let me try.

To begin with, if you want to be upset, the anger should be directed more at major league baseball in general rather than the Twins. Teams like the Yankees and Dodgers make mountains of cash from both national and local TV deals. Even with attempts at parity, the clubs with more money will spend it. Recently, the Yankees signed nine of the top 25 international prospects. Because they could.

So when the Bronx Bombers scoop up players like Sonny Gray, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Jaime Garcia, it shouldn’t be surprising. Or the Dodgers snatch the biggest prize at this year’s deadline, pitcher Yu Darvish. They clearly have a competitive advantage.

That still doesn’t guarantee a pennant. But it does mean teams like Minnesota must always be creative and savvy to compete. It’s becoming clear that Falvey and Levine see pitching as their club’s greatest need. The roster is already blessed with a number of young, everyday players ready to contend at the plate and in the field.

For starters, let’s be realistic. Minnesota was going nowhere with this shaky staff. Garcia was viewed as a rental player, needed solely for the remainder of this season. Both he and Kintzler are eligible for free agency and could re-sign with any team next season. Both are over 30. What’s more important is to examine what the Twins got in return:

  • Zack Littell: Picked up in the Garcia trade, this 21-year old has been tearing it up in the Yankee organization. The right-hander is not overpowering but has great control, profiles best as a long reliever and is 14-1 in stints at High A and AA levels.
  • Dietrich Enns: Another former Yankee, this lefty is much closer to being ready for the major leagues. The 26-year old from Central Michigan has a good curve and changeup and should help in the late innings.
  • Tyler Watson: Acquired in the deal with Washington, Watson just turned 20. A big southpaw at 6-foot-5 and projected to be a back end of the rotation starter, this kid has potential breakthrough stuff.

If you agree that the Twins are still in dire need of pitching, then you should welcome any fresh arms to the system, even if it means those players may be a few years away from contributing. Considering that only Cincinnati and Baltimore have given up more runs this season, that would seem to be a logical deduction.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Santana traded as well. He will turn 35 in December, is having a better than expected 2017 season and would likely yield more young arms from a contender desperate to win now.

Also lost in the shuffle was an interesting side benefit to the Kintzler trade. Remember that stat I mentioned about the Yankees and their ability to sign players overseas? Washington has included $500,000 in international bonus pool allocation, giving the Twins a better chance to compete on that level, too.

Yes, our boys have emerged from the cellar, only to become sellers one more time. But as Andy told old Red in “The Shawshank Redemption,” it’s either time to “get busy living or get busy dying.”  For now, the Twins need to die first to live later.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Grand Forks Blues Vs. Casselton

The 2017 season of the Grand Forks Blues ended Friday with a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Casselton in the North Dakota Class A American Legion Tournament at Kraft Memorial Field in Grand Forks. The Blue trailed 3-0 going into the seventh and scored two runs before leaving the bases loaded in the loser-out game. Parker Monette had three hits for the Blues, while Peyton Lotysz and Zach Vodden each chipped in two.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — American Legion Baseball: Grand Forks Royals Vs. Fargo Trappers

The Grand Fork Royals took two games from the Fargo Post 400 Trappers in North Dakota Class AA American Legion play Friday night at Kraft Field in Grand Forks. The Royals won the first game 5-0 and the second 7-3. The first game was the completion of a game started June 13 in Fargo that was halted in the second inning because of rain. Brock Reller led the Royals in the first game, going 2-4 with a home run and picking up the win in relief. Rakeem Wright, Zach Murphy and Landon Kraft each chipped in two hits. In the second game, Connor Richardson led the Royals, picking up the win in relief and going 2-2 with three RBI. Reller and Murphy each added two hits. The Post 6 Royals upped their record to 18-4 with the wins. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — American Legion Baseball: Grand Forks Post 6 Vs. Fargo Post 2

A lot of people believe that’s there’s nothing better to do on a nice summer night than go to a baseball game. And that’s exactly what Grand Forks photographer Russ Hons did Wednesday night. Here are some of the photos Russ took of the American Legion game between host Grand Forks Post 6 and visiting Fargo Post 2 at Kraft Field in Grand Forks. Post 2 won the opener 8-2 behind the pitching of Cameron Blazek (nine strikeouts) and the hitting of Luke Sandy (3-4 with a triple). However, the Royals of Post 6 took the nightcap 5-4, rallying for three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to claim the win. Leading the Royals were Isaac Berger, who was 3-3 at the plate, and Brock Reller, who pitched a complete game and was 2-3 (double and single). Also contributing two hits apiece for the 4-1 Royals were Rakeem Wright (homer and single) and Ben Carolin (double and single). Landon Kraft was 1-4 with two RBI. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

MIKE BRUE: Cubs-Indians World Series Game 7 Ranks As One Of The Best — But THE Best . . . .?

For high drama, Wednesday-into-Thursday’s historic World Series Game 7 between the long-suffering Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians franchises made for worthwhile baseball viewing and listening. In my case, it was some of both. Thank goodness for car radios.

A cleanly played game? Not really. You could question some of the unorthodox managerial decisions, too.  Still, the contest featured enough some clutch hitting and gutsy pitching from both teams, and enough fascinating strategy to keep millions of baseball fans’ bed pillows untouched into extra innings. Besides, after waits of 108 and 68 years for a World Series championship, what’s a few more late-night innings, commercials included….?

In many ways, the Chicago-Cleveland game (minus the rain delay between innings nine and 10) reminded me — for different reasons — of two climate-controlled Minnesota Twins contests that I actually attended.

One was the 2009 division championship-clinching game that Twins fans sometimes refer to simply as “Game 163.”

For you casual MLB fans, a 163rd regular-season game follows a 162-game season if two teams in a division finished tied for first. The winner of Game 163 moves on to the playoffs. The loser slinks into the off-season.

Twins followers tend to forget that, in 2008, the team narrowly lost the division title, 1-0, to Chicago’s White Sox in a Game 163. Forgetting may be by design, since Minnesota’s bats went balsa after Game 162.

So, when a Minnesota fan mentions Game 163 and grins, bet your autographed Tony Oliva bat that it’s the 2009 game.

Memorable? Definitely. An ultra-tense, do-or-die, back-and-forth, 12-inning sweat producer, the walk-off winner climax of a historic Twins season. It capped a franchise-loving comeback that began the previous week with Minnesota two games behind in their division’s standings with just three games to play. The Detroit Tigers stumbled out of that lead and then lost a hard-fought Game 163, too.

It was a dramatic, deafening, celebratory Metrodome win for Manager Ron Gardenhire’s Twins — an atmosphere in some ways reminiscent of Minnesota’s Homer Hanky crazed World Series home games under skipper Tom Kelly in 1987 and 1991.

It also was the Twins’ last win under the dome roof.  In the 2009 division series that followed Minnesota’s celebratory partying, ambition quickly deflated vs. the team’s post-season Achilles’ heel of the 2000s, the New York Yankees. The best-of-five series became a three-game sweep. Minnesota’s last loss, in the Metrodome, also put its dome years in the rearview mirror and Target Field in its headlights.

Anyway, MLB bigwigs decided they liked Game 163s so much that they artificially created a make-or-break single-game in both the American and National Leagues.  Two teams in each league with the best won-loss records but no division title get one game to determine which one advances to a playoff round with one of its league’s three division winners.

Meanwhile, many Twins fans groused that all but one of their recent multiple division-winning teams weren’t good enough to get beyond the first playoff round.

That was six losing seasons ago. But I digress.

I thought a lot about Game 163 during Wednesday’s final Cubs-Indians duel.

The other Twins game that came to mind that night was a Game 7, too:  1991’s 10-inning, 1-0 pitching tug-of-war with another “worst-to-first” combatant, Atlanta. Both teams had gone from dredging their respective divisions’ cellars the previous year to MLB’s pinnacle showcase.

 What a game.  Twins warhorse Jack Morris pitched an extra-inning shutout for the ages.  The Braves’ future Hall-of-Fame pitcher John Smoltz and several relievers proved just as unyielding, until inning 10.  Both teams had bases loaded with one out in their halves of the eighth inning — and neither was able to score.

Really, not many similarities at all to the Cubs-Indian Game 7.

I will never forget row upon Metrodome roll of stressed spectators gripping knotted and tightly twisted Homer Hankies.  I can still see thousands of thoroughly shredded food wrappers, napkins and paper cups at their feet.

Perhaps the Metrodome’s air-lofted lid would have ruptured had the tension gone unvented another few extra innings. We’ll never know. In the bottom of the 10th, pinch-hitter Gene Larkin’s bases-loaded, game-winning fly ball single over a drawn-in Atlanta left fielder sent an elated Dan Gladden home from his momentary perch on third base. That game-ending pin-prick spared the roof but burst Atlanta’s title-seeking balloon.

 Like ’91’s Game 7 masterpiece, 2009’s Game 163 elimination game ended with a walk-off hit — infielder Alexi Cassila’s grounder to right field, scoring outfielder-a- “Go Go” Carlos Gomez from second base — that produced an explosion of Metrodome celebration unrivaled since the Twins’ World Series wins.

Even without walk-off heroics in the Cub’s 10th-inning win at Cleveland in the wee hours Thursday, the game no doubt created plenty of anxiety for fans.  Lots of food wrappers, napkins and paper cups shredded there, too, I suspect.

Best World Series ever?

I still think the Twins-Braves Series 25 years ago was better start to finish, with four of the final five games — two for Atlanta, two for Minnesota — decided in the final at-bat, and then in front of the game-winners’ home crowds. In all, five 1991 Series games were decided by a single run, and three games — including elimination games 6 and 7, went into extra innings. Did I mention Kirby Puckett’s “We’ll see you tomorrow night” Game 6 winning home run…?

Even with multiple great storylines, Cleveland and Chicago had only three games decided by a single run and only one that went past nine innings and no walk-off hits.

Sure, yours truly is a unabashed Twins fan boasting about a Series that Minnesota won. But I already know plenty of non-Twins or non-Braves fans would agree with me about the marvel that was the ’91 Series.

Still, was the best Game 7 ever played just completed by the Cubs and Indians?  The internet and airwaves already have had plenty of takers on that claim.

I think back to what veteran TV play-by-play announcer Buck said around the last inning of Game 7. I’m not talking about FOX’s Joe Buck, but his late father Jack, who headed CBS’ Series coverage of the Twins and Braves.

“You know,” Jack Buck told viewers back then, “a lot of times, you attend a sporting event, or watch a World Series, or some other athletic competition, and not realize at the time how sensational it is. . . .But tonight, it’s so apparent that this is one of the most remarkable baseball games ever played.”

That’s when former catcher and CBS analyst Tim McCarver added, “You’re trying to look for some historical perspective to look back on, but you can’t find any.  It’s a one of a kind.”

Valid comments, still, these 25 years later. More than anything, the Twins-Braves Game 7 was one of a kind — and the best World Series game I’ve ever witnessed, in person or on TV.

 Disagree, if you must. Maybe you liked 1960’s Game 7 better, or 1997’s. Maybe 2001’s. Disagreement is a welcomed part of the joy of following baseball. The same cannot be said for the U.S. presidential campaign. And I mean 2016’s.

The Cubs-Indians Game 7 still belongs among the most memorable World Series elimination games in MLB history, and not merely because it was TV’s most viewed Game 7 since — drum roll, please — 1991’s Twins-Braves Series battle. 

Wow. Better yet, holy cow!