Friday, October 31, 2014


I've written in several places of the role the 1984 Twins played in cultivating my lifelong love affair with baseball.  The first team I remember vaguely following was the 1982 version of the Twins, which lost 102 games but featured a rookie class of Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, Randy Bush, Frank Viola, Jim Eisenreich, and Tim Laudner.

The 1984 team was the first competitive Twins team of my lifetime.  They finished 81-81, missing the playoffs by just a handful of games.  1984 featured the debut of a speedy centerfielder named Kirby Puckett and an MVP-deserving season from Kent Hrbek.  But the biggest reason for the Twins sudden transformation to contenders was the emergence of a decent starting rotation.  Viola blossomed into an ace that year, but the next two spots in the rotation were solidified by a couple of guys who were acquired in the offseason.  In December of 1983, power-hitting outfielder Gary Ward was traded to the Texas Rangers for pitchers Mike Smithson and John Butcher.

Neither had much of a track record in Texas.  Butcher spent the majority of his four years with the Rangers as a swingman.  Meanwhile 6'8" former Tennessee Volunteers basketball star Mike Smithson (the tallest player in the league for most of his career) was coming off a 10-14 mark in his first full season.  Both accumulated well over 200 innings, double-digit win totals, and sub-4.00 ERAs for the Twins in '84.

As for Smithson, he was never a great pitcher, but he was extremely dependable.  From 1984-1986, he was good for about 36 starts, 250 innings and 15 wins each year.  His ERA would rise and his strikeout totals would drop each season, but he was there every fifth day.  Unfortunately for Big Mike, everything gave out during the Twins historic 1987 season.  His ERA ballooned to 5.94 and his record fell to 4-7.  He spent part of the season in the minors (for the first time since 1982), and was ultimately left off the post-season roster during the Twins' run to the World Series.


I still remember the injury.  In 1989, Keith Millard was the most dominating defensive force in the NFL.  His 18 quarterback sacks that season is a record that still stands for a defensive tackle.  He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and earned his second consecutive first-team All-Pro selection.  Under drill-sergeant defensive coordinator Floyd Peters and next to future Hall of Famer Chris Doleman, world-class run-stuffer Henry "Hardware Hank" Thomas, and pass-rush specialist Al Noga, the '89 Vikings defensive line was the best in the game and had Minnesotans drawing comparisons to the Purple People Eaters.

If not for the injury, there is no doubt in my mind that Keith Millard would be right next to his longtime teammate Doleman in Canton.  Four weeks into the 1990 season, though, his knee was obliterated in a game that the Vikings eventually lost to the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Millard never again played for the Vikings.  He fought hard to return, but it took him two years to get back into the NFL.  In 1992 he got into two games for the Packers, got released, and got into two more games with the Seahawks.  In 1993, he managed to stay in the league all year for the Eagles, but was a shell of his former self.  That was curtains for the career of a man who was on his way to being mentioned in the same breath as Alan Page and John Randle among Vikings defensive tackles.


Theo Ratliff was one of the premier shot-blockers of his era.  In the early 2000s, during his time with the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks, he established himself as one of the best centers in the NBA.  He was a 2001 NBA All Star, was selected for two league All-Defensive Second Teams, and led the league in blocks three times.  By the time he came to Minnesota in the Kevin Garnett trade, he was on the downside of his career.  He was 34 and coming off a major injury that limited him to two games with the Celtics the previous season.  He was expected to provide veteran leadership to the rebuilding, KG-less Wolves, but additional injuries limited him to only ten games as a member of the team.  He was waived in February and quickly signed with the Detroit Pistions, for whom he began his fine career back in 1995.


After a dominating three-plus years in the minors, Frank Eufemia was called up in May of 1985 to help solidify the Twins' struggling bullpen.  He was arguably their most consistent relief pitcher the rest of the way, going 4-2 with two saves and a 3.79 ERA.  And, strangely, that one solid season at the age of 25 was it for Eufemia's MLB career.  He was back at Triple-A Toledo in 1986 and never again reached the big leagues.

On a personal note, I was thrilled to get this card back from Mr. Eufemia.  I'm also grateful that he added a signed 1986 Topps rookie card (which I did not send to him).  I was a bit disappointed, though, that he kept the 1983 Visalia Oaks and 1986 Toledo Mud Hens minor league cards I sent, as they were for two projects I am working on (the 1983 Fritsch Visalia team set and the 1986 ProCards Project).  If anyone has signed or unsigned copies of these cards out there, please let me know!

Monday, October 27, 2014


Originally drafted by Minnesota in 1969, Gilles Gilbert spent most of his North Stars career buried behind Cesare Maniago and Gump Worsley on the depth chart.  Following the 1972-73 season, Gilbert was traded to Boston for Fred Stanfield in one of the worst deals in club history.  Stanfield would only last in Minnesota for a year and a half.  Meanwhile, Gilbert blossomed into an All Star goaltender for the Bruins, enjoying his peak years while the North Stars were running out the likes of Pete LoPresti, Paul Harrison, and Fern Rivard.

Also of note: check out that signature!  Gilles Gilbert is the Harmon Killebrew of hockey autographs.


Neil Elshire was a 6'6" undrafted free agent from Oregon who made the Vikings roster in 1981.  After two years as a sparsely used backup, Elshire broke through for 9.5 quarterback sacks in 1983.  Over his six year NFL career, which was spent entirely in Minnesota, Elshire accumulated 19 sacks, four fumble recoveries, and - perhaps most impressive - a safety against the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears.


After four seasons in Buffalo and one in Carolina, Minnesota native Corbin Lacina signed with his hometown Vikings in 1999.  The versatile lineman settled in as the starting right guard in 2000, helping the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game.


Current Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau split the 1975-76 hockey season between the Minnesota Fighting Saints and the Johnstown Jets.  The Jets were the inspiration for the greatest sports film of all-time, Slap Shot, and Boudreau even had a cameo in the movie as one of the Charlestown Chiefs' opponents.

After a long minor league playing career, Boudreau embarked on a far more successful coaching career.  He won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's best coach after his first season behind the Washington Capitals bench in 2007-08.  Since then, he has won six division titles in seven seasons as an NHL head coach (four with Washington and two with Anaheim).

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Herb Carneal was the voice of my childhood.


Terry Allen turned out to be a pretty nice little ninth round draft pick for the Vikings.  He filled in for Herschel Walker near the end of the 1991 season.  In 1992, he seized the starting running back gig and put together one of the finest all-around seasons in team history (1,201 rushing yards, 49 receptions for 478 yards, 15 total touchdowns).  A pre-season knee injury cost him all of 1993, but he returned in 1994 with another 1,000 yard season.  His NFL comeback was punctuated with an incredible 1,353 yard and 21 touchdown season for Washington in 1996.


Scott Brooks came to the Timberwolves prior to their second season to serve as the backup to point guard Pooh Richardson.  For two years under Bill Musselman, Brooks' hustle made him a fan favorite.  He moved on to Houston and won an NBA title with the Rockets in 1994.  These days, of course, he's best known as the head coach of the perennial contender Oklahoma City Thunder.


Catcher Joe McCabe signed with the Washington Senators in 1960, one year before the franchise moved to Minnesota.  After spending four years in the Twins system, he finally made it the the show in 1964.  In fourteen games as a Twin, he only stepped up to the plate 21 times.  Following the season, McCabe was dealt to the new Washington Senators (the team that would eventually become the Texas Rangers).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Journeyman Milan Marcetta made his NHL debut as a 30-year-old rookie during the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1967.  His only regular season games in the NHL came with the North Stars during their first two years of existence.  Milan sadly passed away in September 2014, just shy of his 78th birthday.


I gave the Twins plenty of crap for their Sam Fuld acquisition this past spring.  My argument was that they already had a younger, cheaper version of him in Alex Presley, who they let go for nothing during spring training.  But I'll be the first to admit that I was wrong.  Fuld was fantastic during his brief tenure as a Twin.  And even though Tommy Milone struggled mightily after arriving from Oakland in exchange for Fuld at the trade deadline, he's still a left-handed starting pitcher with a somewhat proven track record.  Hopefully the new Twins regime can salvage Milone -- it would make for quite a nice return for a few months of Sam Fuld.


Tim Irwin, a 6'7" 300 pound mountain of a man, was an anchor of the Vikings' offensive line for thirteen years.  From the time I discovered football until the time I started driving, Irwin was a model of consistency and class.  He was a powerful blocker and, at his height, he managed to get his paws on quite a few opposing kicks over his career.  In 2011, he was voted as one of the All-Time 50 Greatest Vikings.

Always one of the more insightful voices in the Vikings locker room, Irwin earned his law degree near the end of his football career.  He opened his own practice after retiring from football, and is presently a juvenile court judge in Knoxville, Tennesee.


Henry Boucha was one of the greatest hockey talents the state of Minnesota has ever produced.  The Warroad native and full-blooded Ojibwa is widely regarded as one of the finest high school players in state history.  After a Silver Medal winning performance with the 1972 US Olympic Team, he quickly established himself as a star for the Detroit Red Wings.  Boucha was traded home to Minnesota in 1974, but less than a year into his North Stars career, tragedy struck.  During a game against the Boston Bruins, Boucha took Dave Forbes' stick in his eye.  He missed the rest of the season, and never fully recovered.  He did briefly play with the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints in 1975-76 (and averaged a point per game).  He returned to the NHL later that year with the Kansas City Scouts/Colorado Rockies franchise, but by the age of 25, Boucha was out of pro hockey.


A physical, stay-at-home defenseman over the first decade of North Stars hockey, Tom Reid is better known to the last two generations of Minnesota hockey fans as a broadcaster.  He served in that role for the North Stars after his playing career ended, and he has been the Wild's radio analyst from their inception.  He also is the proprietor of the finest sports bar in town -- Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub, just down the street from the Xcel Center.

Monday, October 6, 2014


The Timberwolves chose Donyell Marshall with the fourth pick in the 1994 NBA Draft.  As usual, the Wolves were one pick away from superstardom.  The first three picks in that season's draft were perennial All-Star Glenn Robinson and future Hall of Famers Jason Kidd and Grant Hill.  Marshall was the best of the rest after a superb college career at UConn.  Marshall's Wolves career lasted just 40 games, but can hardly be considered a failure -- at midseason he was traded straight-up to Golden State for Tom Gugliotta.  Googs would become the first All-Star in Wolves history and would team with Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury to give them their first winning season and playoff appearance.


I have always been a big Rich Gannon fan.  For a few years in the late '80s, "Gannon the Cannon" was a distant third on the Vikings quarterback depth chart behind veterans Wade Wilson and Tommy Kramer.  He was a pre-season phenom for at leas a couple of those years, with his powerful arm and great athleticism.  He was finally given a chance to play regularly in 1990, and eventually spent three years as the Viking primary starting quarterback.  He went 8-4 over his twelve starts in 1992, but was shipped to Washington after the season when the Vikings opted to sign the aging and injury prone Jim McMahon.

Following tenures in Washington and Kansas City, Gannon blossomed under Jon Gruden in Oakland.  He went to four consecutive Pro Bowls for the Raiders from 1999-2002.  He was a first-team NFL All-Pro selection in 2000 and 2002.  In 2002, he led the league with 4,689 passing yards, was named the AP NFL MVP, and led the Raiders to the Super Bowl.


Corey Fuller was a vital and underrated piece on the 15-1 Vikings team of 1998.  While newcomer Jimmy Hitchcock received many accolades that season by returning three of his team-leading seven interceptions for touchdowns, Fuller emerged as a shut-down corner on the left side, nabbing four picks of his own.  Fuller signed a big free agent deal with the Browns following that season, leaving a massive hole in the Vikings secondary.  All told, Fuller spent ten years in the NFL.  He has been coaching ever since, and is currently in his first season as the defensive backs coach for Florida A&M University.


Ron Vander Kelen was the MVP of the 1963 Rose Bowl after leading his Wisconsin Badgers to a dramatic victory over USC.  That fall, he made the Vikings roster as an undrafted rookie.  Vander Kelen backed up Fran Tarkenton for four years, appearing in 18 games from 1963-1966.  When Tarkenton was traded to the Giants following the 1966 season, Vander Kelen was given a chance to compete for the starting quarterback job.  He won the gig, but after starting the season 0-3 he was replaced by Joe Kapp.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Craig Falkman had a wonderful collegiate career for his hometown University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in the mid 1960s.  He was a second-team All-WCHA selection as a junior in 1963-64 and was named an ACHA West All-American that same year.  He served as a Gophers captain during his senior season in 1964-65.  A few years later, after playing in the USHL for a couple of seasons, he was part of the United States 1968 Olympic Team in Grenoble.  Falkman never played in the NHL, but he did appear in 45 games for the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints in 1972-73.