MINNEAPOLIS -- It has served as home to Vikings and University of Minnesota football, Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead concerts, Rev. Billy Graham revivals, two Final Fours, a Super Bowl, various tractor pulls, Monster truck shows, state high school championships, a Promise Keepers rally, Home and Garden shows, snowmobile races and, oh yeah, major league baseball.
And, probably, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was far more suited for every single one of those other events than it ever was for major league baseball.
|Whitey Herzog: 'I don't think there ever was more of a home-field advantage in the history of baseball.' (Getty Images)|
Even if most others don't.
"I never liked the Metrodome. Never," scoffs Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, who likes every single other thing about baseball up to and including tobacco juice on the dugout floor.
"Cost me the opportunity for two World Series rings," sniffs Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton, who played for St. Louis in the 1987 World Series and Atlanta in the 1991 World Series, both won by Minnesota.
"It was unusual, to say the least," says major league baseball commissioner Bud Selig. "All ballparks have their quirks and things that are indigenous to that particular park. ...
"It was a strange place."
An abomination to baseball or Minnesota's plastic, guardian angel -- there is little middle ground here -- when the final out is made sometime in October and the Twins set sail toward their new, outdoor ballpark next April, the Metrodome will settle into the record books as perhaps the quirkiest ballpark in major league history.
Most likely, history first will lose it in the roof.
"Mike Ditka said a lot of things, but when he said that the Metrodome is a hell of a place for roller skating, he was right," says Whitey Herzog, who managed the losing Cardinals in the '87 Series. "I don't think there ever was more of a home-field advantage in the history of baseball."
Cracker Jack and S'Mores
It sits right there in the Minneapolis skyline looking all innocent and inviting, like a giant marshmallow. But if it had a personality, it would be that of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the film Ghostbusters, a harmless enough blob that could quickly be turned into evil under the right circumstances.
"It was a weird place," says Kent Hrbek, the Twins' legendary first baseman who played a key role in both the '87 and '91 World Series wins -- and whose first full season in the majors coincided with the Metrodome's big league debut. "When we first got in here, you look back at old pictures from '82, it was just so plastic.
"I remember there were signs, a black and white scoreboard, and beyond that, nothing. Just blue seats and concrete. ... It was something that was really different. Everybody was excited because it was state of the art and it was going to be warm every day. That's what they sold."
• Bob Casey: 'No smoking in the Metrodome'
The Metrodome opened for regular-season baseball business on April 6, 1982, an 11-7 Twins win over Seattle. There were 25 combined hits. Five of those sailed over the fence, and that was the beginning of the "Homerdome" phase.
Dave Engle, now a scout for the Orioles, hit the first home run in the Dome, a two-out shot in the bottom of the first inning.
"All I know is, I had played in the last game in Metropolitan Stadium in right field, and I was just glad to get away from the mosquitoes," Engle says. "The Metrodome was the perfect temperature 81 games a year. There really was a buzz in the air."
Yeah, a buzz. So to speak.
"Back then, we had those stirrups, which were wool and went over the sanitary socks," says Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, who, as a Twins coach since 1981, precedes the Metrodome by a year and ranks as the game's longest-tenured coach. "When you took your socks off at the end of each game [at old Metropolitan Stadium], the mosquito bites on your legs ... ohhh. We went through Off! like it was candy."
Little remembered fact about the Dome: One reason it was tagged as the "Homerdome" so quickly was because, for the first two seasons, it wasn't air-conditioned. And in the humidity, the ball sailed.
"People don't realize the field is 47 feet below sidewalk level," Stelmaszek says. "The architect didn't put in AC because he said it would be cool enough. But you'd walk two or three steps out of the dugout and it would be like an oven. I'd meet my wife after games and she'd have mascara dripping all over her face. She'd be soaking wet.
"You don't need air conditioning 47 feet below sidewalk level? I don't think that architect is doing much architecting these days."
The initial artificial turf when the joint opened was so springy that baseballs bounced as if they were Superballs. Base hits routinely bounded over the heads of outfielders for extra bases. That's the way the ball bounces? Please. Billy Martin, the late manager, protested a game when he was leading the Yankees in 1985 largely because of the funky, bad hops.
"This park should be banned out of baseball," Martin fumed that night. "If you lose here, or win, you're doing it on a Little League field."
It was one of those times when Martin and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner actually weren't at odds.
"If I wanted my players to be Ping Pong players, I would send them to China to play the Chinese National Team," Steinbrenner sputtered.
Then there was the "baggy," the plastic covering over some 7,000 football seats that comprised the right-field wall that came to be referred to by players simply as the "Hefty bag."
Suffice to say, while the Twins themselves mostly were pleased to escape the mosquitoes and bone-chilling, early- and late-season nights, the Metrodome mostly was universally despised by everyone else in baseball from the day it opened.
|Just ask former Twins catcher Tim Laudner: Tracking a fly ball is no easy task in the Metrodome. (Getty Images)|
"I don't remember who else was in the office," Selig says. "Cecil Cooper, maybe? They were all complaining. And Robin never complained about anything.
"I told them, 'What do you want me to do, blow the place up?'"
Hmmm, now that you mention it, Boss. ...
"That was the only time Robin and Harvey ever called me from the road," Selig says.
Ask Cox today what he most remembers about the Metrodome and you'll be surprised. The excruciating '91 World Series loss? That classic pitcher's duel between John Smoltz and Jack Morris in Game 7, a 1-0 Twins win that many argue might be the greatest game played in World Series history?
No. First thing Cox mentions comes from the mid-1980s, when he was managing in Toronto.
"I remember Doyle Alexander giving up five straight hits there, and they were all bouncers through the infield," Cox says, voice still thick with disdain.
While they changed the carpet at least three times over the years, which succeeded in reducing the springiness and weird hops, the roof is another story. Constructed of two layers of Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric and supported by air pressure, the roof is a dirty gray that has gotten dirtier over the years while giving generations of outfielders fits. Infielders, too. Especially during day games, when the brighter sky outside causes the white ball to disappear into the whitish-gray roof (at night, at least, the dark sky darkened the Dome roof and gave fielders a better background against which to find the ball).
Outfielders generally are taught to read the ball off of the bat, run to the spot where they estimate the fly ball will land and then look up and find the ball again once they get there. But in the Dome, you can never take your eye off of the ball. Many an outfielder who has forgotten this has run to the spot and looked up, only to be unable to find the ball again.
"Bases loaded, two outs and the batter hits a pop up with everybody running and, as an infielder you're thinking, 'Oh, [expletive]. Stay with it,'" former Detroit shortstop Alan Trammell says.
This is a guy who won four Gold Gloves.
The Metrodome even refuted Sir Isaac Newton's most basic law of motion, that what comes up must come down. There was the day in 1984 (May 4) when Oakland's Dave Kingman skied a fly ball that disappeared through one of the vents in the roof. Literally, the ball disappeared into the roof and never came down. Happened one more time, too, in 2004, on a ball struck by Corey Koskie. And we'd venture to say those are the only times in baseball history that's happened.
"I'm just happy a play like that didn't happen in the postseason," says Twins broadcaster and former pitcher Bert Blyleven, who won three games as the Twins beat Detroit and then St. Louis in the 1987 postseason.
"Disgrace to baseball," was how Tony La Russa, then managing the Chicago White Sox, described the Dome in 1984.
'And we'll see you tomorrow night!'
If the Metrodome had a handicap, it would be hard of hearing all these years down the road.
Among its greatest hits: Frank Viola beating St. Louis twice in the '87 World Series, the Tom Kelly-managed Twins obliterating the Cardinals by a combined score of 33-12 in those four Metrodome games, the Twins' three one-run wins over the Braves in the '91 World Series (which many people still say is the most riveting ever played).
And: Hrbek hip-checking Ron Gant off first base in a 3-2 Minnesota victory in Game 2 in '91, Kirby Puckett robbing Gant of a sure extra base hit with "The Catch" in Game 6, Puckett blasting the game-winning homer in the 11th inning of Game 6 to give the Twins new life in Game 7 (Buck's "And we'll see you tomorrow night!" ranks as one of the game's greatest calls, ever).
And, of course: The Morris-Smoltz duel in Game 7, Morris' 10 shutout innings and Dan Gladden scoring on Gene Larkin's hit to win 1-0.
Say what you will about the joint, but the Twins have two World Series trophies proudly displayed in the lobby of their executive offices just off of Kirby Puckett Place.
Some say the Twins would have zero World Series trophies without the Metrodome. During the only two World Series wins in Minnesota history, over Atlanta in '87 and the Cardinals in '91, the Twins went a combined 8-0 in the Metrodome and 0-6 on the road.
"It's tough to play baseball when you can't see and when you can't hear," Herzog says. "If you want to find out how that is, go to the Metrodome."
The games in Minnesota in '87 were the first World Series games played indoors. The '87 Series also was the first in history in which the home team won every single game.
And those that were there still have the ringing in their ears to prove it.
"Coming back from Detroit in '87 after clinching the American League Championship Series to the celebration we had in the Dome ... it was so spontaneous," says Orioles president Andy MacPhail, who served as Minnesota general manager from 1985 to 1994.
"We were expecting 3,000-6,000 people to meet us at the airport. As the crowd grew larger, they moved it into the Metrodome. On the busses over, they were telling us that there might be as many as 20,000 in the Dome. When we came in, it was unbelievable. There were 50,000 people. I don't think any of us will ever forget that."
"The fire marshalls were concerned," says Dick Bremer, the Twins television broadcaster since '82. "It was probably something that could have only happened on a Sunday night, indoors, here."
Minnesota's Rec Room, they've called it over the years as the Metrodome has opened its doors for everything from community activities to public jogging and roller blading during the frigid winter months (the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which runs the Dome, says it hosts more than 4,000 runners and 30,000 in-line skaters each year).
Close your eyes each time you step through the revolving doors and feel that familiar blast of air and you still can hear echoes from those raucous postseason games in which the decibel levels measured were compared to those from a jet engine.
"I remember walking onto the field before those playoff games, and the electricity you felt," Hrbek says. "The hair on my arms stood up because the place was jammed and the people were so hungry to win."
"Loudest place I've ever played a baseball game in my life," Smoltz says. "Before I went out there, I couldn't believe how loud it was."
"It was so loud, I had to put the bullpen phone on the floor and put my foot on it," says Stelmaszek, the bullpen coach. "I couldn't hear it, so I had to go by the vibration."
The phone rang once during the classic Morris-Smoltz duel, in the ninth inning, score 0-0, the call from the dugout instructing Stelmaszek to have closer Rick Aguilera warm up. Normally, it would ring a second time, with then-pitching coach Dick Such double-checking to make sure Aguilera was ready.
On this night in the '91 Series, Sunday, Oct. 27, the second call never came. So Aguilera stayed in the bullpen and the game hurtled into the 10th inning amid a swirl of deafening noise that left Stelmaszek almost breathless, scared to death he missed the call.
"I'm thinking now, 'What happens if they go out there and the pitcher ain't out there?'" Stelmaszek says. "What's that going to look like on national television with 55,000 people screaming, and I'm standing there with our pitcher and he's supposed to go into the game? I'm thinking, 'Jack, please go out there. Please go out there.'"
Morris did go out there, memorably, to pitch the 10th inning. And during the Twins' second World Series celebration in five years on the floor of the Metrodome, Such told Stelmaszek, "Have I got a story for you."
The story was of a moment in the dugout that might be the greatest in Metrodome history: While a jumpy Stelmaszek was desperately trying to hear if that damned bullpen phone would ring a second time, about 90 feet up the line, in the Twins' third-base dugout, Kelly approached Morris as the top of the ninth ended and the score stood 0-0.
"Jack, you've done enough," Kelly told the pitcher. "You've done enough for us all year."
"T.K., I'm all right," Morris replied.
"No, Jack, you've done enough."
"T.K., I'm all right."
At this point, in his soft, Southern drawl, Such interjected: "T.K., I think he's all right."
To which Kelly, after looking at Such, and then at Morris, shrugged and replied, "[Expletive] it, it's only a game."
"That is the truth," Stelmaszek says, still grinning like a thief all these years later.
To this day, Cox believes the Braves would have won in '91 if not for the Metrodome.
"Probably," he says. "We won all the games in Atlanta."
MacPhail counters by noting that the Twins played those games without designated hitter Chili Davis in the lineup, per NL-park rules.
"No question, the Dome was helpful," MacPhail says. "It was not a very friendly environment for visitors to walk into, and our guys took full advantage."
As for the '87 Cardinals, who were playing without the injured Jack Clark and Pendleton?
"I'll be honest with you: I didn't have Clark and Pendleton, and we could have played until Easter in that Metrodome and we still probably wouldn't have won a game," Herzog says. "It's a tough, tough place."
"I'm still partly deaf," Blyleven jokes.
Blowin' in the wind
If the Metrodome had a college degree, it would be in psychology. Because the deafening noise wasn't the only thing that got in the heads of the Braves and Cardinals (and other opponents over the years), either.
In '87, the Cardinals were so helpless in the Dome that Herzog was sure the Twins were stealing their signs.
"Lots of things were funny," he says.
But years later, when former Twins Tom Brunansky and Tommy Herr came to play for the Cardinals, Herzog asked each of them about it, and both players told him no.
|In 1987, the Twins celebrated their first of two World Series championships inside the Metrodome. (Getty Images)|
The Braves, meanwhile, were sure that the Twins were doing funny things with the electric fans that helped keep the dome roof inflated. Atlanta and other teams over the years accused the Twins of turning on the fans to blow out when they were batting, and then turning them off and turning on the fans in the outfield to blow in when opponents were swinging.
"No doubt," Smoltz says. "No doubt. A lot of teams thought that. When Puckett hit that home run [in Game 6 in '91], it looked like the ball had an extra gear. And that one Puck caught against the Plexiglass [Gant's drive earlier in Game 6] ... one would speculate."
Fueling the imaginations (or, not?) of opponents back then was the fact that the Dome had two giant intake ducts behind home plate that looked like stereo speakers on a boom box (and that sucked air in to be recycled back into the Dome elsewhere to keep the roof inflated).
Those are no longer visible today, as the Twins have added a couple of more rows of seating. But opponents back in the day were sure that was the source of the artificial jet streams. Bobby Valentine, when he was managing Texas, once attached streamers to the grate over a duct for a series attempting to prove the Twins were doing funny things with the blowers.
But place a loose piece of paper against the grates of those intake ducts, as Stelmaszek did the other day underneath the temporary stands, and the paper sticks to the grate as if by suction cup.
"Bobby Valentine figured he'd come in here and play engineer for three days," Stelmaszek says.
"I spent years denying it," MacPhail says, chuckling. "And then Al Newman [former Twins infielder and coach] came out one day and said, 'Yeah, they're right.' And that put an end to that."
In 2003, as recounted in to Stew Thornley's book Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History, former Metrodome superintendent Dick Ericson admitted to the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he sometimes would increase the number of fans blowing from between first and third bases, beginning in the bottom of the eighth, if the Twins were behind in a game, which would give the Twins two at-bats and their opponents only one under these circumstances. Ericson said he did this on his own, not at the request of the Twins or the Metrodome personnel.
On the other hand, for all of those opponents over the years who believed the Twins were rigging the Metrodome's blowers, Blyleven scoffs, bringing up a valid point:
"I'm the one who gave up 50 home runs here," he says of his 1986 campaign -- still a major league record for homers allowed in a season.
"Noooo Smoking in the Metrodome!"
If the Metrodome had a voice, it would be deep and gravelly, with a hint of grumpy. It would be the voice of Bob Casey.
In fact, it was the voice of Casey, one of the more, uh, shall we say unique, public address broadcasters in the game from the time the Dome's doors opened in '82 through his death in March, 2005. To that point, Casey was the only PA man in Twins history, having taken the microphone when they moved into old Met Stadium in Bloomington.
He was legendary in his love for the game and love of the Twins. He at once tortured opponents and tortured names. His signature call of "Noooooo smoking in the Metrodome" just before the first pitch usually was followed by a reference to whatever team was in town, something like, "If you wanna smoke, go to Cleveland." (He was also noted for his joyfully drawn out "Kir-beeeeeee Puckett").
From his position at first base, every night as Casey was scolding the crowd to not smoke, Hrbek would turn toward the visitors' dugout, put his index and middle fingers to his lips, breathe in as if taking a drag from an imaginary cigarette and shake his head no. Then, he'd cup an imaginary beer can with his right hand, raise it to his mouth as if to take a swig, and shake his head yes.
"I loved that," says San Diego manager Bud Black, a frequent visitor to the Dome while pitching for Kansas City and other AL clubs in the 1980s and early 1990s. "He did it every game."
When Hrbek was feeling especially coltish, he also would then turn his backside toward the opposing dugout, lift a leg and again shake his head yes. No on smoking, but yes on drinking and farting. (Then the Bloomington, Minn., native usually would look for his mom in the crowd and give her a wave).
Casey once introduced Otis Nixon as "Amos Otis." Introduced Nomar Garciaparra as "Garcia Parra", Dustan Mohr as "Dustin Hoffman" and Hideki Matsui as "Hideki Mat-sushi." Adding to the atmosphere, Casey's "perch" was directly behind home plate. Yes, the PA microphone was through a door in the wall, underneath the first couple of rows of seats. Not surprisingly, it was not unusual to see an opposing batter give a "What the ----?" look backward toward that door upon being introduced.
Then, there was the time when Chuck Knoblauch returned with the Yankees in 2000 on a night when there was a discount on hot dogs and, something happened on the field and Twins fans began pelting Knoblauch, who had demanded a trade from Minnesota a few years earlier, with Dome Dogs.
Finally, with the situation threatening to escalate, Kelly walked out to left field, put one arm around Knoblauch and waved the other at the fans, admonishing them to stop.
Over the PA system came Casey's booming voice: "Ladies and gentlemen, do NOT throw anything onto the field or the Twins will have to FORFEIT this game! This is a championship game -- NOW ACT LIKE IT!"
Heck, even the Twins themselves didn't always take that advice. One of MacPhail's fondest Dome memories?
"The time the players locked Casey out of his booth during a game in the 1987 World Series," he says. "And then when they let him back in, they called him from the dugout, and when he answered his phone they had loaded it with shaving cream.
"They were a loose bunch."
Yes. And just as Casey loved the Twins, they loved him right back.
"We used to get him with shaving cream all the time," says Hrbek, who, along with Tony Oliva, Morris and Gladden, served as a pallbearer at Casey's funeral. "That's probably what killed him. He probably died from shaving cream stuck in his ear."
Oh, and one more thing: Casey was known to get flustered at times -- such as on April 27, 1986, when a vicious thunderstorm moved through the area and caused a wind shear in the Metrodome roof, delaying the game. The roof sagged and some speakers suspended from the roof drooped dangerously close to the fans -- and the Twins bullpen down the left-field line.
"The speaker mounts are on two-inch chains, and it won't fall," Stelmaszek says, eyes twinkling. "But they were just floating down near the bullpen, so we all ran to the the middle of the field for safety. So pretty soon Casey makes an announcement to the crowd, 'Don't panic!'
"Then he adds, 'Smoke 'em if you got 'em!'"
It was the only time anybody ever recalls the legendary Casey -- inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2003, and whose announcements are still played digitally over the public-address system before games today -- actually inviting Metrodome denizens to light up.
The Final Countdown
If the Metrodome had a final wish as it prepares for its last baseball rites, it undoubtedly would be for one more October.
The big "Countdown to Outdoor Baseball" sign above the lower-level seats in left field now shows just 12 games remaining following Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the White Sox, though the Twins are making a spirited, last-ditch charge to pass Detroit in the AL Central.
The closest thing to the autumn roar of '87 and '91 anybody on this year's club has experienced came three years ago, when, on the final Sunday of the season, the Twins finally overtook Detroit for the AL Central crown. After winning their game, the Twins stayed in the dugout and 35,000 fans stayed in their seats to watch the end of the Tigers-Royals game on the scoreboard. The Twins had been chasing the Tigers all season and never held first place until about an hour after their season ended.
"That's something that always sticks out for me," closer Joe Nathan says.
Sticks out among the other moments, he means. The pure Metrodome moments that are one-part horror, one-part slapstick. Like Nathan standing on the mound and watching Milwaukee's jumbo-sized Prince Fielder barrel around the bases a couple of years ago for an inside-the-park home run thanks to another ball in the roof, mid-judged, and a turf hop or two.
"Watching Prince Fielder run around the bases," Nathan says. "I was like, 'Wow.'"
Almost ready across town is the gleaming new Target Field, subject of those "Countdown to Farmer-Tanned Vendors", "Countdown to Skyline Sunsets" and "Countdown to Starry Nights" signs in the dreary Dome.
Even now, things are changing fast. With the University of Minnesota debuting a new on-campus football stadium this fall, there are no more 11 a.m. Saturday Twins home games this month (the early start allowing for a Metrodome changeover to football by Saturday night).
"Blyleven used to volunteer to pitch those games," MacPhail says, chuckling. "He figured it would be the fifth inning before the other team woke up."
That's not all a joke. When Eric Milton no-hit the Angels on Sept. 11, 1999, it was in one of those infamous 11 a.m. specials.
As for the rest, there's the packing and the moving, and that's about it.
Tears? Ha. For one thing, it isn't like they're knocking the Metrodome down. The Vikings will continue to play, the schools will continue to play (Joe Mauer's first memory of the Dome is playing here in a fifth-grade football game) and the random U2 (or whomever) concert will be staged.
As for baseball's imminent disappearing act, the Metrodome will not receive the bouquets that Yankee Stadium did last year. Nor the hugs Tiger Stadium got in 1999. Nor the rightful sobs that accompanied the demise of so many other ballparks.
But like all great art -- or maybe better yet, like some modern art -- perhaps the Metrodome will be appreciated more in the future.
Like, next April, when they're playing in 30 degrees over at Target Field.
"It could be raining, it could be snowing, whatever it was doing, we were going to play," current manager Ron Gardenhire says. "If somebody scheduled a game, we were going to play. You're going to miss that. When you're outdoors in Minnesota, there's never a guarantee.
"There are a lot of good memories here. A lot of fun games. Teams coming in hated this place. Managers would say we turned the fans on and blew things out for us and in for them."
Gardenhire pauses, and grins.
"And all these years we led the league in home runs. Now that's entertaining."
Since moving into the Metrodome in 1982, the Twins have never led the AL in home runs.
They were, however, the first AL team in history to draw three million or more fans in a season -- ahead of the Yankees and Red Sox -- in 1988.
Today, La Russa uses words very different than "disgrace to baseball" to describe the Dome.
"During that period, '87-'92, either the A's or the Twins represented the American League West," La Russa says. "They were classic competitions. All the great players they had -- Hrbek, Puckett, Gary Gaetti. And T.K. [Tom Kelly] did a great job managing.
"It was a very tough place to play. It was very loud. Exciting."
And, of course, there was always something else.
"Guaranteed game and no mosquitoes," Stelmaszek says in as succinct and accurate an epitaph as probably could be inscribed on the Metrodome's baseball tombstone.
He pauses, then adds: "And people don't realize in the summertime the size of the mosquitoes in Minnesota."