- Minnesota Twins Baseball: Hardball History on the Prairie by Stew Thornley
Stew Thornley's writing is a banquet of Minnesota baseball. He has penned scholarly and general interest books—along with scores of articles—about Millers, Saints, Twins, and countless others who have played baseball in his native Minnesota.
Thornley's latest book about the Minnesota Twins takes its place at the banquet table of his writing as an appetizer, a smaller dish of baseball history and culture that stimulates the appetite of his more voracious readers yet satisfies the cravings of those looking for a lighter repast. Among readers who have already partaken of Thornley's offerings and have also read broadly and extensively on baseball, Minnesota Twins Baseball will enhance their appreciation for the universal yet unique story of the Minnesota Twins. For others who are less familiar with either the Twins or with the broader contexts and meanings of baseball, this book will certainly inspire both an appreciation for the history of professional baseball in Minnesota and a desire to learn more, both about Minnesota baseball and about the history, culture, and social meanings of the game.
Thornley's ability to present a specific team in a way that elicits readers' interest in the wider setting of the game itself is evident from the outset. Although the book focuses on the Twins, Thornley provides useful historical background to the introduction of modern major-league baseball to Minnesota in 1961. (Minnesota did have a team in the major-league Union Association in 1884, for all of nine games; this is but one of the more arcane and delightful bits of Minnesota baseball trivia artfully packed into Thornley's thin volume.) In a short but surprisingly comprehensive opening chapter, he covers prior incarnations of professional baseball in Minnesota as well as the sixty-year history of the Washington Senators that preceded their move to Minnesota; he describes, as well, the political, social, and economic factors under-girding the on-again, off-again endeavor of bringing a team to the Twin Cities.
Indeed, throughout the book Thornley provides pithy yet rich context in telling the story of the Twins. Despite its brevity, Minnesota Twins Baseball weaves a more complex, nuanced, and appetizing story than a simple on-field chronology could allow.
Thornley provides local context. For example, he directs readers' attention to the Minnesota connections of Twins players and staff, connections that preceded (e.g., Minnesota native) or followed (e.g., future sports director for [End Page 213] Minneapolis's WCCO radio; future baseball coach at the University of Minnesota) their careers with the Twins.
Thornley also captures, albeit telegraphically, broader historical context relative to all baseball: in-season exhibition games, the changing role of relief pitchers ("firemen" before the advent of "matchup relievers," "setup men," and "closers"), and the evolution of baseball statistics.
Moreover, Thornley gives his readers broader social and societal contexts. For example, descriptions of Twins' stadia include the cooperation between the private and public sectors that enabled Metropolitan Stadium to be built, the political and economic issues that accompanied construction of the Metrodome, and the architectural and environmental innovations that made Target Field possible.
At times, the compactness of Minnesota Twins Baseball can frustrate readers. Thornley mentions "an incident with racial overtones" (44) and "racial divisions" (48) on the 1960s teams, with no further elaboration. He teases readers not in the know with a reference to Dave Boswell fighting outside a bar with Billy Martin while the latter was managing the Twins. Other times, Thornley gives a bit more detail. For example, he provides an extended quote from Calvin Griffith's infamous, public declaration in 1978, in which Griffith explained that he moved his team to Minnesota "when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here" (65). As a rule, however, the constraints imposed by the succinctness of Minnesota Twins Baseball prevent Thornley from providing more than passing allusions to situations and events that interest the reader.
Despite its brevity, Minnesota Twins Baseball is a worthy addition to...