After some time to really let this year’s World Series sink in and hearing several fans and sports pundits gloat about 2017 being the best World Series fans had ever seen, I had to dig my heels and boast about 1991 still being the greatest display of championship baseball, ever.
Sure, I’m biased. I’m from Minnesota, I’m a Twins fan — but I’m sure most baseball experts would agree, the 1991 World Series, a championship bout which featured the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves, is still the greatest World Series of all-time. And it’s not close.
If you want to get some chills and remember what championships feel like, watch this awesome video summarizing the series. I had this on VHS as a kid and watched it more times than I can count. Since then, I’ve watched it several times online.
Feeble arguments can be made that either the 2016 World Series, the Chicago Cubs vs. the Cleveland Indians, or this years’ World Series, the Houston Astros vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, were better. Some from St. Louis might even argue for 2011 World Series — the Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in dramatic fashion in Game 6 as St. Louis native David Freese had two season-saving hits within two innings of one another to force a Game 7. Or the 2001 World Series between the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks which went seven games, with the home team winning each contest, the first time that had been done since… 1991.
There are of course plenty of other notable moments, like Joe Carter’s walk-off, World Series winning home run, Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956, the Mets 1986 World Series Game 7 victory that was overshadowed by one Bill Buckner, or dominating pitching performances from Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, and more recently, Madison Bumgarner.
But the most competitive, wire-to-wire, nail biting series was, without a doubt, the 1991 World Series. And what a story it was. The series featured dominant pitching performances, two acclaimed Mangers in Bobby Cox and Tom Kelly, fantastic defense, several dramatic plays at the plate, and best of all, clutch hitting from both teams.
The two most recent World Series both went to seven games — but it’s impossible to argue either of those series were as dramatic and down to the wire as the Twins vs. the Braves.
Last year, the Cubs finally ended their 108 year championship drought, with Cleveland fighting to end a drought of their own. But while the Cubs finally rewarded fans after decades of attrition, many of the games in the series were not close even though the teams scored the same amount of runs when all was said and done.
The 2016 series ended well for the Cubs with an epic Game 7 that went into extra innings and didn’t conclude until a 17 minute rain delay was over. But four of the seven games were decisive victories for one team. Three of the four games last year were one run games — the other four games were not contests, with a five-run, a four-run, and two six-run blow outs. So while those in Wrigleyville were happy the Cubbies finally won, and it most definitely their favorite World Series of all-time, it certainly is not the greatest.
The 2017 World Series was not short on drama showcasing both teams throwing hay makers at one another, game after game. I’d argue this 2017 series bested 2016 with close contests between the foes for the most part. There were two four-run victories, last of which was the relatively ho-hum Game 7 Astros winner. Aside from that, the games were tight contests, with lead changes, two extra inning games, some quality pitching, and lots of big home runs.
And don’t even get me started on the obviously “juiced” baseballs that players are hitting out with relative ease. This year featured the most home runs in a season in MLB history, 412 more than ever before, shattering the previous record. I love home runs, but this really is a ploy by baseball to get young fans excited (chicks dig the long ball) in their dated and some would argue decaying sport. These “juiced” baseballs feel like a disservice to all the hitting statistics of years past — and we all know baseball loves its history.
But even this year’s series didn’t feature the story lines and drama that was 1991 — both the Dodgers and Astros were touted as World Series hopefuls to start the 2017 campaign — heck, Sports Illustrated even brilliantly predicted the Astros would win the 2017 World Series three years ago. But in 1991, both the Braves and Twins were Cinderella stories — both teams. In 1990, the pair literally finished in last place in their respective leagues — in 1991, both teams went from worst to first, in one season. Now that’s a story you can’t write.
The series itself was rich with baseball greats all facing off against one another — Jack Morris was in the twilight of his career, but still the ever effective ace. He squared off against a young John Smoltz in two games, a budding superstar pitcher who idolized Morris as a kid when “Black Jack” was with the Detroit Tigers. Both of their match ups were pitching gems, with Game 7 being a career highlight for both pitchers.
The 1991 World Series featured home teams winning all their games, just like the 2017 Astros/Dodgers bout. This favored the Twins, who took the first two games and had a solid 2-0 lead.
Game 2 had 1991 Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine facing off against Twins 16-game winner Kevin Tapini. The game was tied 2-2 into the bottom of the 8th inning with the Twins eventually winning on the solo home run from unheralded Scott Leius.
But the Braves were not done – they won both Game 3 and Game 4 on dramatic walk-off hits.
Game 3 was a 12-inning thriller that is considered by some the greatest game in World Series history that ended with a single from Mark Lemke knocking in David Justice who just beat the throw to the plate — a throw to the plate to stop a game-winning run, the height of
postseason baseball drama.
Game 4 was more of the same, with Lemke again being a late-inning hero and beating out a throw to the plate by inches to tie the series 2-2 — again, a throw to the plate to stop a game-winning run, the height of
postseason baseball drama — this happened, in back to back World Series games.
Game 5 was the only blowout of the series, with Atlanta stomping the Twins 14-5. The game was relatively competitive until a six-run 7th inning put the Twins away.
Onto Game 6, without a doubt one of the most memorable games in Minnesota sports history. Step to the stage, Kirby Puckett. He famously told his team before the game to “You guys should jump on my back tonight. I’m going to carry us.” The game was a tight affair, with Puckett making his famous leaping catch at the wall to keep the Braves from scoring. Fast forward to the 11th inning, another tied game, 3-3, with Puckett up to bat. He launched a home run to give the Twins their first walkoff victory of the series to which renowned announcer Jack Buck famously coined, “We’ll see you tomorrow night.”
Now, onto Game 7. This game was a pitcher’s duel between the aforementioned Jack Morris and John Smoltz. Both pitchers threw shutouts into the 8th inning — Smoltz was removed in the 8th and Morris pitched a 10 inning complete game. Now, some people today will argue in favor of the blitzkrieg of home runs and deep balls produced by the 2017 World Series, which again, saw a record of home runs, but I’ll take a pitcher’s duel with the World Series on the line, ten times out of ten.
In the bottom of the tenth, with the bases loaded for the Twins, in steps another unknown Twins pinch-hitter, Gene Larkin, who won the game with a walk-off single. Ultimate finish, to the ultimate World Series. Jack Buck again famously shouted after Larkin’s hit soared high into left field, “The Twins are going to win the World Series!”
Now, let’s look at those other Game 7’s. Yes, the Cubs victory was a memorable finish, but the rest of the series featured several blow outs as previously mentioned. The Astros won their Game 7 decisively, 5-1. The Cardinals won their Game 7 decisively in 2011, with a 6-2 victory. The Yankees/Diamondbacks 2001 World Series Game 7 was a walk-off winner from Luis Gonzalez, and featured two walk-off winners from the Yankees in New York — but it also featured an eight run, four run and thirteen run blowouts. The best part about that series was seeing the Yankees come up short trying to win their fourth(!!) straight title. In 1986, the first game post Buckner, the Mets won comfortable, 8-5, to beat the Red Sox.
So all this talk aside, you can see that while many of the series mentioned had their drama and heroic moments, none were as close as Twins/Braves. None. Each game in 1991 (besides Game 5) was a tight race. The Braves had their backs against the wall after starting down 0-2 — the Twins had their backs against the wall after losing three straight in Atlanta.
There was no shortage of dramatic finishes, with games decided on back to back nights with Atlanta runners scoring just before a throw home — the series had the best pitchers pitching their best and hitters breaking through in memorable fashion. It wasn’t artificially inflated by juiced baseballs (though some of the players were likely using steroids) with home run after home run to turn the tide for one team or the other — the 1991 World Series was a strategic, scratch runs across, pitch and play defense type of series.
Maybe I’m just caught up on the last championship this state achieved minus the Minnesota Lynx in the past 50 years — but I’d say not. There are plenty of numbers and relevant arguments to prove the 1991 World Series still stands as the greatest championship bout Major League Baseball has ever seen.
Photos courtesy of: Wikipedia — MLB