Minnesota Twins: A look back on the wacky year that was 1984
By Greg Simbeck
The year 1984 will go down as perhaps the craziest year in Minnesota Twins history. There were enough on-the field and off-the-field unforgettable moments to fill several seasons: an unlikely pennant race, the possible relocation of the team, a lost baseball, and the debut of a Hall of Famer. All of this and more took place during that unpredictable and unforgettable summer.
As the Twins left spring training that year, there wasn’t a lot of optimism for their on-field product. Their win-loss record for their first two years in the Metrodome was a dismal 130-194 and they had drawn less than a million fans in both years.
Despite this, there was reason for optimism for the future, with exciting young players that offered hope for the future led by the local kid, first baseman Kent Hrbek, hard-hitting outfielder Tom Brunansky, who had been acquired from the Angels in 1982, and a scrappy third basemen named Gary Gaetti who was just shy of turning 25.
On the pitching side, the Twins also still had some hope left in potential top of the rotation pitcher in Frank Viola, who had been roughed up by big league hitters in his first two seasons but still seemed to have great stuff.
Off the field, the future of the franchise didn’t look as bright. Minority owner Gabe Murphy was looking to sell his 42 percent share of the team to a Tampa Bay group looking to move the team. while Calvin Griffith, the long-time majority owner of the Minnesota Twins, wasn’t pleased with recent performance.
On top of this, Griffith had a clause in his stadium lease that allowed him to void it if the Twins did not average 1.4 million paid fans over a three-year period. with how the first two seasons at the Dome went, it didn’t seem likely they would hit that attendance average for the foreseeable future.
This raised the question: Was Calvin planning to sell his majority interest to the Tampa Bay group, precipitating a move to Florida? Despite Calvin’s denials, there was much speculation that this indeed was his plan, putting a damper on the season.
The season started off slowly, but things began to turn around in early May. With the Twins going 13-15 through May 4th, a Dave Kingman pop up found a drainage hole in the Metrodome’s roof and never returned to the playing field. For this, he was awarded a ground rule double, the first of its kind in MLB history.
The fun continued on May 8th, when a fast-rising prospect from the south side of Chicago made his Minnesota Twins and Major League debut, and he did it with a flourish. Kirby Puckett collected four hits against California and a legend was born, as he would go on to hit .296 that year. 1984 marked the first year of a phenomenal career that led to his induction into Cooperstown in 2001.
The good news continued on June 22, when some clarity was brought to the Twins’ ownership situation. Businessman Carl R. Pohlad agreed to purchase 97.5 percent of the Minnesota Twins from the Griffith family and other minority partners, setting him up as the primary owner.
Griffith passed on the most lucrative offer on the table from Donald Trump, preferring to sell the team to a local interest that would keep the team in Minnesota, and Pohlad, an Iowan who had lived in Minnesota for thirty years before the sale, fit the bill.
Unfortunately the season wasn’t completely good news, as outfielder Jim Eisenreich ended his third attempt to play for the Twins. Eisenreich, a native Minnesotan, had a lot of potential, but was struggling through a then-undiagnosed battle with Tourette’s Syndrome that would cost him two seasons of his career.
He never made it back to the Twins, but he did return to baseball in 1987 with the Kansas City Royals, going on to play twelve very productive seasons where he hit .290 with solid defense in the corner outfield slot.
Despite this, the on-field product started to look better as well. After having a rough start to the season, the Minnesota Twins moved into first place in the American League West after a Viola-led win against the Angels on July 29.
For 47 of the next 50 days, they would hold that lead, as manager Billy Gardner accomplished all of this with a rotation starring Viola in a breakout season, strong seasons from Mike Smithson and John Butcher, and not much else.
They didn’t get a lot of help from their bullpen either, as closer Ron Davis would proceed to blow 14 save opportunities, tying a major league single season record that still stands today. Instead, it was their offense that carried them.
The hitting prowess of Brunansky, Hrbek, Puckett, Gaetti, and a surprise All-Star in catcher Dave Engel powered a lineup that would keep the team in contention for the entirety of the regular season.
It all came down to the final four-game series held against a bad Cleveland team. The Minnesota Twins were two games behind the division leading Kansas City Royals, but three wins in the series might land them the title.
The Twins get off to a great start in the series behind a two-run Tim Laudner homer and a terrific pitching performance by Smithson, before Ron Davis came in and blew a 3-1 lead, making it 3-3. Davis would manage to get the first two Cleveland hitters out in the bottom half of the inning, but then Jamie Quirk was subbed in.
Quirk was a journeyman player, and had only been signed by Cleveland four days prior as an emergency catcher. That didn’t matter, as he launched a walk-off home run to right field for a Cleveland win. The next night, the Twins felt confident with Viola on the mound, and thought they could do enough on offense to move one game closer.
They looked like they might be right when the team exploded to a 10-2 lead entering the bottom of the sixth inning. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t hold, as a throwing error by the usually sure-handed Gaetti opened the floodgates, giving up seven runs in the sixth.
Cleveland tied it on a Joe Carter homer in the eighth, and won it on a walk-off Brett Butler single in the bottom of the ninth, ending the Twin’s playoff chances. “It’s hard to throw with both hands around your neck.” Gaetti said about his throwing error in the sixth inning, which was a pretty good metaphor for the performance in the series.
The nucleus of this Minnesota Twins team would go on to win two World Championships, but the memories of this series will burn in the souls of Twin’s fans forever, capping off what was truly a wacky year.