Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Twins, the 1987 World Series and the Berenguer Boogie

The Minnesota Twins will win the AL Central. In the first round of the playoffs they'll face either Tampa or the Yankees. They might beat the Rays in the first round and then lose to the Yankees in the ALCS. Or they'll play the Yankees in the first round and lose there, once again doomed by a heartbreaking rally or a terrible call or some other misfortune that always seems to happen when baseball's peasants face the game's royalty.

But maybe this year will finally be different. Maybe this is the year when the Twins don't blow a ninth-inning lead in Yankee Stadium. Joe Nathan is sidelined, after all. Maybe this is the year a Rally Monkey doesn't infuriate Twins fans. Maybe this is the year homefield advantage doesn't disappear in Game 1, leading to an embarrassing sweep. It's been a decade of regular-season success for the Twins, and a decade of postseason frustration. Since taking a 1-0 lead over the Angels in the 2002 ALCS, the Twins are 2-16 in the playoffs. Maybe this year is different. 

It could all come together for the Twins and their fans, like it did in 1991. Most baseball fans remember the 1991 World Series, which people routinely call one of the best ever and would have already been immortalized on film or in a book if it had involved Boston or New York.

That was the team's second World Series title in five seasons. But to many Twins fans - including me - the 1987 title remains the most memorable. It was the first and came out of nowhere. While the 1991 Twins did famously go from last to first, they at least had a world championship in their recent past. The 1987 Twins only had failure and, at best, mediocrity. They won 71 games in 1986, 77 in 1985, 81 in 1984, and 70 in 1983.

While the 1991 Twins played in one of the best World Series ever, the 1987 Twins are often named one of the worst teams to ever win a World Series. They finished 85-77, which included a horrific 29-52 road record. Fortunately, the team dominated at home, finishing 56-25 in the Metrodome, which would soon be re-christened the Thunderdome. Despite having fewer wins than both Detroit and St. Louis, the Twins possessed homefield advantage in the ALCS and World Series. They went 6-0 at home in the postseason.

The 1987 Twins had a roster filled with larger personalities and bigger guts. Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett, Tom Brunansky, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola. My memories of the 1987 season include watching Joe Niekro toss out an emery board after umpires confronted him over a doctored baseball and Hrbek's "TCF" grand slam in Game 6 of the World Series. Before Game 7, I joined my friend Brandon in our basement, where we pelted a Whitey Herzog's baseball card with darts. By the end, there was nothing left of the White Rat's face. Homer Hankies made their first appearance, as did the decibel-readers that chronicled the ear-splitting nose inside the Dome.

That Twins team had it all and won it all. Same as in 1991. But the 1987 team had something no Twins team has had since: The Berenguer Boogie.   

Berenguer was a revelation in 1987. He went 8-1 in the regular season, then starred in the ALCS against Detroit. He gave up one run in six innings, pitching in four of the five game. Even better - from Twins fans' perspective - he taunted hitters with an over-the-top celebration that included arm-pumping and glove-hitting. With his fastballs, strikeouts and antics, he became a mustached Minnesota folk hero, a Panamanian Paul Bunyan. He became El Gasolino or, if you prefer, Señor Smoke, a possibly politically incorrect nickname embraced by all. His behavior was so unlike Minnesotans. We're meek, nice, passive-aggressive. Berenguer was arrogant, a little mean and simply aggressive.

The Cardinals hammered Berenguer in the World Series. He finished with an ERA of 10.38 in his three appearances, surrendering 10 hits in only 4.1 innings. Didn't matter. His ALCS performance and his personality guaranteed his popularity in Minnesota.

And there was the Berenguer Boogie. Look at that video again. Who is the creative team behind the video? They're jammed into a conference room, brainstorming ideas like they're political operatives plotting a video about a rival candidate that will claim the man fathered a child with an illegal immigrant. They have $25,000 to work with. Fueled by copious amounts of Diet Pepsi and World Series fever, they toss out their dreams for the Boogie.

The intensity: "We're going to kick in six Minnesota Twins leaning in and shouting...something."
The musical genius: "Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duhduh...Senor Smoke."
The sex factor: "Sequined leotards."

Then the finished product. A cameo by Matt Blair, a former linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings whose connection to the 1987 Twins was...well, nothing. The set looks like something leftover from "Thriller," except instead of zombies we have girls with big hair in leotards and Twins in trench coats and blue jeans. And the guy in charge of the smoke machine possessed an overeager trigger finger.

Some of the lyrics prove confusing. "It was the spring of '87 and baseball couldn't know, this was the year of destiny for a team down from the snow." Aren't they a Northern team?

Minnesota shared a connection with the 1987 team that wasn't quite there other years, even during the 1991 title or the success of the past 10 seasons. They were a goofy team that played in a goofier stadium. And they were the first pro team in the state to break through with a title, after four heartbreaks with the Vikings and a World Series defeat. 

When the Twins finished off Detroit in Game 5 of the ALCS, they returned to Minneapolis for a welcome home. Organizers expected a few hundred people to show up. Instead, when the Twins pulled into the Metrodome, 60,000 fans with nothing better to do greeted them. Doug Grow recalls that night here. Berenguer played a starring role in the impromptu celebration, sporting a Berenguer Boogie trench coat, fedora and briefcase. 

This Twins team will have a better record than the 1987 squad. They're fun to watch. Maybe they'll duplicate the success and bring home a title. Or at least win a game in the ALDS. But no matter what happens, they won't be as fun - on the field or off. They have Blyleven in the booth but not on the mound. There's no Kirby or Herbie. No Bruno or The G-Man. There's no Berenguer and certainly no Berenguer Boogie.

But maybe there will be The Thome Two-Step.


Mike said...

"they were the first pro team in the state to break through with a title"

Ahem, are you familiar with an NBA team called the Lakers? According to your blog (and high school wardrobe), it appears as if you have heard of them. Or has your disdain of the Mikan Drill as a youth made you block out the Minneapolis years? Remember Jodi's friend Julie from college, we went to her wedding and for some odd reason, Juan Berenger was in attendance.

Shawn Fury said...

Very true. First among pro franchises that were still among the Minnesota living. Obviously, big fan of George, Jim, John and the boys.

Find out why he was there. Please. At the dance, did he do the Berenguer Boogie?