Instead of sitting back, Twins hit ground running toward '92 GM MacPhail has full off-season agenda

October 29, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins general manager Andy MacPhail, also known as "the boy genius" in some circles, was on a plane to Florida yesterday. He couldn't even sit still long enough to take part in today's Twin Cities championship celebration.

"No parade for me," said MacPhail, just minutes after the Twins had completed their amazing worst-to-first run with a dramatic 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the seventh game of the 88th World Series. "When Gene Larkin got the deep hit and Gladden scored, it was the beginning of the 1992 season."

The Twins apparently aren't going to let any artificial turf grow under their feet this off-season. MacPhail, manager Tom Kelly and the rest of the team's player personnel division will visit the Florida Instructional League and convene a series of organizational meetings this week, though Kelly will remain in Minnesota to take part in the championship celebrations that will take place today in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

If there ever was a time to rest on your laurels, this is it, but the Twins learned last year how important the off-season can be. VTC They signed free-agent pitcher and eventual World Series MVP Jack Morris last winter. They also signed run-production leader Chili Davis during the new-look free-agency period. This year, the emphasis probably will be on re-signing some of their own players, but they saw what happened when the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Athletics stopped to smell the roses after last year's World Series.

The Twins do not want to go back where they came from. They won the world championship in 1987 and proceeded to slip out of contention in the American League West. Give some credit where credit is due -- the A's were the best team in baseball for much of the past three years -- but the Twins finished last in 1990 with many of the same players who defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the 84th World Series.

"These organizational meetings are the most important part of our job," said MacPhail, who did such a job that the Twins made the most dramatic turnaround in baseball history. "It will be another exciting off-season. It never stops."

The Twins never stopped, though they may have stopped a few hearts along the way. They blew out the division favorite A's and a Chicago White Sox team that was supposed to win if the A's didn't. They made short work of the AL East champion Toronto Blue Jays, winning the playoffs in five games. They forced their hybrid form of dome-ball onto the national consciousness again. And they did something even more unexpected than all of that -- they got Kelly to come off as a likable guy in front of the cameras.

The Braves' 1991 story is just as compelling, but they came up one game -- make that one run -- short. They watched in horror as Lonnie Smith pulled up momentarily at second base on an eighth-inning double by Terry Pendleton that should have scored him easily. Impressive as they were for so long, it apparently wasn't meant to be.

They had overcome the loss of left fielder Otis Nixon, who was leading the league in stolen bases when he was suspended for failing a drug test. They overcame the doubters and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and it seemed for a time that they might even overcome the decibels and the dome. But Morris finally pulled them from the threshold of a dream with a gutsy, 10-inning performance that proved again that he is one of the best of the big-game players.

"It's tough right now to realize what we accomplished, especially with another team over there celebrating," said Braves starter John Smoltz, who pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings in Game 7 before turning the game over to the Braves bullpen. "You never think about losing. Our first goal was to get to the World Series, get to that first plateau. It's not the end of the world. Now we need to go on. if we don't learn from this, there is something wrong with us."

Maybe the grind finally took its toll on the Braves, who were fighting uphill until they broke through with a 14-5 victory in Game 5 to force the Twins into a must-sweep situation at the Metrodome.

They beat out the Dodgers during the final weekend of the regular season. They swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the final two games of the National League playoffs at Three Rivers Stadium. They came back from a two-game World Series deficit to win all three games at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. They needed one more game, but they never got that one big hit that would have turned Game 6 or 7 in their favor.

"Next year, I'd like to have [the division title] wrapped up by the middle of September," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "It was really draining. We came back to catch the Dodgers and held on to win the division, then we beat the Pirates in a hard-fought series. We could have broken up several of these games with a big hit, but it didn't happen."

The Braves don't figure to have a busy off-season. General manager John Schuerholz knows the dangers of standing pat, but he has a young team that still is in development. There appears to be enough talent in Atlanta to stay at the top of the National League West for years to come. But whatever happens next year, they had an amazing run and played in a World Series that will not soon be forgotten.

"It surpassed our wildest dreams," said the Braves' Pendleton. "We just stopped one step short. It's the most exhausting, draining, totally unbelieveable thing I've ever been through, but I wouldn't have traded this experience for all the money in the world."

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