I'm a sap. my eyes well up at the mere mention of Pride of the Yankees, and my spine tingles every time I hear Johnny Most scream, "Havlicek stole the ball!" on my record album of the same name. So maybe I'm not the best judge of what constitutes a good sports year.
Nineteen eighty-seven seemed wonderful to me—not so much for its team or individual performances, but for its celebrations. I'm not talking about the usual champagne spraying, net cutting, golf ball throwing or coxswain dunking, and I couldn't care less that Don Johnson and Bruce Willis were seen partying in the Laker shower room after a game of the NBA finals. No, what got to me were moments like these:
•Noseguard Jim Burt going up into the stands at Giants Stadium in January to rejoice with the fans after the home team won the NFC championship game over the Redskins.
•A victorious Pat Cash climbing into the stands at Wimbledon to embrace his friends and family.
•Members of the European team being unabashedly joyous after beating the U.S. in Ryder Cup competition at Muirfield Village outside Columbus, Ohio. Not only did they form a zany chorus line, but also 5'4" Ian Woosnam hoisted 5'9" captain Tony Jacklin on his shoulders.
•Forward Oscar Schmidt of Brazil bellowing ecstatically to the rafters during the final seconds of his team's stunning upset of the U.S. in the Pan American Games men's basketball final. The hysterically happy Brazilian fans rattled Hoosier maracas—soup cans partially filled with Indiana corn.
•Racing fans giving a standing ovation to 56-year-old Willie Shoemaker and Ferdinand after they won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Hollywood Park.
A populist theme—hooray for the little guy!—runs through all of these moments. (Taking the celebration to the people, however, can go a little too far, as when one of the Edmonton Oilers put the hallowed Stanley Cup on display on the stage of a strip joint across the street from Northlands Coliseum the night after the Oilers won the thing.) But nowhere was the fanfare for the common man more impressive than in Minneapolis last October.
It was very easy to make fun of the Minnesota Twins. They won only 85 regular-season games, they played inside a giant kaiser roll, and their fans waved those stupid, commercially inspired hankies. "Minneapolis makes St. Louis seem positively Parisian," said a friend whose sensibilities, not to mention ears, were damaged in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
But outsiders were missing the remarkable relationship between the Twins and their faithful. The fans, as pundits kept pointing out, were desperate, what with the Vikings' four Super Bowl losses, the North Stars' embarrassment in the 1981 Stanley Cup final, and the dashed hopes of H.H.H. and Fritz. Still, lots of places have given their hearts to a team. In Minneapolis the feeling was mutual. "I'd like to be up there with them," hometown hero Kent Hrbek told Roger Angell of The New Yorker. "My heart is this big for Minnesota."
The Twins were smitten the night they returned from Detroit—where they had just beaten the Tigers to win the American League pennant—and found 55,000 people waiting for them in the Metrodome for what had to be the largest surprise party in history. After that, the Twins couldn't help but win at home, which was a good thing, since they couldn't help but lose on the road.
After third baseman Gary Gaetti threw over to Hrbek at first for the final out of the Series, all sorts of nice little scenes took shape. The Twins formed a huge pileup in the infield. Delirious strangers embraced in the stands. Manager Tom Kelly, an unsentimental man, stayed in the dugout, hugging his batboys.
The best was yet to come. The Twins, more intent on thanking their fans than on drinking champagne, trooped back onto the field half an hour after ABC-TV signed off. They basked in the glow, reunited themselves with their families and, one by one, took the stadium microphone to try to express their feelings. "We've been in a lot of towns and we've seen a lot of fans," Gaetti told the crowd. "They were good in St. Louis—but you blew 'em away."
Then the Twins did a slow victory lap, walking around the perimeter of the field. There were, I might add, no attack dogs, no mounted policemen, no fans rushing onto the field. Outside, in the streets of Minneapolis, there was very little mayhem. Just happiness.
Shakespeare, in a moment of clarity worthy of Yogi Berra, wrote, "Sweets with sweet war not, joy delights in joy." Delight in 1987, which had more than enough joy to go around. Take whatever snapshot you like into '88. I'll take one of Bert Blyleven and the other guys walking around the Metrodome, thanking the people.