The walls at the Metrodome came tumbling down in late February 2014. During its 31-year run, the indoor stadium in Minneapolis hosted the NCAA’s Final Four, the Super Bowl, such rock headliners as Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones, and, most importantly, the 1987 and 1991 World Series.
Some would say good riddance. After all, this baseball venue had a Hefty-like bag—stretched taut and true—as the right-field fence, and Plexiglas topped the fence in center field, where Kirby Puckett once took up residence. Such peculiarities prompted Time magazine to once rank the Metrodome the worst stadium in the country.
Still, the old-time Twins recognized the home-field edge they once had. The new Target Field is a true jewel, perhaps the best of the new era in ballparks, which began with Baltimore’s Camden Yards in 1992. But it doesn’t intimidate opposing players like the Metrodome did.
No place was louder than the Twins’ old home. During the 1987 World Series, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joe Magrane wore earplugs, and infielders for both teams had to use hand signals to communicate with each other. Down in the bullpens, coaches resorted to putting a foot on the phone receiver. The vibration told them there was a call, as they couldn’t hear it ring.
“They ought to nuke this place,” Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog said after his team lost four in a row at the Metrodome.
Pitcher Dan Quisenberry echoed this theme of annihilation by adding, “I don’t think there are any good uses for nuclear weapons, but then, this may be one.”
The Metrodome was the site of many memorable moments in baseball history including popular Minnesota native Dave Winfield’s 3,000 career hit on September 16, 1993, a 9th inning single off Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley.
If that wasn’t tough enough, the Metrodome roof could transfix the best of fielders and even base runners. ESPN’s Jim Caple once wrote that the Teflon-colored, space-age lid was “so thin that you can tell when the sun goes behind a cloud during a day game. You can also hear the rain pelting on the roof during the thunderstorm.”
Sounds kind of poetic, doesn’t it? But good luck getting a bead on a ball hit in the air in this place, especially with the stands filled, making it as noisy as an airplane runway.
“In outdoor ballparks you can take your eye off the ball and then pick it up again when you’re an outfielder or base runner,” former Twins catcher Brian Harper once told me. “You cannot do that in the Metrodome because the ball and the roof are so close to being the same color. We knew that on the Twins. We knew that you never took your eye off the ball.”
“Lose the ball in the air,” added former Twins outfielder Dan Gladden, “and you were likely to be lost yourself. Deaf, dumb and blind—just staring upward.”
That remains an apt description of what happened during one of the biggest plays of the 1991 World Series. In Game 7, with everything on the line, it appeared that the Atlanta Braves were about to score and perhaps take the championship on the Twins’ home turf. Heading into the eighth inning, the teams were locked in a scoreless tie. That’s when Lonnie Smith led off with a single to right field.
Minnesota starter Jack Morris bore down and appeared to strike out Terry Pendleton. But umpire Terry Tata ruled that the National League MVP had fouled the pitch off. (Replays would show that the call was incorrect.)
Given a second chance, Pendleton roped Morris’s next offering to left-center field, and in a perfect world, in a different place, Smith would have scored easily. Yet as he headed toward second, Smith lost track of the ball in the Metrodome’s twilight zone.
He held up, briefly coming to a full stop. He only began to run anew when he saw the ball drop near Gladden in left field. The delay proved costly as Smith only made it to third base, rather than scoring the game’s first run.
Years later, Pendleton remembered running to second base and turning to Braves third-base coach Jimy Williams, ready to give him a fist pump. After all, the Braves were finally on the board, with a great chance now to take the Series. “(That’s) when I realized that Lonnie was standing there right next to him,” Pendleton said. “I couldn’t believe it. . . .”
Much was made at the time, especially by television analyst Tim McCarver, about the fake double play that Twins shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch pulled off during Smith’s misadventure on the base paths—how this deception had kept the Braves off the scoreboard.
Yet years later, nobody on the Twins or the Braves backed that scenario. Instead, it came back to the setting—how the Metrodome had claimed another victim. “(Smith) just didn’t know where the ball was,” Twins Manager Tom Kelly said.
Smith himself added, “If I saw the ball off the bat, there’s a good chance I could have scored. But I didn’t see it. I didn’t take that look in. That’s my mistake.”
Kirby Puckett’s performance in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series is considered the greatest performance by any athlete in the history of the Metrodome.
That the ’91 Series had even gone to a seventh game can be partially attributed again to the venue, how the Metrodome was so different than other ballparks.
The Twins won Game 6, forcing a winner-take-all finale, because Puckett homered in the bottom of the 11th inning the night before. That homer for the ages prompted announcer Jack Buck to tell his national television audience, “And we will see you tomorrow night.”
Through the years, though, there was plenty of grumbling about how Twins’ deep flies carried over the fence and similar blasts by the opposition only went to the warning track. In 2003, Dick Ericson, the Metrodome’s superintendent, revealed that the stadium’s air-conditioning blowers were sometimes cranked up with the Twins at-bat.
“It’s your home-field advantage,” he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Every stadium has got one.”
Perhaps that’s why Puckett ran hard out of the batter’s box that October night at the Metrodome in 1991. Who knew if the prevailing wind currents were in play or not? “I was running hard because I thought it was going to hit the Plexiglas above the fence,” Puckett once told me. “I was looking for a double, or maybe it bounces off the glass and does something weird and I can get a triple. I don’t want an inside-the-parker. That’s too much work.
“But it landed six or seven rows up, and that’s because there were so many people. They helped it out.”
Or, perhaps, it was another example of what once was the best home-field advantage in the game coming into play.
Home of the Minnesota Twins for 27 seasons, the Metrodome is the only stadium to have hosted the MLB All-Star Game, World Series, Super Bowl, and NCAA Final Four basketball tournament.
Tim Wendel is the author of 11 books, including the recently released Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time (Da Capo).