1987 Minnesota Twins
85 – 77 (0.525)
Manager: Tom Kelly
Won division by 2 games over the Kansas City Royals
ALCS: Beat the Detroit Tigers in five games.
World Series: Beat the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
The 1987 Minnesota Twins were no juggernaut. Their rotation boasted just two reliable starters, they were outscored by their opponents, and their 85-77 regular-season record — which would have ranked fifth in the AL East — was the worst of any team that has ever won the World Series. Nevertheless, Tom Kelly’s tenacious Twins rode an unprecedented home-field advantage to garner the first championship in franchise history.
Not much was expected from the Twins after their 71-91 record placed sixth in the AL West in 1986. Their lineup was built around a good nucleus of developing stars, but the pitching staff left much to be desired — especially in the bullpen, where journeyman Keith Atherton led the club with ten of the team’s twenty-four saves. Those problems were solved when the Twins landed Jeff Reardon in a six-player deal with Montreal in February.
Reardon racked up 31 saves with his new team, helping to mask Minnesota’s lack of quality starters. Only Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven — both of whom pitched over 250 innings — won more than eight games. Les Straker, Mike Smithson, and mid-season acquisition Joe Niekro filled out the rotation without truly distinguishing themselves. But they were aided by a stingy defense that led the league in fielding percentage.
Even in 1986, the Twins could hit, and their 196 round-trippers in 1987 matched the power output of the season before. Third baseman Gary Gaetti, first baseman Kent Hrbek, and outfielder Tom Brunansky all slugged over thirty homers, with Kirby Puckett, who batted .332 and led the league with 201 hits, chipping in 28.
But the real key to the Twins’ success was the Metrodome. Their 56-25 home record was the best in the majors, while their 29-52 road record — including just nine road wins after the All-Star break — ranked as the third-worst. That discrepancy incited accusations from opposing managers Dick Williams and Bobby Valentine that the Twins were somehow cheating at home, perhaps by stealing signs.
Form held in the postseason. Minnesota upset Detroit in the ALCS by winning both games at home and another two at Tiger Stadium. Against a strong but injury-ridlled Cardinals club in the World Series (Jack Clark, St. Louis’ top power hitter, was sidelined with an ankle injury) the Twins took the first two games in Minnesota but dropped three in a row in St. Louis’ Busch Stadium. Undaunted, the Twins returned to the Metrodome to win the final two games. Cheered on by a blizzard of frenzied fans waving white Homer Hankies, they had wrapped up an implausible championship run.
Never before in the history of the World Series had a home-field advantage been so pronounced. 1987 marked the first time each team had won all of their home games, and for Twins fans, that was just fine.