Terry Steinbach pulls the sport utility vehicle to the side of
the road and points to some tracks in the snow that weave
through a thicket and into a frozen marsh. "Looks like those are
our coyotes," he says. "They pulled down a deer in my cornfield
the other night. I found it before the carcass was frozen."
Steinbach often drives down this Minnesota farm road to his
110-acre property, which is about 15 miles from his house in
Plymouth and, surprisingly, just a half hour from downtown
Minneapolis. He comes out here two, three times a day during the
hunting season. Steinbach, the Oakland A's catcher for the past
10-plus seasons, bought the land, which borders half of an
80-acre lake, a couple of years ago so he could hunt during the
off-season without having to go far from his family. He can set
his alarm for 6 a.m., be in his duck blind by 6:30 and, after
the morning flight, be back in the house by 8 to help his wife,
Mary, pack the three kids--Jill, 9; Lucas, 6; and Jake, 3--off
In the early afternoon Steinbach likes to drive back to the
property with his 7-year-old Brittany spaniel, Simon, to flush
pheasant out of a five-acre patch of corn. Under a program
subsidized by Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources,
Steinbach has a farmer plant in the spring and then leaves the
corn standing all winter to provide food and cover for pheasant,
deer and other wildlife. Late in the day Steinbach might make a
third visit, this time with his hunting bow, to hunker down in
one of the deer stands among the oaks that grow wild on his land.
"It's not the killing," he says. "I don't care if I shoot at
anything or not. I like to be outdoors. Watching what happens.
Listening." Steinbach likes it so much that in 1989, after the
A's won the World Series, he passed on the chance to meet
President George Bush at the White House because it conflicted
with the opening of deer season up north. The decision still
makes Mary cringe. "I'm just as happy cleaning out the wood-duck
houses, to see if any have nested there during the summer, as I
am shooting," Terry says. "That's one thing I've always missed:
seeing what wildlife the pond attracts in the spring, during
nesting season. I haven't seen spring in Minnesota for 14 years."
January 27, 1997
After spending his entire professional career in the Oakland
organization--a run that included the 1989 world championship,
three American League pennants, four Western Division titles and
three All-Star Game appearances--Steinbach became a free agent
following last season and signed a three-year contract with the
Minnesota Twins in December. He is the latest of several
baseball stars to prove that if you're a native son of the Land
of 10,000 Lakes, not only can you go home again, but apparently
you must--small-market economics and the highest bidder be
damned. Minnesotans are the salmonids of the baseball world.
In an attempt to ensure that these migratory millionaires always
have a team to swim home to, Twins owner Carl Pohlad,
disenchanted with his team's financial arrangement with the
Metrodome, last week offered to give the state of Minnesota 49%
ownership of the Twins in exchange for help in financing a $354
million baseball-only facility with a retractable roof. The plan
calls for the Twins, who get no parking or luxury-box revenues
from the dome, to contribute $157.5 million toward the new
stadium's construction, while the public would pick up the other
$200 million or so. The Twins would have to absorb any yearly
operating losses, but profits would be split 51%-49% with the
state. Governor Arne Carlson has pledged his full support for
the unprecedented proposal.
Steinbach, who grew up in New Ulm, 90 miles southwest of the
Twin Cities, thinks it will be a tough sell to the state
legislature, which has until May 19, the final day of the
legislative session, to approve the plan. "Minnesotans are very
reluctant to spend tax dollars on new stadiums," he says. But
Pohlad and Twins general manager Terry Ryan are used to closing
tough sales. Despite having a payroll that in 1996 was one third
that of the New York Yankees and less than half that of the
Baltimore Orioles, the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland
Indians, the Twins--who in the last 10 years have won twice as
many world championships ('87 and '91) as the aforementioned
quartet combined (Yankees in '96)--have stayed competitive by
shrewdly signing veterans such as Steinbach at bargain prices.
How? Call it the quality-of-life factor. If you don't mind
winter, Minnesota's a nice place to live.
Certainly the 34-year-old Steinbach thinks so. Despite having a
career year in 1996--his 100 RBIs were 33 more than he'd ever
driven in before, and his 35 home runs were more than he'd hit
in any two seasons--Steinbach took a pay cut from $4.2 million
to $2.85 million a year to sign with the Twins. His contract is
for $8 million over three years, but only $6.2 million is
guaranteed. The Toronto Blue Jays, one of four teams to offer
more money than the Twins for Steinbach's services, made the
most generous bid: $18.75 million over four years. "What's
happiness, though?" Steinbach asks. "There's more to baseball,
and more to life, than money. Sure, it's a factor, but it's just
one part of a whole equation."
Many other players with ties to Minnesota obviously agree. In
the 1990s native sons Kent Hrbek (Minneapolis), Paul Molitor
(St. Paul) and Jack Morris (St. Paul), as well as longtime Twins
Rick Aguilera (born in San Gabriel, Calif.) and Kirby Puckett
(Chicago), all were free agents who signed or re-signed with the
Twins even though it meant taking a pay cut or turning down a
better offer from another team. St. Paul native Dave Winfield,
also a free agent, signed with Minneapolis without waiting for
better offers that were certain to come (box).
Ron Simon, the Minneapolis lawyer who represents Molitor,
recalls the first time his client mentioned his longing to play
for the Twins, even if it meant giving up dollars. Molitor had
signed a three-year, $14 million contract with Toronto on Dec.
7, 1992, but he was envious 10 days later when he read about
Winfield's two-year, $5.2 million deal with the Twins. "Paul
looked at Winfield's figures and casually said, 'I would have
taken that deal if the Twins had offered it,'" Simon recalls.
"It doesn't create the ideal situation in which to negotiate."
True to his word, Molitor took a $1.5 million pay cut after the
1995 season to sign for one year and $2 million with Minnesota
(a deal that was extended this winter for two more years and
$6.25 million and will enable him to finish his Hall of Fame
career in the Twin Cities). The 40-year-old Molitor was worth
every penny in 1996: He batted .341, drove in 113 runs, scored
99 runs and had a league-leading 225 hits, including his 3,000th.
Molitor also quietly recruited Steinbach, a fellow former
University of Minnesota Gopher. "Paul gave me a lot of advice
about the process to follow when becoming a free agent," says
Steinbach, whose allegiance to the A's was sapped when the Haas
family sold the team in 1995 and manager Tony La Russa and
pitching coach Dave Duncan left for the St. Louis Cardinals.
"Paul had been through it twice: 'Make a list of places you'd
like to play, get all the offers on the table, and weigh your
options.' I made my decision based on geographic location,
general manager, manager, coaches, commitment to winning, player
personnel and money. And pretty much in that order."
A big factor in Minnesota's ability to lure or keep free agents
is manager Tom Kelly, who took over the Twins in 1986 and is the
longest-tenured manager in the major leagues. "The last couple
of years I've watched how his teams have played while they've
been rebuilding," Steinbach says. "He concentrates on playing
the game right. His players run balls out. They hit the cutoff
man. They don't showboat or hot dog. There's no name-calling, no
finger-pointing when they lose. You don't just push a button and
have that happen. It's a process, and the manager's responsible."
Kelly downplays his role in the return of the natives. "The big
thing is, they want to play in their home state, in front of
their family and friends," he says.
Don't try calling Steinbach for tickets to Opening Day though.
The Steinbach clan is large, and its roots are sunk deep in the
Minnesota loam. Terry's great-grandparents emigrated from
Luxembourg in the early 1900s. His grandparents settled in New
Ulm; his parents, Lloyd and Nellie, still live and work there,
as does his brother Tom and his sister, Tracy. His other
brother, Tim, lives in nearby Chaska. Mary was raised in north
St. Paul, and her entire family still lives in or near the Twin
That kind of stability is one thing Steinbach hoped to give his
own children by signing with the Twins. "We decided a long time
ago we would always keep a home in Minnesota but would also keep
the family together all year," he says. "So on February 1, we'd
move to Arizona for spring training--we'd pull the kids out of
school and get them a tutor--and in April we'd move to our home
in Alameda [Calif.], and the kids would be placed in private
school. Then in September, Mary would take the kids back to
Minnesota for the start of the school year, and I'd join them
after the season. Going from school to school might work for one
kid, but all three? Jill didn't mind it, but Lucas used to run a
fever and get sick every time we started to pack. For me to play
in Minnesota gives them a chance to have some consistency in
their lives, to establish routines of their own, to play soccer,
hockey and baseball with the same friends. It doesn't guarantee
they'll be great kids, but it's a better life."
What price do you put on that? One million dollars? Two? Which
is why Steinbach didn't bat an eye at the money he left on the
table by signing with the Twins. This is not the Material Man.
"Part of my upbringing is how you fit in," he says. "People
around here knew Mary and me when I was stone-cold broke, and
we're trying to tell people, money hasn't changed us."
Which is why, if someone from New Ulm--often a stranger--is in
the Twin Cities and calls him for lunch, Steinbach is likely to
accept. Steinbach donated the van he won as the MVP of the 1988
All-Star Game to the New Ulm United Way. He finances a college
scholarship every year for a student-athlete from one of New
Ulm's three high schools. He doesn't care whether or not he's
the highest-paid catcher in baseball. "My whole financial plan
was based on me retiring this year, after my last contract was
up," he says. "I was looking forward to seeing how bored I could
get looking after my land. Then I had to go have a good year and
mess everything up."
Steinbach has no definitive explanation for the surge of power
last year that enabled him to set the American League record for
home runs by a catcher (34; his other homer came as a pinch
hitter). His weight-training regimen in the
off-season--Steinbach has a 10-station home gym--was identical
to the routine he'd followed since 1988. "If it was just me,
that would be one thing," Steinbach says. "A lot of guys had
career years. There are some new hitters' parks in the league
plus a lot of young pitchers. Young pitchers make mistakes. I
certainly hope they're not expecting another 35 homers out of me
What the Twins are expecting is for Steinbach's experience
behind the plate to help their young pitching staff, which last
year had an ERA of 5.28, 12th in the league. "Early in my career
I handled a veteran staff with the A's--guys like Dave Stewart,
Mike Moore, Rick Honeycutt, Dennis Eckersley--and I adapted to
them. I learned much more from them than they learned from me. I
want to help the young guys eliminate mistakes and get to know
who's a situational hitter and who's not, and how to pitch
accordingly. That's the fun part."
There are lots of fun parts to coming home again. As Steinbach
starts up the sport utility vehicle and pulls back onto the farm
road, leaving the coyote tracks behind, he thinks that tomorrow
will be a good day to clean out the wood-duck houses on the
lake. Come spring, he'll be watching the ducks nest.
Money Isn't Everything
Here are the big-name free agents of the 1990s, beginning with
Steinbach (above), whose desire to play with the Minnesota Twins
exceeded their need to pad their bank accounts.
Player SEASON Twins Best Offer
Contract Passed Up
Terry Steinbach 1997 3 years, 4 years,
$8 million $18.75 million
Rick Aguilera 1996 3 years, 3 years,
$9 million $12 million
Paul Molitor 1996 1 year, Didn't wait
$2 million for offers*
Dave Winfield 1993 2 years, Didn't wait
$5.2 million for offers
Kirby Puckett 1993 5 years, 5 years,
$30 million $38 million
Jack Morris 1991 3 years, 3 years,
$7 million $9.3 million
Kent Hrbek 1990 5 years, 5 years,
$14 million $15.5 million
*Took $1.5 million pay cut to sign with Minnesota.