A founding member of Baseball Weekly, Tim Wendel is the author of 11 books, including the award-winning baseball trilogy – High Heat, Summer of ’68 and Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time. He is a writer in residence at Johns Hopkins University and can be reached at www.timwendel.com.
Not much was expected of the San Francisco Giants when the San Francisco Examiner assigned me to cover them in 1987. Only two years before, the ball club had lost a hundred games. In the previous season, new manager Roger Craig had led the team to an 83–79 record, but that was still good for only third place in the National League West.
Eighty games into the 1968 season, the Baltimore Orioles fired Manager Hank Bauer and brought in Earl Weaver. At first, the move appeared to have little consequence outside Maryland. After all, ’68 had already become the “Year of the Tigers,” with Detroit moving out to an early lead in the American League (1968 was the last season without divisions and the winner of each league moved directly to the World Series).
In June 1969, the Chicago Cubs were the best team in baseball. Not that they appeared to have much competition in the National League. The St. Louis Cardinals, the two-time pennant winners, had fallen on hard times and were in the process of being dismantled. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds were on the upswing but not quite there, leaving also-rans like the New York Mets, which nobody dared to mention in the same sentence with such words as championship and World Series.
As the 1991 season began, the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins were regarded as ball clubs with promise but certainly not pennant contenders. The year before, the Braves had finished in the cellar in the National League West Division with a 65–97 record, 26 games behind the Cincinnati Reds. The Twins had also found themselves in last place in 1990 in the American League West, sporting a 74–88 record, 29 games behind the Oakland Athletics, who had finished with the best record in baseball and were expected to return to the World Series.
Some teams become winners overnight—rising to the forefront with little warning expectation. The Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins in 1991, and the Boston Red Sox in 2013 come to mind—the top “worst-to-first” ball clubs.
But for other teams the rise to the top can be arduous and often disappointing. Until they secure a pennant or World Series title it remains an open question—will they ever do it? So it was a quarter century ago with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Soon after the 1961 season concluded, Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda sat side by side in a Cadillac convertible as it drove through the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Crowds lined the route and cheered for the two Latino superstars.
The T-shirt hung with so many others at the National Baseball Hall of Fame gift shop. “Latino All-Stars” was emblazoned across the front and a list of Latino Hall of Famers ran down the back—Juan Marichal, Roberto Alomar, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, and so forth. Yet, toward the bottom, a surprising entry could be found—Ted Williams.