Another author sent me a book to review, and its title is quite timely. The author’s name is Dan Whenesota, and the title of the book is “History of Heartbreak: 100 Events that Tortured Minnesota Sports Fans.”
Whenesota postulates that to be a Minnesota sports fan is to be inevitably broken-hearted. The book, then, recounts the most major disappointments to have befallen the faithful over the decades as the author considers where they fit on the scale.
I was happy to see that No. 1 on his list of Minnesota Vikings heartbreaks is the 1998 NFC Championship game between the purples and the Atlanta Falcons of “Dirty Bird” fame. I don’t believe anything else rises to the level of disaster as the Vikings’ impossible 30-27 overtime loss which kept them out of the Super Bowl in a year where they possessed possibly their greatest team ever.
They had the game won, of course. All they needed was a chip-shot field goal by Gary Anderson -- who hadn’t missed a field goal all year -- and they would have clinched it. Vikings fans have pretty much learned to live with their four Super Bowl losses, but they’ll never get over that one.
Oh, well. I just had to page through the book and see if Whenesota mentioned anything about Minnesota Twins playoff futility. And, of course, he did. On page 130 he discussed the Twins’ record-breaking 16th consecutive playoff loss in 2019. The 16 setbacks, he pointed out, amounted to the most consecutive playoff losses by any professional team in any sport.
He’ll have to update the book.
Last week, the 2020 Twins lost their second straight postseason game to the hated Houston Astros, running the score up to 18.
Personally, I don’t think such persistent playoff futility will ever rise to the level of the 1998 catastrophe, because the Vikings’ loss was so sudden and unexpected. On the other hand, the Twins’ disaster took many years to appreciate. It began in 2004 and slowly increased.
They say that if you fry a frog in a frying pan so slowly that the amphibian doesn’t sense the change in temperature, he’ll not jump out in time to save himself. I suspect it’s like that with the Twins’ losing streak. It sneaks up on you. Then one day, it’s 18 in a row.
But just leave it to the Twins. You’d expect them to lose to the New York Yankees. After all, they always do. But when they were paired with the Astros, you had to feel fairly confident that they would win a game, even, perhaps, capture the series.
This year, the Twins had the entire baseball world rooting for them against the Astros.
The Astros, the scandal-ridden Astros who became everyone’s most-despised team after the discovery of their systematic sign-stealing system nine month ago, barely made the playoffs this year. Which was only right, of course. But instead of exiting the stage ingloriously as would have been proper, they were given an opportunity to gloat courtesy of the Twins.
“I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here. But what are they going to say now?” sneered Astro Carlos Correa.
As for the Twins, they retire for the season to face the inevitable second-guessing.
Columnist Patrick Reusse said it was a mistake for the Twins, after banging a major-league record 307 home runs in 2019, to fail to address their weaknesses in the offseason and instead hire more long-ball hitters. He may be right. The Twins struggled offensively in this shortened COVID-19 campaign, and they learned the hard way that with good pitching and sound strategy in a short series, power hitters can be neutralized.
There are 10 Twins players who’ll become free agents in the offseason, including their 40-year-old power hitting leader, Nelson Cruz. How the team goes forward will be interesting to see.
But here’s a postscript to all this talk of Minnesota sports failures. As I learned in Sunday school, things can always be worse. The kind of book that Whenesota wrote could be written about practically any pro team in any pro state (granted, not all; I bet nobody’s ever written such a book about the Yankees, or the New England Patriots).
Some fans’ teams (give me a week and I’ll tell you about it) are so consistently bad they don’t even get the chance to play in a meaningful game. And yet, the Twins have won a pair of World Series titles. The Vikings have played in four Super Bowls.
If you explained the worst franchises’ fortunes using the famous Charlie Brown/Lucy football kick analogy, they are the ones who are never even offered the opportunity to kick the ball before Lucy pulls it away, leaving them to fall flat on their backsides.
Most Minnesota sports teams (with the exception of the NBA’s Timberwolves) at least get to see the football once in a while.