PREFACE - Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time - Tim Wendel

Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time - Tim Wendel (2014)


In 1991 Verlyn Klinkenborg came out with a book entitled The Last Fine Time. It was the story of his father-in-law, Eddie Wenzek, who once operated a family-owned tavern on the east side of Buffalo, New York. I grew up in Lockport, New York, only forty minutes away, and Buffalo was once the big city for me. It’s where I saw my first baseball game, taken by my grandfather, along with my younger brother, Chris, to War Memorial Stadium, aka “The Rockpile.” Although many of the scenes from The Natural were filmed here, The Rockpile would never be mistaken for any of the sports palaces of today. As my uncle Brock Yates once wrote, the ballpark “looks as if whatever war it was a memorial to had been fought within its confines.”

No matter how many rough edges may be involved, I believe that every era, every life, for that matter, has a “last fine time.” It can be a brief moment or two when everything comes together in a remarkable way, and even when the world again barrels ahead, intent on reinventing itself once again, we can hold tight to such memories.

When I look back at baseball, which I have written about for several decades, the 1991 season remains for me one of the last fine times. That season was the beginning of Baseball Weekly, a new publishing venture at USA Today. I was fortunate to be on the original staff there, and in 1991 I covered my first World Series, and doing so gave me an inside look at the sea changes that were changing the game forever—soaring team payrolls, an approaching labor storm, the rise of retro-style ballparks and the corporate groupthink in which too many believed that everything could be fixed by firing this guy and hiring somebody else.

The ’91 season marked the first time that a cellar dweller went from last to first place when the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins rose from the ashes to play each other in the World Series. And what a showdown it was. Experts rank it among the top World Series ever played, and many consider it the best ever.

We always enjoy a story with a beginning, middle, and an end. Perhaps such elements become even more precious in the age of Face-book and Twitter, when so much comes at us so quickly and sometimes with misguided intent. A tale that happened out there, somewhere in the not-so-distant past, can be reassuring to us. So let’s start somewhere near the beginning then—only a few blocks from the banks of the Mississippi River. Even though the late October winds funneled down the wide avenues of downtown Minneapolis early in the day, inside the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome conditions remain comfortably warm and ear-splittingly loud.