Nostalgia: '91 World Series

January 15, 2009 | Comments (0) | by The Hundley

How many times have you heard people talk about how much different things were in the past? And typically when people talk about the past, they talk about how much better/tougher it was, especially when you get to sports. "Ah phooey! Sandy Koufax could have struck out Barry Bonds 9 times out of ten!" "Poppycock! Bob Gibson was the best pitcher that ever lived!" "Goddamnit, Ozzie Smith not only deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, but he totally deserved his honor of being a First Ballot guy." So often, these old timers are so wrong.

Just the other night, with the cold Midwest (real America) air keeping everyone in their homes, there was seemingly nothing on TV. Then I stumbled upon ESPN Classic. For once they weren't showing old American Gladiator reruns, Andre Ware highlight tapes, or episodes of Cheap Seats.* It was baseball! It was Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, Twins hosting the Braves. Christ, had it really been that long ago? Seventeen years? I watched the whole damn thing, and in this case, the Old Timers are right - you don't see games like that one anymore, and this is true on many levels.

Jack Morris and John Smoltz? Are you kidding me? Two (future!) Hall of Famers duking it out for the World Series? Game on. Jack Morris, at 36, in his 15th year of Major League service had returned home to his native Minneapolis for another shot at the title. John Smoltz, 24 years old, a native of Michigan, grew up a Detroit Tigers fan and idolizing Jack Morris, and was trying to help complete an Atlanta Braves "worst to first" campaign.

Yes sonny boy, you don't see games like these - shit, series like these. Four games ended up being decided on the last pitch, three of the games went extra innings, the popularization of the Tomahawk Chop and The Homer Hankies. By now, most of you have seen the game and know what happened, whether it was in front of the TV when it happened (Chip, Brant, Chaim) or heard others cheering while you were at the teat (Daft, Dave Thomas). Jack Morris pitched a complete game, 10-inning shutout as the Twins won on a bases loaded single from Gene "Don't Call Me Barry" Larkin. It made was perhaps the greatest World Series of the modern era, one in which Braves outfielder David Justice said years later,
"You get the feeling sometimes that if the Yankees or Red Sox aren't in the World Series it can't be a classic...But that Series in '91 was a true classic. People talk about it all the time...It was amazing."
Rewatching the game made me realize that I'd overlooked another aspect of why it was "a better time back then" - physical appearances. It could be argued, I know, but 1991 was before the Steroid Era really came into play. For the most part, you had two body types on the field: the slender beanpole (Greg Gagne, Charlie Liebrandt, Tom Glavine) and the Nintendo RBI Baseball body (Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Terry Pendleton). You didn't see any hulking types like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, or Albert Pujols. You saw more situational playing, where the key guys were slap hitters like Mark Lemke, Gagne, and Dan Gladden.

Though the uniform styles and fit were not remarkably different, personal grooming was. And my how it ever was! The mullet and the mustache were all the rage in the '91 series. A fashion expert might say that the Minnesota Twins erred to more of the North Woodsian look, brandishing the mullet, shaggy stache, or both. The Braves, being the southern gentleman that they were, opted to forgo the mullet for the most part, settling on more a civilized and trimmed "womb broom". Just look at the starting lineups:

Minnesota: Dan Gladden (stache, mullet), rookie Chuck Knoblauch (unable to grow stache, possible peach fuzz cookie duster), Kirby Puckett (stache), Kent Hrbek (stache, mullet), Chili Davis (stache), Brian Harper (stache, mullet), Shane Mack (stache), Mike Pagliarulo (stache, mullet), Greg Gagne (clean-shaven rebel), Jack Morris (Sam Elliott stache, minor mullet)

Atlanta: Lonnie Smith (stache), Terry Pendleton (husky rebel), Ronnie Gant (pencil stache), David Justice (incapable, minor afro), Sid Bream (stache), Brian Hunter (stache, lazy eye), Greg Olson (rebel), Mark Lemke (Todd Walker stubble), Rafael Belliard (stache), John Smoltz (stache)

Does it get any better than that? Friggin' amazing play on the field and fashion legends at the same time? Christ, we should be so lucky in this day and age. One where we're subjected to Corky Thatcher Jonathan Papelbon dancing on the mound in his skivvies while wearing a scuba mask. Papelbon, you sir are no Jack Morris.

Let this be a lesson to all you young, whippersnappers out there. They don't make 'em like they used to.

*Underrated: Cheap Seats, Sklar brothers